GROWF: building a cannabis community

The audience that this rolling-paper brand has created is impressive – and it's all thanks to a friendly, welcoming vibe that's helped the business carve out a niche client base.
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Who said you can't get good ideas while stoned? Janay Brown, founder of GROWF, first had the spark to create rolling papers containing real fruit while enjoying the ‘local activities’ of Denver, Colorado. She'd gone there for a break after school was canceled during the pandemic and really intended only to take a vacation.

‘I smoked a little bit, and I was like: this is great. But my friends had me smoking all these different kinds of flavored papers.’ She asked if they were made out of real fruit and got a resounding ‘no’. ‘I was like: “Well, why not?” They were like: “Girl, you're too high. Stop worrying and just smoke!”’

Back home in Virginia, the idea stuck with Janay long after the high wore off. With time on her hands, she started to experiment with making ‘adult fruit roll-ups’. She started selling to friends and family, posted on Facebook and went viral on TikTok and Twitter with videos of the papers. Janay, now 25, started her first business as a teenager. She previously ran Full Belly Delights, a gourmet snack subscription, which she was planning to transition into a restaurant. But, as a result of the pandemic, her funding was pulled, and she was left at a loose end. 

‘It all started from the rolling papers, and simply having that idea grew into what it is now,’ she says. What GROWF is now is a bricks-and-mortar space where people can smoke, hang out and have all their stoner needs taken care of. It sells herbal pre-rolled cigarettes for things like insomnia, anxiety and period cramps, alongside rolling boards, papers and other accessories. A key thing for GROWF is its bottled lemonades and teas, made in-house with herbs. 

Shortly after GROWF opened, Virginia expedited a law making individual use of weed legal. The law will change for businesses in 2024, but Janay has no current plans to be a dispensary. ‘It's a lot of legal and paperwork and everything like that. I feel like we can be in the cannabis industry without selling cannabis.’

A safe space

GROWF provides a safe space for people to enjoy weed and meet other people. It's a community based around cannabis that offers people in Virginia a place to go where they don't have to worry about much. ‘Most people have their own and are still getting it the traditional way. We're just providing a safe space for everybody to enjoy their cannabis,’ says Janay. 

The company is just about to open its second location in Virginia, but its flagship in the city of Suffolk will continue to thrive and hold bigger events. Those events vary, but they're all weed-friendly: open mics, game nights and hot-topic debates. For every event, people can bring their own, smoke and enjoy some lemonade or tea. There are always food vendors, and it's an ideal space for stoners who might otherwise have nowhere to go. ‘We got snacks, candy – all that fun stuff,’ laughs Janay.

GROWF became a limited liability company in September 2020 and opened its first space in April 2021, so Janay has built a community around the business quickly. The growth has happened organically. ‘GROWF is really an extension of myself and I've always been an open, friendly person. The community just feels like a safe space. There are a lot of people, especially myself, in the Suffolk area who didn't have places to go where they felt accepted,’ says Janay. ‘GROWF is about being who you are, accepting who you are and letting you grow with us.’

It started with a team of 10, which has grown to 50, and that community vibe is felt throughout the business. ‘When we went viral, me and my best friend needed help with the company. We put the call out like: “Are you in the area? We've got food, we've got weed.” The first people to hit us up, we hired. They stayed and built the foundation to [what] we are now,’ says Janay. Outside of work, they hang out together, go camping and do different activities. Beyond that, they've built a community just from social media and word of mouth. ‘It was literally social media: going viral on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at the same time. When people got their orders, they'd post, too,’ says Janay.

Highs and lows

While that online growth has been integral, Janay believes that the way GROWF has grown alongside its team is key to its success. ‘My team have seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The fact that we're still together, still pushing through, shows that GROWF is teaching us how to grow and be comfortable being uncomfortable.’ The name itself came from a casual comment Janay's friend made on the way her hair was growing out: ‘The meaning didn't come until after I started seeing it unfold for myself,’ she says.

GROWF is growing quickly but, while Janay wants to get to the next thing, she doesn't want to expand outside Virginia just yet – not before she's sure that everyone in the state knows the brand. The business has just started a smoking club in its stores, and the next step is focusing on wholesale to get the products out there. ‘Now that people know who we are, we want to make sure that our papers are accessible to them everywhere. We can ship it out. Obviously, with demand going up, we need to be able to make sure that people are getting their papers in a timely manner,’ says Janay. The team will also be getting products out to pop-ups and expos, making a name for themselves in the weed world.

While growing such a strong community seems natural for someone as open and generous as Janay, she reiterates that it's still difficult, but it's worth it. ‘If you really love it, stick with it because, if it's meant for you, it's going to take place. There have been days where I don't know how we're gonna take this to the next day. Keep going, keep pushing, don't stop. Tomorrow might be your day if you put the work in.’

This article was first published in How to Start a Business 2023. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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