Ep 370 – Want to Start a Cannabis Brand in the South? Here’s What You Need to Know…

brittany phillips shake brands

As the push for recreational cannabis picks up steam in southern states, one company is working hard to make sure brands are primed and ready to get out on top. Here to tell us more is Brittany Phillips of Shake Brands.

Learn more at https://www.shakecolab.com

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Key Takeaways:

[1:24] An inside look at Shake Brands, a southern-based cannabis branding and product development company

[3:07] Brittany’s background in design and what led her to enter the cannabis space

[8:40] How Shake Brands is different from other full-service groups

[13:56] The biggest pain points for cannabis startups right now and how to navigate them

[17:39] How to develop a strong visual identity despite restrictions on language and advertising

[19:27] How federal legalization will impact cannabis branding

[20:53] Shake Brands’ new Arkansas-based CBD and wellness company, CBD & Me

[26:56] Trending cannabis products in AR and other southern states right now

[28:32] AR’s recreational cannabis legalization timeline

Click Here to Read Full Transcript

Matthew Kind: Hi, I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday, look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly-evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. That's C-A-N-N-A insider dot com. Now, here's your program.

Sinead Green: As the push for recreational cannabis picks up steam in Arkansas, one company is working hard to make sure brands are primed and ready to get out on top. Here to tell us more is Brittany Phillips of Shake Collaboration. Brittany, thank you so much for joining us today.

Brittany Phillips: Thanks, Sinead, for having me. I appreciate it.

Sinead: It's such a pleasure to have you here, and I'm just so stoke to hear all the cool stuff you're doing over at Shake Colab. Brittany, before we jump into the company. Can you give us a sense of geography where you're joining us from today?

Brittany: You bet. Today, I'm at home that I share with my wife and children in Sunny Fayetteville, Arkansas. For those who aren't familiar, that is nestled in the Boston Mountain ecoregion here in the southern most city of the Northwest Arkansas corridor. We're steps from the University of Arkansas, and nestled up here in the hills.

Sinead: Such a beautiful area. That's awesome. Brittany, getting into the company here, for our listeners that aren't familiar with Shake Colab, could you tell us what the company on a high level? Just like a snapshot overview of the company.

Brittany: Yes, you bet. On the highest level, we are Shake Brands. Underneath that we have Shake Collaboration and Shake Extractions. On a high level, we're a cannabis branding company. We have a focus on licensing, on product development, and product manufacturing. I guess that really means we design cannabis brands, including our own. We set them up to license, the trademark rights nationwide. On the other side of that, we develop and manufacture our own USDA organic hemp products, and we distribute those at wholesale and retail level in the US.

On the Shake Extraction side, we have just received Arkansas's first medical marijuana processing license. We're underway on beginning to look at R&D on that side, and discovering what products we're going to bring to life on the cannabis side. Focusing mostly in the wellness and the beauty sides of product development that will be for sale into Arkansas dispensaries in the near future. That's a long answer, but it does break it down.

Sinead: You guys do so much. It's a full-service company, and I'm so excited to unpack all the different things you do for brands. First of, before we really take a deep dive into the company, Brittany, tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to enter the cannabis space.

Brittany: You bet. Thanks for asking. I came up in the creative department of ad agencies, both regional and later on global. We're in Walmart country, right? There's a big emphasis in creative work around here in the sharper marketing sector. Those jobs are more available in this area for creative professional. As much as I appreciated that exposure to the big brands and it was totally valuable, I knew I was more passionate about building them from the ground up, and even more so the relationships that form between client and creative. I think that's really important, and you lose that in a bigger agency setting because there's account people, and there's production people, and your facetime with the client wasn't especially coming up. It wasn't ever as much as I wanted it to be.

From there, I went to a smaller more elite design firm here in Fayetteville, and that's where I really understood how valuable that relationship is between client and creative, and where that's where the magic is made. Eventually, I went out on my own in 2010 founding Brittany Phillips Design. Here, we focus on strategic visual identity design. Logo design, some people call it, and brand building through developing that brand visual language and design support. Here over at BPD, we have a diverse client roster in cities, and municipalities, non-profits or philanthropic endeavors, but also smart-ups, and small business in lot of industries, but quite a few in tech and science. That's been my process. Now, through the journey, and I won't get too ahead, but to be in a space that's so new here is just been a whole new stage.

Sinead: Absolutely. Share a little bit about Shake's origin story, because you got started back in 2016, if I'm not mistaken. Back when Arkansas's medical marijuana legalization had just gone through. What were those early discussions like, and what were those early years like?

Brittany: Absolutely. One of my partners Julie Brents, and my other partner Tig Davoulas. When they were involved early on, even at the proposition level to get medical cannabis on the ballot here in Arkansas. Julie had been a client of mine over the years, and we had been friends and kept in touch. She had spent some time out in California working in the cannabis space with a grow there, and a dispensary, and extraction operation. She had really cut her teeth there. She's from Fayetteville and came back.

That program though had a lot of delays, and it didn't really launch until around the time of the Farm Bill was signed federally. Arkansas was unique in the sense that medical cannabis was launching side by side with the state's industrial hemp research pilot. We were fairly discouraged by some of the red tape and delaying on the cannabis coming online. We decided to begin our journey by registering trademarks, and going after our hemp processing license to get started on research and development right way.

For us, it just worked. It was more accessible, it made more sense, there weren't any local brands doing what we knew could be done here. Along with that, processing license. We were able to work directly with the authors on the hemp legislation. Especially, my partner Tig. She's an attorney. Her background is in entertainment law, and has a lot of experience with these detailed contracts. She was able to work directly with those authors of that hemp legislation, and different special interest groups, and the governor's office.

That was interesting because we got to know several key players in the space. We got to know farmers. As a result, we were the first ones to be awarded the handling license, and the first all women team a few months later to get the USDA certified processor for the hemp products in the state. From that get-go, from the beginning, we started to begin to focus our first couple of years on CBD & ME, which is our line of USDA certified organic CBD products. That's how it went at the very beginning.

Sinead: That's amazing. Something that I feel really differentiates you from other full-services groups is you offer small production runs, you play a very active role from the beginning in brand strategy and product development. Tell us a little bit about who your services can benefit most at Shake Brands, and how Shake Brands really sets itself apart from other full-service groups.

Brittany: Yes, you bet. I think we really can help people in several ways. For one thing, we really want to work directly with an idea maker, someone who is passionate about the plant. Someone who has respect and appreciation for a strong brand. I think what we can do is offer that slow start. That crawl then walk mentality. On the branding side, we can offer a little bit more of an efficient process than they would get at a big agency. I think some people could come in with more reasonable budgets, we can do a thousand run on products, for example.

I think I better just give you an example, because it's a little bit easier to digest. We started working with Panther Group about six months ago, and they've been really good to help us navigate our role in the industry and find like-minded partners to work with. One of the best projects has come out of that relationship is with a doctor out of Atlanta named Adina Leifer. She's a pelvic floor therapist, and we are helping her brand and bring to life some products around the sexual health industry, and helping her clients in that realm.

Basically, she has a whole practice in Atlanta. She sees issues that all of our clients have from young to old and needing a product. This first product we're going to bring to life is a personal moisturizer. We're actually calling it a pelvic serum. I think through that is a real good snapshot of a way of somebody with no background in products, no background in branding, we dove deep into her industry and to her practice, and what made her an expert, and from there developed the name Silk Society, and branded that. We're bringing it to life that pelvic serum as her first product offering and many more to come after that.

That one is a good example of the niche that we could offer someone. We go in, we listen very carefully to all of the expertise she has because that needs to convey into the product offering, and it really is coming to life nicely there. That's a good example of how we start with someone on the branding side and how we can help them bring their product to life without just these daunting, "We can help you, but we have to make 25,000," and it wouldn't be accessible for a lot of people who have really great ideas and really great expertise and respect for the plant, and want to bring it to life.

Then on the other side, I think, on the CBD & ME side, we can help retailers interested in carrying a USDA certified product that is handcrafted, branded, designed, made and shipped all in one USDA certified lab, by people that you can talk to. I think it's just that small scale, and those retailers they're everything to us. There's probably nothing we wouldn't do for them.

We've had retailers come to us that they want a specific product, and even if it is in competition with one of our products, we'll make it work so that it belongs to them, and it's theirs, and it's not a white label scenario at all. It's custom branding and product development on that level, but begins with that conversation and really listening deep to a client's needs, on either side of the business really.

Sinead: Wow. That's great. Actually, you mentioned Adina in your case study there. We're actually going to have her on the show in a few weeks' time, so we'll get to hear all about ABLe.

Brittany: That's awesome. I think you'll really enjoy it. She's insanely smart and good at what she does and she's been a joy to work with. The pelvic serum is going to have 1000 milligrams CBD and a lot of other really nice components that bring it together. It's a good product, and I think she's going to do really well with it.

Sinead: Awesome. Yes, definitely, listeners, look out for that show in the next few weeks. We'll have Adina on, but that's great. You were just mentioning some of the pain points for brands like Adina's that are just getting up and running. Maybe are very niche, don't have a lot of experience when it comes to branding and marketing, particularly in cannabis, where there are so many obstacles, such a huge barrier to entrance. What would you say are some of the biggest pain points for cannabis startups right now, and how do you help brands overcome those at Shake Colab?

Brittany: A few things come to mind there. Exactly like you said it. Product by product, we are navigating a patchwork of legal rules across multiple states that change by the minute, both regulators and the public alike who are largely uneducated about the plant. You run into people who-- there's a lot of experts in the industry that maybe are or are not. Obviously, just navigating that and having experience under our belts of a good amount of products that we've done that for, I think is a huge advantage.

I think finding that path to true collaboration mentality in this industry is hard. I think as women we're especially good at this, but it's tough out there to keep that going because you do see a lot of closed doors, and a lot of exclusiveness, or just money driven, the money products rise to the top just from a lack of education. Our friend Patty Roe over at Pink Sesh is so great. She had a nice little talk with us the other day, and her quote was, "Sometimes success in this business is simply perseverance."

It's not all that a crazy new idea, but it was so important to hear it from somebody who has been in the industry for so long, and somebody we look up to from a brand perspective and a person. I think that that's another pain point. Just that I think it's our duty to live that collaboration mentality, that we're here to work together. I think that that is another way we bring something new and good to the industry.

I guess going back to all the pro, we've run into a lot of people who's tried to steer our business one way or the other. It's super attractive at the beginning to listen to different people who want to guide you because they're so experienced, but the more we do it, the more we realize we've got to do this on our own. That's been nice experience to come into. I think if we're going to give other topics that we're going to be committed to, we need to be mentoring interns and young people. We've had a couple interns out of the UofA law school that have worked under Tig, particularly, that have helped us a ton, and they've learned, and we've learned a lot by paying it forward.

At the beginning, I think getting involved with community programs. We have a good program here called Startup Junkie that we met with, that helped us form some strategies early on, and just using it as-- On my background, Brittany Phillips Design has always been modeled on this co-working model, where you source creatives based on a project and set up a team and you tackle a project that way. It's not unlike that, in what we bring. We'll find the right combination to put on a project to make it successful.

Sinead: That's great. Brittany, I probably want to dive into the branding and marketing side of Shake Brands, because I know that's really your realm and what you bring to the table there. I wanted to get your opinion. I feel like right now in cannabis with all the restrictions on language and advertising, it's really hard to convey a product's value to the end user and really hone an accurate visual identity for product companies, especially. What you do at Shake Brands to tackle that, and what advice do you have for companies on how to convey an accurate visual identity, despite all of the restrictions in the space right now?

Brittany: Yes, it's a really good question, and we've spent a lot of time formulating that process as a team. I think it starts with focusing in on-- say we're working with a brand that we're either bringing to life or bringing to life for a client. We're focusing in on very early, exactly who they are from a brand perspective and who're their audience is right away. Because you are so restricted, you have to keep that focus even stricter. I think it starts with that understanding and commitment to compliance upfront, from the get-go.

From there deep focus, on who they are and who they serve. Then once that's defined, the strategy and simple design solutions. You begin to feel less restricted because it's a landscape where you were born. It's where you live. I think that as simple as that process sounds, I think it's valuable. I think it's a good one.

Sinead: Definitely, yes. At this point, I don't think we're all that far away from federal legalization, and all that far away from the FDA actually giving us some concrete guidelines on what we can and can't say. How do you think branding is going to evolve in cannabis as we reach federal legalization?

Brittany: I think it will continue to improve in that way. I'm sure it will be like anything in this journey. Some steps back and some steps forward. People pushing the boundaries. I think is important. I think people understanding that having an expert that is versed in both strategy of communication and compliance and working together as a team is a good place to start.

I think will begin over time to see that it come to life. I hope in its own way. I would hate to see it lose the focus on the plant, which I'm sure could happen pretty quickly if it's in the wrong hands. I think that it's going to be an interesting journey that I think the brands that focus on their own ethos, what's important to them and to their consumers specifically in a focused way are going to be leaders.

Sinead: I couldn't agree more. I feel like that's a great segue into CBD & ME, which we have touched on, but we haven't really dived into, Brittany. I know CBD & ME is a relatively new venture of yours, but tell us a little bit about that part of the Shake Brands umbrella there.

Brittany: Absolutely. It's the most developed brand that we have that's of our own, for sure, and it really just stands for the plant working for you in a specific way, because it is so personalized. What we try and do is bring, like you said, chemical-free products that are creatively formulated in-house, scaled in-house, all the creatives done in-house through product development packaging. We don't use a co-packer. Everything we do in-house that we possibly can we do in our hands touch it and that's a really important part of our brand.

The USDA certification on the organic side is also something that sets us apart. We offer 19 skews and they vary from a set of topicals, which are bombs and rollers that are really good for just anything on the topical side. Specifically, we've had really good luck around head and neck pain, around menstrual discomfort, and around neuropathy issues as well, just specifically on topicals.

From there, we have a set of sublinguals drops that come in either 500 milligrams per ounce, or 250 milligrams per ounce. That gives a lot of variety for people who are taking the sublingual and what it could offer them. Then we have a pet line as well that we've seen a lot of really good help given to our furry friends. We're interested to see where that market can go because it's been phenomenal for both dogs and some cats, and so dosage that's appropriate for size is there.

We've also just launched Hydro Hemp, which is non-CBD product line that uses the plant's roots for a dry root mask where you add the water, a face product, beauty product, and then follow that up with a just newly launched serum. That is based in seed oils and the benefits of seed oils, and so it's a really nice product that goes on after. It can go on at bedtime, it gives you a little glow in the morning. It's a really nice beauty product. That rounds out the line.

We really want to be known for in-house formulation for how hyper-local we are. Then I guess on the other side, we want to be known as a brand that retailers want to work with. Distribution is a really hard part right now because you find people resistant to bringing on a new line for the sheer ability to deal with the paperwork and things like that. Finding those right distributors that are in the right-minded places is a goal, and it's been a challenge of ours. It's something we're continuing to work on.

We want retailers to know we'll do anything for them. We are deeply motivated to make them happy and we're so happy to customize what we offer them. We have good entry points, we have incentives on introductory offers, we have display that's well-designed display if that's part of the ask. I think that sets us apart in that we're willing to work with a retailer in a really special way.

Sinead: Absolutely. As of right now, where all have you gotten CBD & ME on the shelves? Is it Arkansas only? Are you in a few different states at this point?

Brittany: We're in several states now but it is regional. We have a good presence here in Arkansas, a little bit in Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee in the Lookout Mountain, Georgia area. Our most successful retailers have been ones we could forge a relationship with who get to know us and understand what we're doing and why our product is different. That just takes time to craft those relationships.

I think we talked a little bit about where we have a partnership with the CBD Source at NCPA, which is one of the big pharmacy regulators. Basically, what they do is they came in and they were looking for an organic-- they basically recommend our line along with several other CBD lines, two small independently owned pharmacies. Now, sometimes those are changed but they're still not the Walgreens of the worlds and things like that. I think that's a good niche for us.

We went through in that a really rigorous vetting process, and our chemical-free processing was front and center of that and how we differentiate and make our consumer understand that we're not going into the big box stores and we're not going into gas stations. It's a more premium brand as far as that's concerned without a pretentious costume on, so to speak. [laughs]

Sinead: That makes total sense. At this point too, you've got such a wide selection of products. What would you say? Any trends that you've seen, any products that have been particularly successful in the south that you maybe were surprised by or-

Brittany: I think pet has been a big surprise for us. The sublingual on the pet side, that's one where we have heard so many firsthand accounts of just life-changing improvement in pet health. That's been big. We're about to launch our very first suppository. It's a personal moisturizer for menstrual discomfort. We really pushed it for women. The testing on that so far has been excellent. I think it's going to be a really good place for a lot of people that suffer from that kind of menstrual pain, endometriosis and beyond. I'm really hopeful about how many people that product can help. It'll be launched next month.

Sinead: Oh, that's exciting. That's definitely an up-and-coming niche there and I think a very promising one. I'm excited to see what you guys do.

Brittany: That's definitely where we want to focus on our cannabis processing and the products we bring to life, we are going to really focus on women products and beauty products because there's just none of that in our market, and there's so much opportunity to help people there.

Sinead: Absolutely. Brittany, I really want to get your opinion on the cannabis landscape in Arkansas right now. I know there's a huge push to get recreational cannabis on the ballot for next year. What are your thoughts on that? What do you think the outcome is going to be and how at Shake Brands are you positioning yourselves for that?

Brittany: This is just personally. I would be surprised if we get there in '22. I just think that the program needs to mature a little bit beyond where we are. It's so small and they really just have been slow in methodical which I respect in many ways about how the legislation has been crafted and how the licenses have been handled. I would be surprised to see it in '22. I think some of our neighboring states, I think we've got a chance.

I could see maybe it happening in Missouri, which is nearby. We've talked a lot about what that could look like if Missouri and Oklahoma were immediately there sooner than we were, them being such neighboring states, especially to our region here in the northwest corner. I think it'll be interesting to see. I'd be surprised if we go in '22, but I hope it's not too far after that. It's certainly where our mentality is long-term.

Sinead: Definitely. That's what I figured. I think maybe next year might be a little too soon, but it's definitely in the cards for Arkansas very, very soon here, so lots to be excited about in Arkansas. Brittany, I want to wrap up with a few fun, personal development questions because I know CBD is a big part of your life but it's not the only part so I'd love to ask you a few questions. First one, is there a book that's had a big impact on your life or your way of thinking that you could share with listeners?

Brittany: Yes, for sure. On the personal side, I think I would have to go with To Kill a Mockingbird just because I read that at such an early age and it formed so many just really firm beliefs in justice and equality in my mind. It's been just something I could reflect on my whole life whether I was a kid growing up, a young adult and now as a parent. For sure, you just see life at so many stages through that beautiful book by Harper Lee.

Then I'd also just mention on the professional side, to me, the very first thing that connected the dots between design and cannabis was that Pentagram designed Field Guide to Marijuana by Dan Michaels. I think it was maybe like in 2013 or 2014 and I saw as a designer, solely just following Pentagram and all of their amazing brand work, and just the photography by Christiansen in that book, it was just an incredible way to bring the education to the plant and elevate its space in the design world for sure.

Sinead: That's great. For our listeners that are interested in cannabis design that's a great recommendation.

Brittany: Yes, for sure.

Sinead: Awesome. Well, Brittany, our next little personal development question here for you. What would you say right now, if you ended this interview and you went and turned on Spotify, what would you listen to right now?

Brittany: You bet. Right now, we over here are super into women singer-songwriters in Americana genre so we've got tickets to see Larkin Poe coming to Fayetteville, Arkansas in November. Our biggest pride and joy, definitely of late has been the rise and success of Brandi Carlile. We've been seeing her. My best friend and my wife and I have been seeing her in dive bar since the late '90s, little venues that she wouldn't even dream of playing anymore, and to see her come on to the stage in such a powerful way and everything that she stands for has been just pure joy so I think that's definitely the genre of the moment at our house and beyond.

Sinead: Oh that's great. I'm not familiar with Brandi Carlile. I'm going to have to look her up after this.

Brittany: Check it out. One of her bands is The Highwomen and they're a whole movement of their own. It's an amazing singer-songwriter combination there that put out a killer album [crosstalk].

Sinead: Oh my gosh. Yes, okay, I'm going to make a note here to look her up after this.

Brittany: For sure.

Sinead: That sounds like it'd be right up my alley. Awesome.

Brittany: Yes, you'll love it.

Sinead: All right, well, Brittany, wrapping up here. What's the best way for listeners to get connected with you at Shake Brands.

Brittany: You bet. Shake Colab.com is a great way. I think the real thing I'd like to say is, we are just calling all minority-owned and women-owned-run businesses in the cannabis industry so that's dispensary owners, farmers, developers, any kind of pro, we want to hear from you. We want to work together to build brands that matter and products that help people. You can find us through the form at Shake Colab, or Brittany, B-R-I-T-T-A-N-Y @ShakeColab.com and me or one of the buds will get right back to you and let's get started. We're on Instagram under ShakeColab as well, and cbdandme.co. You can find us there.

Sinead: Awesome. Well, Brittany, thank you so much for coming on the show today. This has been such a fascinating interview. I've loved getting to know more about you and Shake Brands and just wishing you all the best with the company over the next couple of years. I'm really looking forward to seeing what you guys do.

Brittany: Awesome, Sinead. Thank you so much for your time and energy today. I appreciate what you guys are doing so much and it won't be something I forget, so thank you.

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