Yet, though everything, Smoke Cartel is not just a leading player in the industry of cannabis accessories, but a key innovator for e-commerce in general.
It began with Sean Geng, Darby Cox and $600, in a small living room in 2013. The two Savannah College of Art and Design students would go on to make their mark on the online shopping world… and their story is only getting started.
E-Commerce is booming, with online retail sales increasing between 20-25% every year in the last 5 years. And with US federal law reform possibly on the table, the same could happen for the cannabis industry.
All of this means Sean and Darby’s business (which is now a multi-million dollar empire built on bongs and bowls!) is set to track with the expansion of the legal cannabis market.
Building Smoke Cartel, From the Ground Up
Starting an online business from scratch is hard. It’s even harder in a market that is not supported by the federal government.
Smoke Cartel doesn’t sell cannabis. But they sell almost everything else. As an online “head shop”, they sell all manner of cannabis and smoking-related products. From bongs, vapes, vape accessories, pipes and dab rigs, to clothing and pet accessories. While these products are legal, their proximity to cannabis means difficulties getting large corporations to play ball.
Major ad networks such as Facebook and Google don’t allow ads for anything cannabis-related. It’s also been a challenge finding a payment processor willing to work with this kind of business. Sean and Darby found this out the hard way, when the company dealing with their payments shut everything down, threatening to close their business for good.
So how did Smoke Cartel do it?
They’ve been forced to take their e-commerce business back to grass roots. Instead of building a business off of an ad budget, Smoke Cartel grew by offering a brand that customers love. They put a focus on producing top-of-the-line accessories, including beautiful handmade glass products, made under the roof of their very own warehouse in Savannah.
Along with a range of products that keep customers coming back, they pride themselves on great service, fast shipping, and a website that is intuitive and easy to navigate.
By focusing on the customer first, Smoke Cartel has been able to build their business through word-of-mouth, rather than paid ads. Supplementing their efforts with email marketing, SEO and influencer campaigns, they’ve now built a following that allows them to connect with their audience better than any ad campaign would.
Now, with 158,000 followers on Instagram, a Youtube channel boasting over 10,000 subscribers and almost 2.5 million views and their own online magazine, they have several platforms to continue connecting with its audience.
The Future of the Smoke Cartel
Smoke Cartel has been going from strength to strength in recent years, and shows no signs of slowing down.
In 2016 they acquired UPC distribution, which lead their expansion into wholesale supply. That was followed by more acquisitions in the cannabis accessory space, allowing them to develop a banner of in-house brands, such as Sesh Supply, Kraken Grinders, China Glass and Heady Pet.
In addition, July 2017 saw Smoke Cartel become publicly traded on OTC Markets with SMKC ticker. In early 2019 the company successfully uplisted from OTC Pink to the OTCQB exchange which is swimming with cannabis companies.
So what’s next? The obvious milestone the whole team has their eye on is US federal marijuana legalization. Should the US follow in Canada’s footsteps, there’s no telling the number of demographics Smoke Cartel might reach.
They’re also positioned to grow in the broader industry of e-commerce software. Their proprietary e-commerce software, Warely, makes up yet another branch of Smoke Cartel’s ever-growing empire. The business operating system was designed to handle everything on the back end of their site, from inventory management, to order fulfillment, to reporting and accounting. Now it’s being offered to other e-commerce businesses looking to offer the same customer experience Smoke Cartel does.
Building a business worth more than $5 million from just $600 in startup capital would be enough for many people. But for Sean Deng and Darby Cox at Smoke Cartel, this is just the beginning.