If you’ve been in Washington State there’s no doubt you’ve seen or passed by one of Ryan Kunkel’s Have a Heart’s. He has several of them flowing successful operations throughout Seattle. Have a Heart is a premium cannabis retailer with six locations throughout Washington, and with plans to expand into Oregon and Hawaii in the near future, this company is one of the leading marijuana retailers across the nation, and there’s a reason why they’re so successful.
Ryan is a firm believer of working hard and delivering true results. He lives by the fact that people will follow what they see, not what they hear. “That was hands down the most important lesson I’ve ever learned: no work = no eat.” He left Washington in his early 20’s to move to California, where his only job was home security sales. “I was probably too honest with people for my own good so I had to compensate with lack of sales per house by covering twice as much ground. I can confidently say I’ve been to 95% of the houses in all of Kern County.” Through this, however, he was given a chance to sift through hundreds of people every day. “All walks of life with different cultures, but I was able to find commonality among them as well. It was that in which I learned people and how they want to be treated.” From there, he says, he got into dealing cards, “same thing new game.”
For someone as experienced in this industry as him, the cannabusiness has left him with some valuable learning experiences. “Truth is, I am still learning literally every day.” He’s received a widely diverse range of clientele in this retail industry—from teachers to doctors, police officers, and even politicians—which “confirms the suspicion we all pretended we knew as fact.” Ryan believes in a holistic approach towards the cannabis retail expansion and is key on maintaining the personal and real touch. “I’ve learned that to have a good retail business you need good staff, the type that are most likely way over qualified but want to come to work for you which is the case with our stores. That’s the result of not taking yourself to seriously and letting people be who they are (no uniforms in our shops & no scripts.)” It’s also important to solidify relationships with those who grow and tend to the operations, saying, “relationships with growers both commercial and boutique will dictate your success, especially the boutique. Corporate infrastructure is good, Corporate feel is bad. We live and die by this.”
Albeit the success with his company, rising to this position was no easy task for Ryan. He rebuilt his empire after the “purge” of the medical operators circa 2013 in WA. As you may already know, in 2012, Washington legalized recreational marijuana sales. The initiative known as I-502 set limits on the number of sellers licenses available. I-502 added significant rules and restrictions to marijuana cultivation, distribution and possession. This included putting the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) in charge of regulating the recreational market.
On July 24, 2013, nearly nine months after I-502, the DEA raided four medical marijuana “access points.” The targets were accused of operating outside state and federal jurisdiction. Medical Marijuana dispensaries were shut down as the WSLCB continued its campaign to purge Seattle of medical marijuana dispensaries, issuing notices to medical shop owners to either get licensed as recreational stores within 14 days or risk being shut down. Unfortunately, Ryan Kunkel, owner of Have a Heart dispensaries, fell victim to these regulations and experienced a shutdown of his stores across the state. “Nothing like losing everything you’ve built for years to force creativity. Winning our license in Hawaii was a great moment as that day made us a national company, but the biggest success was surviving the ‘purge’ of the medical operators circa 2013 in Washington state. Our comeback from the now known rigged lottery was the huge success for us that galvanized our company in Washington permanently.” After having lost his fortune in 2013, he swept the state and blew expectations with his rapid comeback and growth, continuously proving that with hard work comes a good payoff.
Ryan says that nowadays the biggest struggle with maintaining a cannabis retail business isn’t with crossing state branding, but in fact, has to do with getting licensed. As the process varies so much between each state, there is no sure pathways to success and licensure in each new state could be what determines initial entry into the industry. Although there is no easy way in, Ryan suggests building wholesome relationships with the individuals that are familiar with the legalities of the cannabis industry. “Simply put, the lone wolf methods of that past don’t work anymore. To get open in another state it takes work; socially, politically, and time on the ground.”
Another thing to note is that once you are licensed, it’s important to maintain your branding and image within state borders. Since each state passes their own set of laws regarding advertising, it’s important to conform to the advertising restrictions. “No-go” states, as they are known, are a lethal threat to a cannabusiness, and advertising within them should be avoided. “Have your ads fall into one of those states and you may not be in operation much thereafter. Our friends in the federal government tend to not be so forgiving.”
His advice for young entrepreneurs is to be a student, not a preacher, and that humble pie doesn’t taste that bad. “Stay true to your vision. Don’t expect anyone else to share it, but don’t let them talk you off it. I’ve seen too many great people fail due to compromise. Compromise is a dishonest person’s way to say “surrender.”
So what can we expect from Have A Heart in the future? Simple: more growth and sustainable expansion. That means, more improvements, more locations in more states, more political action, more innovations. There’s even hope for raising money, “who knows, someday we may even raise outside money.”