Smoke & Vape Business Solutions sat down with Nathan Todd, the owner and founder of Windship Trading Inc, in addition to numerous other businesses, to find out more about his involvement in the industry.
How did you become to get involved in this industry?
It’s an interesting story. My father took a government job in Costa Rica when I was 15, which enabled me to see the world through a different lense. While growing up and traveling around in Central America I developed a fascination for the handicrafts in local markets. Back then I would travel back to the USA to visit friends and I would bring them gifts from the Central American markets. Clearly everyone’s favorite gifts were clay pipes. They were so unique that my friends ended up buying all of the extra items I had with me.
The next time I returned to the States I brought back even more pipes along with other items and I sold out again. The following summer when I was 16, I brought up a lot more, consigned them and sold them to hemp stores and gift shops. That was in 1995 and there weren’t really that many smoke shops back then, but that’s how I first got started in the industry.
As soon as I graduated from high school, I saved up my money and I shipped a bunch of product to the United States. This included everything from small pipes and handcrafted clothing to jewelry and knick knacks. When I received everything, I bought a van and outfitted it to be like a mini RV and loaded up the product. I drove around the United States, mostly just having a good time, but also loading up stores and selling at craft shows and music festivals. Along the way I developed friendships with artists in the emerging glass blowing scene and began selling their products for them as well. Soon thereafter, I met my wife, Jaimie, who owned and operated a handmade candle company.
Jaimie and I continued to make a variety of products and import handicrafts which we sold at music festivals, craft fairs, trade shows and stores all over the country. This eventually became a bigger company called Festival Outfitters, which is still a part of Windship Trading today. Around this time, about 10 years ago, we were doing 75 festivals a year in addition wholesale. All the while, we were raising 3 kids and I was attaining an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree. Needless to say, we were really busy. So we decided, why not open another business. It makes no sense, but I find the excitement and challenge of creating a new business totally invigorating. So my wife and I opened a coffee shop called Tantra Coffeehouse. Tantra will actually be celebrating its 10th birthday this July. Tantra then led to another venture when we began bottling a number of beverages that we made at the coffeehouse. That company, Busy Bee Yerba Mate, is now sold at Whole Foods and many other outlets.
Another company that we created is Cali Crusher. Throughout the years of doing music festivals and selling products to stores we had built up a really solid business in selling herb grinders. It was kind of crazy because when we first started selling them, everyone pretty much thought it was a joke. They didn’t think there was a reason to spend $20-$70 on something when they could just use their hands or a coffee grinder. So we set up teams of people who began educating and promoting the cool factor behind having something that was built specifically for herb. About 6 years ago, we realized we had helped develop a lot of the grinder companies we worked with and we decided to launch our own brand. That is when Cali Crusher was born.
Cali Crusher began with us doing an import line. We had a couple of failed collaborations in the beginning and the first year in general was very difficult. Soon enough, we found a manufacturer in China that was great to work with. We built up a great relationship with them and still work with them today. From there, we decided to build a grinder that was made in the USA. We talked to a number of people that worked for different companies about what we wanted to do and how we wanted to brand something really unique, but it wasn’t playing out how we wanted. Then one day, we met someone that had developed something really unique and we worked out a deal to get exclusive rights to many of the aspects of this grinder that would soon become the Homegrown Cali Crusher. Today, Homegrown is still made in San Diego and we are constantly working on expansion to keep up with demand.
All the while we have been further growing and developing Windship Trading. I ran the wholesale portion of Windship Trading out of my garage and a storage unit for the first decade. However, about seven years ago our products found their way into our living room and dining room more often than not. So we rented our first warehouse. Two years later we were in a bigger warehouse, then we moved to our current warehouse for more space. Crazy enough, last week we negotiated adding an additional 4,000 square feet to our current space. Things are growing fast!
How do you set personal goals for yourself? What is the process like?
I don’t have very many that are long term. I set a lot of very short term, highly achievable goals for myself. That way I don’t find myself struggling to get somewhere and spending too much time doing so. However, I did set a goal for myself when I turned 30 – I am now 38, the goal was that I would have 10 business by the time I was 40 and I am currently involved in 7 different businesses right now. Then I would slowly begin selling those businesses and moving towards retirement. But the reality of the situation is that I probably won’t ever retire because I truly love what I do.
Why have you stayed in this industry for so many years?
It has been amazing to watch this industry mature and diversify. I was involved in this industry before there was a trade show for it. I’ve watch the trade shows and products develop over the years and it’s been truly fascinating to watch everything unfold. There’s a lot of ingenuity that goes into this industry now. We now have highly intelligent and highly intriguing personalities coming into this industry that are developing things that you’ve never thought of or never knew you needed.
In the past there were a lot of problems with this industry lacking business sense. But now as the industry grows and products and ideas blossom, it is bringing a lot of money and sophistication. I’m really excited by the challenges that are presented with keeping up with this curve. I am excited to see the new ideas, growth and sophistication of the industry down the road.
What do you feel has been the most important factor in your success?
Initially, it was just raw determination. The year I graduated with my master’s degree happened to be my most difficult year doing festivals and wholesale – nothing was going my way. So I went to Washington DC to look for jobs in my educated field. I ended up with a lot of really great jobs offers but I was already making considerably more money – even in a bad year – than what the government or private sectors would offer me. I also had three kids to think about. So at that point something inside me clicked and I decided to give the business another shot. The next year of festivals and wholesale quickly became my best year up to that date. From there I was able to grow a number of businesses.
All of this came from true, raw determination. I truly loved the lifestyle and I didn’t want to give it up. I didn’t want to wear a suit, I didn’t want to talk someone else’s talk – I wanted to be honest to myself and enjoy my work.
In addition to that, what is even more important now is having the right people work for me. I am capable of working 60-80 hours a week and I can do a lot of things, but I can’t do it all by myself. I have to have people that are better than me at what they do, so that’s what I look for and I think that is the sign of a good leader. A good leader is humble enough to accept that those around them are better than them and is strong enough to find those people and put them in that place.
What are you most proud of so far in your career?
I’m proud that I am an example of someone who has successfully pursued things that they truly enjoy. I’m also proud of the fact that I employ a lot of people who love their jobs and the people they work with. A large portion of our waking hours are spent working, so it is incredibly important to enjoy that time and have positive, happy people in our midst.
Looking forward to the future, what are you most excited about? What are you most concerned about?
This is a great time to be an active participant in the dynamic growth that our industry is experiencing. I’m excited about the role that I can play in steering Windship Trading’s growth and the impact we can have on the industry in general.
Just a few short years ago, this industry was undeveloped, but the majority of the people involved in it were happy, fun to be around, and passionate about what they were doing. As something becomes more and more corporate, it tends to lose that happiness and passion but I think in this industry we can hold on to that. My biggest concern would be that we lose our positive vibe and enjoyment we experience working within the industry as it grows and consolidates.
Do you have any advice for other business owners in this industry that might be struggling?
Always beta is a concept that I love. Always be willing and eager to learn more about your operation and make difficult changes when necessary. Find the time to develop a comprehensive business plan in the middle of operating your business. Create the plan as if you were planning on selling the business or as if you were going to pitch it to someone. Then comb through that business plan and I guarantee that you will find lots of holes. This is something that we try to do often. When you have to explain a business plan or new idea to someone else, it gives you a much clearer picture of problems that exist and how to go about fixing them.
Most importantly, you have to give it your all. Don’t be afraid to work too much. Be the example for your employees. Give it everything you have. Get there early. Stay Late. I like going in really early to receive packages periodically and even mopping the floors every now and then. I like to make sure the inventory is on the shelves the way I want it on the shelves. I like working hard to make sure my employees respect me and what we are doing.