The 2nd annual Hall of Flowers show landed in Santa Rosa, California this week looking to build upon the success of the event and the vendors who participated in it last year and by all measures they seem to have exceeded expectations.
At its roots, Hall of Flowers is a cannabis consumption-friendly B2B (Business to Business) trade show curated by some of the brightest minds in the cannabis marketing space, and beyond, to highlight the top brands from California’s legal, licensed marijuana market.
The Beard Bros. crew was there, as were many of our friends in this industry and culture, and here’s how we saw it all go down.
LEVELING UP vs. GAME OVER
Confession time: I’m a pretty big video game nerd. Always have been.
But from the Atari and Commodore 64 to today’s hottest titles, I’ve never played the perfect video game. The problem is, I cannot even put my finger on what they’re all lacking that I’m apparently looking for even after all these years.
Well, I’ve been smoking weed for nearly 30 years as well and I’ve been to every sort of cannabis themed event or trade show that you can imagine. From wholesale to retail, B2B to straight up sesh-heavy celebrations, I’ve been there.
On paper, a cannabis expo should be fun and worthwhile every time, right?
Public consumption with your friends without fear of law enforcement, good music, food, and weed everywhere… what more can you ask for?
Last year’s Emerald Cup (also hosted at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa) definitely raised the bar and restored my diminished faith in such events – you can read about that experience HERE. But this was my first visit to Hall of Flowers and suddenly everything – all of those various experiences over the years – just *clicked* and everything felt right.
Just as The Emerald Cup felt like a leveling up for the cannabis community, Hall of Flowers has similarly blazed a better trail for future B2B and industry networking events.
While there will always be a market for glass shows and more ancillary product promotions, Hall of Flowers was clearly focused on the California cannabis supply chain. This made every vendor a relevant and useful stop for the buyers making their way around the showroom floor.
As the event continues to grow, we’d like to see some more top-shelf ancillary products – still selectively chosen by event organizers – for more of a one-stop-shop and to put pressure on more traditional B2B trade shows to step their game up if they want to survive.
OG’s (OPTICAL GANGSTERS)
Everything about Hall of Flowers is pleasing to the eye.
Taking place this year on the idyllic late-Spring dates of April 30th & May 1st, the weather could not have been better for this indoor/outdoor event in the basin of the famed Emerald Triangle.
There were a few vendors strategically placed outside, like Puffco, which allowed them to truly demo their products with potential buyers as smoking and vaping were prohibited indoors. The voluminous but dated buildings at the Fairgrounds have pretty poor airflow so, to me, this was a good decision and the setup outside was incredibly inviting.
Shaded, grassy areas abound at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and Hall of Flowers took full advantage with hundreds of unique and cozy seating options strewn thoughtfully about – including countless massive bean bag chairs that proved to be very popular for those trying to get off their feet for a while.
Anytime I needed to sit down, I could.
Why is that so rare at other events?
My guess is that their old rutted mentality is that if people are sitting, they aren’t buying. But Hall of Flowers knows that it is curating an experience, not a trip to the mall, and it shows from top to bottom.
Clever use of colorful and aesthetically pleasing geometric banners and tarps disguised the not-so-appealing portions of the Fairgrounds infrastructure and although the event reportedly more than doubled in size from the year before, there was plenty of room and it was easy to navigate the grounds and relink with friends.
A live DJ spun an eclectic mix of tracks from a half-baked Noah’s Ark-like structure, providing a perfect soundtrack to the dreamlike surreality of the scene.
Once inside the two main exhibition halls, buyers and general admission guests were treated to an eye-pleasing display of over 250 of the top California cannabis brands currently operating in the regulated market.
Unlike virtually every cannabis event or counter culture trade show that I’ve ever been to, Hall of Flowers drastically limits the amount of signage and booth building that each brand is allowed to do, and this is a good thing in my opinion.
Each booth space is divided by these really cool slatted bamboo side and back walls that not only provide a clean, uniform look for the showroom, but they greatly reduce the amount of crap that each vendor needs to haul with them to Santa Rosa to delineate their space on the floor.
The modular style of the walls allows for easy display of shelving for products or imagery to hype the brand and the uniform spaces mean that each company gets an equal look from passers-by and will be judged on the quality of their product and their branding, rather than the quantity of it.
Bill, Jeff, and I loved it because the walls are like six feet high and the three of us are nearly six and a half feet tall so it made it easy for us to find each other if we got split up.
It was also very easy to find exactly what booth or brand you were looking for thanks to maps being handed out at the entrance and useful signage everywhere you looked to help guide you to the good stuff.
Living up to its name, the vast majority of the vendors at the show were there to push cannabis and cannabis-infused goods. There has been some critique online already about the quality of the buds on display but we found it to be a pretty damn accurate depiction of the legal market as it stands today – some absolute fire in a sea of midgrade, mass produced boof.
The fact of the matter is that if they limited the show to only companies providing 5-star weed on the legal market, they could hold it in a walk-in closet.
Instead, what we saw were a lot of well-funded startups trying their hardest to keep their heads above water while also trying to appear equal parts authentic and confident. Many of them will figure it out, some will not. . . that’s business.
LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK
Hall of Flowers has witnessed what works at cannabis related events, and what does not. They have picked pieces and parts from shows inside and outside of the cannabis space to create one dope-ass Frankenstein of funk.
One of the main “outside” influences on the direction of the event is the tactfully outspoken mega-entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, whose proven radar for “the next big thing” led him to the epicenter of the cannabis culture.
Now a partner with L.A.-based Green Street – the industry’s most forward-thinking branding and marketing agency – Gary V is laying his profanity-laden wisdom on our community and, love him or otherwise, the smart people in the room are paying attention.
At the inaugural Hall of Flowers show in 2018, Vaynerchuk served as the keynote speaker and by all accounts completely wowed the crowd with his cutthroat insights and his genuine excitement about this new industry blooming before his eyes.
This year he also took the stage, moderating a discussion that essentially boiled down to the power of branding. The Bros. and I had to collectively pick our jaws up from the floor once the hour had ended as Gary, point by point, completely validated all of the effort that our crew has been putting in for years now to build our brand through compelling content creation.
Put this quote in your pipe and puff on it a bit:
“If your shit sucks and your brand is phenomenal, it’s just going to speed up the process of people figuring out that your shit sucks.”
It really breaks down to being the type of person who when confronted with a challenge doesn’t resort to asking, “Why me?”, but instead says, “Ok, why not?” and tackles it. Being that type of person and surrounding yourself with those types of people is how you build and sustain a brand in these wild times.
As cannabis goes mainstream so does the face of cannabis and nowhere was this more apparent than at Hall of Flowers this week.
Never before have we seen such diversity at a cannabis event, or maybe at any event. It is very safe to estimate that roughly 50% of the attendees at the show were female and the multiplicity of cultures made the concept of race feel foreign even though it is still a harsh reality outside the Fairground gates.
The amount of good looking people didn’t escape me, nor did it escape another celeb speaker at the event, Chelsea Handler, who remarked that she likes her business partners to be “showered”. There was a spattering of suits, but just as few crusty creatures, with a plethora of healthy, functional, beautiful potheads fueling a multi-billion dollar revolution.
Without naming names, noticeably absent were the real fuckboys of yesteryear. I figure that the size and enthusiasm of the crowd can likely be chalked up in large part to the fact that so many of those in attendance have been burnt by High Times, or Chalice, or others and realized that they finally found the solace that I had too.
General admission 2-day tickets were $350 plus a twenty-something dollar service fee. So call it $375. That ain’t cheap but for the vendors onsite, it allowed them to spend more time to form lasting business relationships with wholesale buyers, and still gave them a chance to introduce or reinforce their brand with the public connoisseurs.
Parking is free. Hell, even some incredibly life-saving, cottonmouth-quenching, charcoal-filtered lemonade and cinnamon churro cold brew was free on tap both days from the homies at Kingston Coffee.
Much like the complementary umbrellas and raised walkways at December’s Emerald Cup, these thoughtful touches go a long way to separate shows like theirs and Hall of Flowers from the rest.
GRIPES FROM THE GRASSROOTS
Ok, ok, nothing is totally perfect, right? Considering that this was only the second year of the event, and considering the current regulatory environment, we were pleasantly surprised at how smoothly Hall of Flowers was executed, but here’s where we saw some room for improvement.
Due to the absolutely dispassionate restrictions of Prop 64 on cannabis compassion programs, handing out free samples at an event like Hall of Flowers (or anywhere in Cali, really) is no longer legal. Instead, compassion-based outfits like our good friends at Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance are forced to buy their own product from themselves at full retail price (including all applicable taxes) to be able to legally give it away to fellow veterans in need.
In order to comply with that ass-backwards part of “legal weed”, and in order to make sure that no one person walked away from the event with more than the state-imposed daily limit of an ounce of flower and/or 8g of cannabis extracts, Hall of Flowers implemented a plan that probably worked better in theory than in practice.
Instead of dispensing samples themselves, vendors would give interested buyers a serialized ticket. Once you had a stack of these tickets, you could redeem them at one of two “dispensary” booths operated by Showgrow. They would scan your ticket to reveal what the sample actually was – it could be a pre-roll, an 8th of buds, a bath bomb, a small edible, or more – and you pay $2 per ticket to get the goods.
The money went to cover the cost and tax obligation for each “$1” sample and buyers walked away with a bag of goodies for $10-20 in most cases.
Sounds great, right?
The problem that arose was a pretty ironic reflection of the Cali cannabis market as whole, though, as lines for the dispensary booths became comically long and samples reportedly ran out long before the corresponding tickets had been redeemed.
Of course, the wait was much shorter at the beginning of each day than it was at the end, but the end of the day is when you have a handful of tickets. The fix is simple and we have little doubt that they will beef up the distribution game next year assuming that the state still makes them jump through so many ridiculous hoops.
Also, the show concluded at 6pm the first day, and ran a bit longer on the second and final day. We’d love to see them close the exhibition halls at 6pm, but keep that stellar outdoor area open into the night. That way all of our friends who’ve been stuck working their booths all day could catch the vibe as well and the party could continue. Santa Rosa is a beautiful town but there is not much to do there on a Tuesday or Wednesday night.
Are we being picky? Maybe, but one thing is certain – Hall of Flowers is the future of Business-to-Business cannabis events and the future is finally getting brighter.