Taking a risk on something new

During the 19th century, one of Buffalo’s more famous entrepreneurs was Dr. Ray Vaughan Pierce, maker and distributor of patent medicines. His products, including one called Dr. Pierce’s Compound Extract of Smart Weed, sold more than a million bottles a year between 1867 and 1880.

Fast forward to now. Once again, Buffalo is home to entrepreneurs who manufacture and sell extracts, tinctures, and salves to cure what ails you, including chronic pain. Unlike Dr. Pierce’s medicines, these don’t contain trace amounts of opium: The products crafted by the two partners at Bison Botanics contain cannabidiol, derived from the cannabis plant and commonly called CBD.

This isn’t medical marijuana, explained Justin Schultz, president of this five-month-old enterprise. CBD oil is the main active ingredient in a variety of products that don’t require a prescription and are sold over the counter. Just as you would visit your corner pharmacy to pick up a bottle of cough syrup, Bison Botanics is your approachable destination for CBD-based pain relievers.

Schultz and his business partner, Mike Andrews, vice president of Bison Botanics, aren’t doctors or pharmacists. They both have digital marketing backgrounds and share a passion for small business. They are also 30-somethings who carefully watch and research for trends that have solid potential. While neither has retail experience, the idea of opening a business based on emerging opportunity was hugely attractive.

“Our intention was not to be a retail location,” said Schultz. “Our intention was to do the product manufacturing. That’s still our focus. We wholesale the products we make to retailers throughout New York state.”

But there’s something about supplying products to consumers who need and appreciate life-changing benefits that really resonated with Schultz and Andrews. Their location at 1100 Military Rd. is in the footprint of an emerging neighborhood, with a brewery, restaurant, and other enterprises that are attracting new traffic. When they opened on Dec. 1, 2018, they saw the potential that their own retail establishment could have, in addition to the manufacturing side. Schultz said they are very happy with their growing customer base, who are – surprisingly – mostly women, 55 years old, who are seeking relief from chronic pain. This parallels with the enterprise’s largest wholesale accounts that are mostly headshops whose customers are also interested in pain relief. Andrews said, “This isn’t what we expected, but then again, we didn’t know what to expect.”

This early success is impressive for these two business partners who are self-funding their enterprise. They’re also self-taught and learning more about their new industry every day. “We purchase CBD extract from different New York state farms, and we add value by breaking it down and adding other components for different purposes,” said Schultz. Hours of careful research and working with testing labs helped them hone in on their products and are giving them the skills they need to become a trusted source for quality products.

Word of mouth is powering their initial success: next steps include working with Launch NY to grow their business, develop a network, and prepare for more growth. “We recognize the fact that we need to advance ourselves to stay a player,” Schultz said.

While the founders are still working at their full-time jobs, they are in the process of leaving their jobs to give the business their full attention. Part-time staff was added and will gradually add their hours to full-time status in coming weeks.

Schultz and Andrews have had their stumbling blocks. Every business needs to establish the basics, like ordering merchandise, securing banking relationships, establishing customer point-of-sale tools. Although this business is completely legal and legitimate, business providers are leery. “We lost our credit card merchant because the company made a decision to not do business with the CBD trade,” Schultz said.

Another challenge was telling family and friends about their new business. While both families are now supportive – Andrews’ mom is now a daily CBD oil user – the families had questions, making sure it’s 100 percent legal and something that’s worth the career redirection.

Andrews said the duo’s biggest success is that they’ve found every piece of business themselves, and now people are circling back to them. Schultz agrees, and adds that another success is being part of the conversation within Buffalo’s small business community. “It’s extremely rewarding,” he said proudly.

“What we’re doing with CBD is so beneficial, we know we’re helping people,´ Schultz said. “That’s what makes it an easy decision to leave our careers. We’re really confident.”

Read more articles by Cherie Messore.

Cherie Messore is a native Buffalonian and has longtime experience in the region's vibrant not-for-profit sector with special interests in the cultural community and education. She is also a freelance writer, public relations practitioner, and volunteer docent at Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House.
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