Garden Party's Approach to Weed-Friendly Retail
Weed buy that!
The Broccoli Report
April 2, 2021
Time to read: 12 minutes, 54 seconds. 2583 words.
Independent boutiques and gift shops are the Trojan horse for weed in mainstream retail—a boutique selling socks and home decor alongside the odd cannabis pipe that you can stroll into and browse is way more accessible than flashing an ID to visit a licensed dispensary. These stores can have a tremendous impact on how mainstream audiences perceive cannabis culture while giving weed-brands access to audiences who wouldn’t typically follow a weed-related IG account.
A more boutique approach to weed retail can also work to welcome the weed-curious. At Garden Party in Asheville, North Carolina, shoppers can find prints by local artists alongside Boy Smells candles, while pipes by Flower by Edie Parker and Miwak Junior share shelf space with Le Bon Shoppe socks, Dame sex toys, and Broccoli magazine. Their “friendly weed” vibe extends to Instagram, with posts like this very helpful pipe cleaning tutorial.
The colorful, cozy shop is the work of Tarleton Walmsley, Garden Party’s co-founder and creative director. In today’s chat, she talks candidly about the why behind sourcing decisions, the future of brick-and-mortar retail, the definition of a party in a garden, and what she wishes CBD brands did before reaching out as a potential vendor.
LY: How did you get into retail?
TW: My first foray into retail happened in my childhood bedroom, where I would spend hours merchandising my stuff into a boutique and convince my little sister to be my customer. My first actual retail job was at a stationery store where anything and everything could be monogrammed. In college, I was interested in becoming a curator or gallerist but continued to work part-time in various retail jobs. I moved to Asheville in 2009 with every intention of blowing up the Asheville art world with my curatorial prowess (lol), but that didn’t really take off. So, to make ends meet, I started selling vintage and mid-century housewares and furniture in an antique shop I managed. My love of interiors and styling began there, and I was able to use that experience to make my way into the back end of retail. I worked for a book distribution company, then a business-to-business stationery and gift brand. Both jobs allowed me to experience the tradeshow world for the first time. In an unintentional way, I think I was always setting myself up for owning my own business, but it took a lot of early ‘30s “What is my purpose?” moments to figure it all out.
LY: Can you tell me about the inspiration behind the name "Garden Party?"
TW: I love the nuance of our name. I think people immediately think of florals and outdoor parties, but because I grew up in the South, I specifically think of this country club, Slim Aarons aesthetic where all of the women are wearing Lilly Pulitzer shift dresses. I never fit in with that kind of vibe—the day I wore fishnet tights to school, hell may as well have frozen over. So maybe in some weird roundabout way, I am attempting to change the narrative of what a “garden party” means and reclaiming it to define an elevated experience.
To me, a garden party can mean multiple things—sure, an actual party with friends (when we can do that again), but also creating a bubble of your own for partaking in a smoke session and completely vibing out. Maybe you like to light candles and write in your journal, or maybe you listen to the same record over and over and over again, or surround yourself with coffee-table books that transport you to another place. Having a “garden party” is about spending time with yourself, exploring yourself, performing the rituals that honor who you are to your core. It doesn’t have to include cannabis, but at least in my experience, smoking helps enhance the beauty of that journey toward achieving real love for oneself.
Also, sure—the Ricky Nelson song. ;)
LY: How did you decide that you wanted to include weed-adjacent products in your shop?
TW: Weed came back into my life when I started dating Seth. We met shortly after I had ended my marriage, and although weed wasn’t new to me, Seth introduced me to CBD. Marital trauma is a topic for another day, but part of my process of healing from it 100% includes weed, CBD, and experiencing a healthy relationship for the first time. It was an incredibly powerful experience—what could have been a moment for me to give up and call it quits ended up being a time of empowerment for me. Cannabis helped me connect with myself again for the first time in years.
And yet, as a newly single woman in her mid-30s, I no longer wanted to shop for smokeware and CBD at the head shops in town—they just don’t resonate with me. I wanted a different, aesthetically pleasing shopping experience. As I began to embrace the new life I was creating, the concept for Garden Party began.
LY: Your physical retail space is in Asheville, North Carolina. What’s the landscape like there in terms of customers being comfortable with weedy stuff?
TW: Asheville prides itself on being a liberal mountain town, so to that degree, weedy stuff isn’t too taboo. SO many people smoke weed, and legalization is right around the corner, so it’s exciting that we can begin embracing that more. That said, we are still in the South, and people are generally more discreet about whether or not they partake. To an extent, I also come from this place of reservation—until Garden Party opened, my mom didn’t know I smoked weed, and we never really talked about it openly. There are still so many misconceptions, so part of our job is to provide a comfortable setting to educate and normalize the experience of using weed and weed-adjacent products. Still, we do have an occasional visitor coming into the shop for the first time, not understanding what we’re about, only to immediately walk out. Maybe it’s the vibrators? Idk. You can feel their discomfort, and it’s a bummer when that happens.
LY: What have been some of the pros and cons of dealing with weed-adjacent brands and products?
TW: Probably the biggest pro is building community through working with weed-adjacent brands. There seems to be a really supportive, creative, collaborative spirit unique to the vendors we work with, and I love that. It’s also refreshing to see brands beginning to use their platforms to speak out about and take actual action against how the war on drugs has negatively and disproportionately affected Black and Latinx communities.
We’ve certainly experienced some cons along the way. Navigating credit card processors and traditional banking is a challenge, the ability to run full ad campaigns on our social platforms can be tricky, and we’re limited in what features IG will allow us to use to promote our products. There’s also a level of shadiness that can happen—we had to take legal action against a rolling paper company trying to use our name and branding. They claimed they’d never heard of us, and we eventually figured out they had placed an online order with us prior to launching the company. Oof. Regarding CBD, there are also still so many unregulated aspects to the business that allow brands to skirt around stating what’s actually in their products—transparency is often lacking. I believe we have a responsibility to our customers to be honest and help guide and educate them in their buying decisions. Ultimately, we’re trying our best to run a legit, legal business and prefer to work with others that share similar values.
LY: As a buyer, how do you find new brands to carry? What do you wish brands knew about your buying process?
TW: I’d say that it’s 50% me spending time researching brands, and 50% of the time people reaching out directly to us. I think buying is probably my favorite part, especially after I’ve smoked a little weed and am browsing—I do love a good product, good design, and shopping, so it certainly scratches a retail therapy itch for me. That said, I am also trying to be more intentional with how I buy for the shop. There are three specific things I try to think about when I’m buying:
1. Do I want this for the shop just because it’s so, so cute, and I really want it for myself, or does it actually fit within the scope of our offerings?
2. Would I enjoy using this product during a “Garden Party” smoke session? Does it enhance the five senses?
3. What are the brand’s values? Do they care about equity and inclusion, and do they use their brand and platform for good?
I do wish that CBD brands would look at what products we already offer and reach out if they feel there is a real gap they could fill for us, rather than presenting us with yet another tincture or salve option with a cute label. Ultimately, it doesn’t make sense for a store of our size to carry five or six CBD tinctures at a time that are only differentiated by their packaging. We end up turning down a lot of people that reach out based simply on the fact that the market is oversaturated.
As with many newer, small businesses, we have to be intentional about spending money. Cash flow is always a challenge,. Especially throughout the pandemic, I have appreciated working with brands that are willing to lower their minimum order quantities, etc., to make the process a little more accessible for a business of our size.
LY: We’ve seen you featured as a retailer who uses Bulletin, a wholesale platform for brands to sell their wares into cool retailers. How do you integrate this platform into your sourcing strategy?
TW: Platforms like Bulletin are a great way for us to fill in our sideline offerings, kind of like a one-stop-shop, and it’s been especially helpful since we haven’t been able to go to trade shows this past year. On the retail end, Bulletin streamlines the process of buying so that it isn’t so time-consuming, and I do feel like it’s a more curated platform than others emerging—less “junk” to browse through. And because Bulletin offers Net 60 terms, it makes it a lot easier for us to manage our buying budget. While we will continue using this platform, especially since trade shows are becoming a thing of the past, I do enjoy the experience of working with a vendor one-on-one the most. We’ve forged some pretty cool relationships with people simply through the back-and-forth of doing business together, and it’s through those relationships that you’re able to build a solid community of support around each others’ brands.
LY: How has the pandemic affected your business?
TW: Before the pandemic hit, we were struggling with how to grow the business. We were still in our first location—a shared space with a few other businesses and makers. I loved the environment but knew that we needed a fully fleshed-out retail location of our own. We were also having a hard time translating the experience of shopping with us in-person to our website; our conversion rate was pretty whack. Seth had also just started working at Garden Party full-time, a transition that was a little rocky at first. He had left an executive position with a CBD/hemp company, and his experience in the industry has been integral to our growth. The pandemic forced us to figure all of this stuff out.
Last March, we closed the first shopfront and pivoted to offering delivery services. We were able to draw traffic to the website for placing delivery orders, and as that was happening, orders started coming in from outside of Asheville, too. While that momentum was building, we were able to secure a true dream of a shopfront with funding from a Small Business Association (SBA) relief loan. By the time we reopened in June, we’d experienced a lot of personal and professional growth that propelled us into being able to achieve some crucial milestones for the business. There were also a lot of dark moments (and an unexpected tax bill that was like a punch to the gut), but ultimately, the pandemic forced us to reckon with ourselves, and we’re coming out of it much stronger than we were before.
LY: How has the pandemic affected the way you think about brick-and-mortar retail in general?
TW: Companies like Walmart, Target, and Amazon are reshaping the retail experience, and many people consider brick-and-mortar retail to be dying a slow death. But the pandemic has taught me quite the opposite, especially when I think about community. Our community in Asheville showed up for us every day during the pandemic. And because we were experiencing growth, we could then use our money to support other local businesses in town, contribute to mutual aid campaigns, and commit to joining equity-driven organizations like the Floret Coalition. There seems to be a real awareness that, as consumers, we have buying power. For us as a business, we also learned that being transparent about our values and committing ourselves to a higher standard of equity initiatives was another unexpected way to connect.
LY: A little birdy told us that you’ve got a loft space at your current retail location and dreams of launching an artist residency program. Can you tell us more about that fantasy?
TW: Ah, yes! The loft. We are continually evaluating how we envision the space to unfold—in a post-COVID world, the possibilities are endless. Right now, it’s being rented in one- to three-month increments to help with overhead costs. Our longer-term dream is to use it as office and creative studio space for Garden Party, as well as a place to host classes, events, and pop-ups.
The idea for the residency aspect came about after we hosted Ian Shiver in the loft. Ian is a photographer in New York City and Philadelphia, and some of his clients include brands we carry at the shop (Quill and Veil, for example). When Seth connected with Ian for an interview for our blog, we realized Ian has family in the area. We offered him the loft as a place to stay, and in return, Ian offered to shoot some photos for us that we otherwise might not have been able to afford. That’s where this idea came about. We envision being able to share this beautiful space with other creatives—photographers, artists, writers, marketers, content creators, etc.—with the hope that there can be a level of collaboration involved, a mutually beneficial exchange that doesn’t have to involve money. At the least, providing a space for people to vibe out and get inspired feels right to me.
LY: As a retailer, what are some of the most effective ways for connecting with and acquiring customers? Anything unexpected?
TW: People develop loyalty through authenticity. We try to stay true to ourselves and our values, and also work not to take ourselves too seriously. We’re also just people behind this brand, learning as we go. I think it’s totally okay to share the human side to our platform every now and then, and that seems to resonate.
I’ll be back in your inboxes Monday with a fresh round of One-Hitters!
See you in the garden,