The Phoenix, Ariz., based brand HUXTON—run by co-founders and siblings Dustin Johnson and Chelsea Johnson—has evolved quite a bit since Cannabis Business Times published their “10 Questions” interview in April 2017.
At the time, the Johnsons spearheaded a house of brands in the state’s medical cannabis market under the parent company Adakai Holdings, which included a retail dispensary (Monarch), an indoor cultivation facility (Omaha Farms), as well as the lifestyle cannabis brand HUXTON.
In 2018, amidst an industry ripe with M&A activity, they made the choice to sell their plant-touching license assets to the vertically integrated multi-state operator MedMen. However, they said it was important that they kept the rights to the consumer-facing brand that they’d built, HUXTON, which now has an exclusive licensing deal in Arizona with MedMen. At that time, HUXTON had already begun naturally evolving away from the medically focused patient market and more toward the lifestyle/consumer focus associated with adult-use markets.
“Since then, we’ve been working with growing that brand and using all of the knowledge and … operational background we have in the space to help move into as many markets as possible,” Dustin Johnson said. Today the HUXTON brand is geared toward consumers like creatives and athletes. Their digital branding often includes images of young skateboarders, hikers, musicians and muralists, most frequently boasting Western American vibes and modern, neutral color palettes.
HUXTON products are now available in three state markets under exclusive licensing agreements with its former company Omaha Farms in Arizona, Phat Panda/Grow Op Farms in Washington (partnership launched in December 2019), and Flower One in Nevada (launched in February 2020). They’re also working to come online in California through an agreement with Caliva.
While in Arizona the team has brought pre-rolls, all-in-one disposable vape pens, single-strain eighths and more to market—their foray into adult-use markets in Washington and Nevada began with their best-selling product: pre-rolls, packaged in recyclable tins and accompanied by a matchbook. “They’re meant to be grab-and-go. They’re easy to use. We’re all about consistency and simplicity,” Chelsea Johnson said.
In their out-of-state agreements, HUXTON works with their cultivator partners with genetics they already have to create custom blends for their pre-rolls that reflect an effects-based naming convention: Rise (uplift/focus), HiFi (energy/euphoria) and Zen (relaxation/rejuvenation).
Attributing their expanded reach, as well as the widely reported coronavirus-related sales uptick, the HUXTON team reported that March 2020 was their best month of sales to date. In Arizona, their sales were up 83% year-over-year, and up 110% over the previous month. In Washington, sales were up 180% over the previous month. And in Nevada, their sales were unchanged compared to their launch in February, which the HUXTON team views as a success considering dispensaries had pivoted quickly to a delivery-only business model after the coronavirus outbreak.
“It was great for us because [Nevada] dispensaries not only had to figure out how to deliver, but we were a new brand, and not a ton of people were aware of us yet,” Chelsea Johnson said. “It was a little positive [thing] in everything that’s going on right now.”
Virtual Touchpoints and Merchandise Sales
As states implement and continue shelter-in-place orders, many of the in-person marketing strategies cannabis companies rely on, such as promotional events, vendor days, and in-store budtender trainings, are no longer an option. Reaching customers otherwise can be difficult because of strict regulations on advertising and promotions in some states.
So to keep the momentum going with consumers, HUXTON launched the “At Home with HUXTON” series on April 17 in an email newsletter campaign. The first initiative in the series was a virtual yoga class, which drew a global audience.
“We had folks from all over the world,” Chelsea Johnson said. “Everyone was introducing themselves in the chat bar; it was truly people from every single continent.”
In the coming weeks, they’re also releasing a custom adult-coloring page offered as a digital download, as well as a tie-dye kit with two HUXTON-branded bandanas that will offered free for order on the company’s website on a first-come, first-serve basis.
In addition to their cannabis sales and virtual initiatives, HUXTON also regularly promotes their brand through merchandise sales on their website—where customers from all over can shop backpacks, T-shirts, beanies and more. “The majority of our sales come from markets that cannabis isn’t even legal in, so I’m hoping we can touch a lot of folks with that,” Chelsea Johnson said.
While it’s still uncertain what the new normal will look like for the cannabis industry amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the Johnsons believe the industry is full of passionate and nimble professionals who are equipped for the challenge.
“Nobody’s putting a global pandemic at the beginning of their risk assessment at the beginning of the year,” Dustin Johnson said. “I don’t think anybody in the cannabis industry or otherwise was prepared for all of the ramifications and changes this would have caused. I will say that being the in the cannabis industry … we were, I think a little bit more nimble than other industries because we’re used to chaos and we’re used to changing regulations, a lot of having to make U-turns.”
“In the cannabis industry we’re constantly having to evolve and problem-solve, and this is no different,” Chelsea Johnson said. “I think that we’re just trying to make sure to do our part and help the community and those who need us.”
Cassie Neiden is editor of Cannabis Dispensary and conference programming director for GIE Media’s Cannabis Group.