Tokyo Starfish is Making Waves in Oregon

With action-sports stars as brand ambassadors and a tourist-friendly menu, Tokyo Starfish is one of the brightest retailers in […] Oregon.

Original Article by Rob Hill, published to MG Retailer Magazine August 23, 2018.

TOKYO STARFISH Box Factory location in Bend, Oregon

Tokyo Starfish’s brand story began almost twenty years ago. During a snowboarding event in Japan, Jason McAlister, Kale Gray, Keith Legum, and Gary Bracelin bonded while exploring the kaleidoscopic city of Tokyo. They were especially captivated by the view from their hotel, which looked out on a cross-section of five roads crawling with cars and neon lights. If they squinted, the vista looked like a gargantuan, psychedelic starfish.

After the trip, the four remained good friends. And they never forgot that view. Fast forward to 2013: Legum and Bracelin were attending a school fundraiser when Bracelin suggested they start a retail cannabis business. Legum proposed they recruit McAlister and Gray. Then, as if sent by the cannabis and snowboarding gods, a location presented itself. “It was a turn-of-the-century cottage that had become a dog grooming place and antique shop,” said Gray. “We completely opened up the space and remodeled from the ground up.”

The Bend, Oregon shop became a strange and alluring phenomenon, like the city in which the group met. Both locals and tourists took notice of the new retail establishment with its bizarre name and echinoderm logo.

Roles to play

Each of the four founders plays a specific role: Legum, who always has been fascinated by architecture and design, was charged with building out the space. Gray handles marketing and branding. McCalister, in charge of operations, is the details dude, while Bracelin oversees buying and distribution.

DID YOU KNOW…
ABOVE TOKYO STARFISH IS A TWO-BEDROOM, ONE-BATH, CANNABIS-FRIENDLY BUD ’N’ BREAKFAST APARTMENT [THE ONLY ONE IN CENTRAL OREGON] THAT CAN BE RENTED.

During construction, Legum’s driving concepts were “homey,” “friendly,” and “bucolic.” Those three words still define the experience. “From the second a customer walks in the door until they leave, customer service and the shopping experience are number one,” said Gray. In addition, he noted, the owners insist the shop reflect their love for the outdoors, action sports, and hanging out together. The quaint, snow-cabin-esque aesthetic Legum created exudes coziness and warmth. Flourishes like extracts displayed on skateboards, neatly folded apparel and coffee table books stacked in custom-made wood racks, vintage SnoPlanks snowboards here and there, and a mountain bike station on the porch gave Tokyo Starfish a singular vibe.

“He [Legum] did a great job of taking all of our insane ideas and spitting them out into one cohesive-looking place,” Gray said with a chuckle.

The dispensary’s signature attributes aren’t confined to the first floor. Located above the shop is a two-bedroom apartment the partners had intended to turn into an office. Instead, at Gray’s suggestion, they created Bend’s only bud ’n’ breakfast. The spot has been a big hit, he said, and rentals add extra revenue.

“It was an opportunity to expand the experience of the shop,” noted Gray. “People who stay there love it. Many want to move in permanently.”

Although Bend hosts a smattering of professionally run and well-stocked dispensaries, with more on the way, Tokyo Starfish has become not only a local favorite but also a must-visit tourist spot. Many local guidebooks encourage tourists to stop in. Located near mountain biking trails, fishing pools, and snowboarding peaks, the shop has become a sort of ground zero for the action sports crowd to stock up before a day playing outdoors.

As for products, Tokyo Starfish places priority on growing its own flower with an emphasis on potent CBD strains. After all, a day on the slopes or cruising the rugged, snaking trails can leave active folks with aches and pains. In addition to stocking flower from most of the local farms, Tokyo Starfish also offers what Gray called “connoisseur CBD strains” exclusive to its in-house grower, TG Industries. Extra-potent flower like Blue Shark, Harlequin, and Harle-Tsu fly off the shelves, he said.

He also said business growth has exceeded expectations. Between retail, wholesale, and grow, the company now employs thirty-five people. Gray is particularly proud of that. “Being able to create jobs for people is pretty awesome,” he said.

The shop sees nearly 400 customers a day; more during tourist season. While flower composes 50 percent of sales, cartridge and edibles sales are growing rapidly. That makes perfect sense to Gray: Both items are on-the-go-friendly. “Pre-rolls are picking up steam, too,” he said.

A ‘secret weapon’

Tokyo Starfish’s secret weapon may be its brand ambassadors and buzzy event sponsorships. Professional snowboarding star and friend to the owners Max Warbington tops the list. Tokyo Starfish sponsors Warbington’s sold-out Quarterpipe Campout weekend, which takes place May 20-21 annually. Warbington’s signature showdown brings together some of the top riders and ancillary characters for a non-stop weekend of riding, partying, and catching up with old friends, all of which is filmed by cinematic master John Stark. Tokyo Rose also participates in the Dirksen Derby 10, river surfing with ambassador Jorma Nagel, and Mount Bachelor hiking excursions with a who’s who of the action sports world.

“We all come from the action sports world, and most of our employees do too,” Gray said. “Warbington is a local pro snowboarder who is a big advocate of ours, as we are of his. He’s one of the best because he goes out and makes things happen for himself. It’s really cool to have an advocate who brings things to the table that we can help with.”

Marijuana Tourism Comes to Bend

Original article by Joseph Ditzler, published on the The Bulletin Aug 28, 2016.

John Flannery, a partner of The Bend Tour Co.

Dispensary tour could be “icing on the cake”. Look for an open-sided, six-seat, electric touring car making its way along Bend streets starting in September.

It will mark the advent of marijuana tourism, the next phase in a town already a destination for skiers, beer drinkers and bicyclists.

“By offering this type of tour, we’re demystifying cannabis,” said John Flannery, a partner in The Bend Tour Co. “We’re helping take away the stigma.”

Tourism geared to marijuana is not new in Washington and Colorado, states that preceded Oregon in legalizing recreational marijuana for adults. Portland has its own pot tour. But the Bend Tour Co. plan represents the first of its kind in Bend, Flannery said. He sees tourism as a means to entertain people while educating them about marijuana and Oregon law surrounding it.

“It’s a great tour of town but with a different set of discussion points,” Flannery said. “For a lot of people, it’s the icing on the cake.”

Marijuana is taking its place among businesses that play on Bend’s popularity as a destination along with kayak rentals, flyfishing outfitters and brewpubs, said dispensary owners. They reported a jump in sales starting in June, an increase tied to the availability of edible products infused with the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but also to the tide of visitors during the first summer of legalized marijuana in Oregon. The Visit Bend website in spring added a drop-down menu that lists the […] marijuana dispensaries in the city. Visit Bend, the agency that contracts with Bend to market the city as a destination, takes a neutral stance on marijuana, its chief executive said.

“The way we see it, now that it’s legal in Oregon, we list them just like we’d list a grocery store or a brewery,” said Kevney Dugan, president and CEO of Visit Bend. “If you’re legally operating under the laws of the state, we can’t dictate who can or can’t be part of the (tourism) industry. Grocery stores, hair-cutting salons, mountain-bike rentals all have that listing. Tourists want that resource.”

Flannery’s tours will provide clients an opportunity to purchase marijuana but not to partake of it. State law prohibits consuming any form of marijuana in public places, and the Legislature last year amended Oregon’s Indoor Clean Air Act to include marijuana and vaporizer pens. The act prohibits tobacco smoking in the workplace, including hotels and motels, with some exceptions. The clean air law permits smoking in cigar clubs and smoke shops, with conditions attached. A marijuana business group in Oregon expects plans for a lobbying effort during the next legislative session to carve out a similar exception for marijuana smoking clubs or lounges.

“What we have to do is get around the Indoor Clean Air Act, that’s the main problem,” said Donald Morse, director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council. “We’re hoping to allow these clubs, and that would help tourists. They can buy a joint, but they can’t smoke it in their hotels.”

However, dispensaries sell more than dried marijuana flower, which is commonly smoked. Since June, they may also sell drinks or edibles that contain 15 milligrams or less of tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, or a 1-gram container of concentrated THC extract. Adult consumers may purchase up to 7 grams of dried flower or one edible or extract at each dispensary per day under temporary rules for recreational marijuana sales.

Local dispensary owners reported a June sales surge they attributed to sales of edibles like gel candies, ice cream and kombucha with THC, as well as the seasonal tourist influx. Mark Capps, co-owner of Oregon Euphorics, a SW Century Drive dispensary, said 20 percent to 30 percent of the shop clientele were out-of-state visitors. Like other dispensary owners, he said tourism accounted for a bump in sales, along with the sales of edible products.

Edibles “open up the market to a lot of people who may not smoke marijuana but will ingest it otherwise,” he said.

[…]

Dispensary owners and employees estimated between one-fourth to one-third of their customers are tourists whose dispensary visits are incidental to some other activity, whether camping, climbing, a concert or a wedding. For many, a marijuana dispensary is a novel concept.

“We’ve seen many first-time people through the shop that are interested in checking it out,” said Jason McAlister, co-owner of Tokyo Starfish, a dispensary on NW Arizona Avenue.

His business partner, Gary Bracelin, said business jumped appreciably in June because of several factors. Work on a city sewer line on Arizona Avenue that hindered access wrapped up in June at about the same time as THC-infused edibles became available. Plus, Market of Choice opened its new location just east of the dispensary, which attracted more consumer traffic. Bracelin attributed the approximately $2 million increase in tax revenue collected by the state in June, about $5 million total, to the availability of edibles.

“With that being said,” Bracelin added, “tourism is having an impact.”

While the mainstream business community still holds marijuana at arm’s length, some sectors are warming to it, he said. Bracelin said he expects to build on his and McAlister’s ties to the outdoor recreation world. Bracelin founded Bend Outdoor Worx, a business incubator for the outdoor recreation sector, and McAlister is a professional snowboarder. Bracelin said those ties may help elevate the Tokyo Starfish brand. He said he expects to take part in community events as a corporate sponsor, but declined to be more specific.

“We are working on some ideas and, you might say, waiting for resistance to soften,” he said. “Yeah, we want to be community partners and be involved in community events. Our options aren’t really open to us, yet.”