When he’s not running between his four brick-and-mortar stores or sourcing new products and vendors, Natural Ways owner Bill Story is studying the CBD and cannabis industry with an eye towards growth. For Bill and his wife Alisa, it’s not just about selling CBD and other cannabis products, it’s about growing a new higher standard from the ground up.
Natural Ways is your first business venture. What did you do before this, and why did you decide that working in the cannabis industry would be a good next step?
Yes, this is our first business venture, and we are loving it! I’d previously worked in the legal industry as an IT in charge of video conferencing for the firm, and I managed 22 offices worldwide. After doing this for close to 20 years, the burnout factor was kicking in hard. Some family members were having good results using cannabis to treat various conditions and with the CBD market finally opening up in Texas, we decided to take a leap of faith and open our first location in 2019. We love the idea of helping people and this was right up our alley.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered and what have you learned from them?
For the most part, this is a retail business. The challenge really comes down to product. At Natural Ways CBD we wanted to make sure we were sourcing only American made products that were clean and contained what they said they did. It took a lot of research, going through literally hundreds of brands to weed out what we thought were the best products on the market. There is a lot of subpar CBD out there and it took months to build up to where we are today.
You opened four stores in roughly two years. That was a pretty big piece to bite off. What inspired you to grow so fast?
Our first store was quite the success. The local community found us quickly and came to know and trust the brand. Due to this success, we ventured out and opened a second store. The third location was sort of an accident. We ran across that location while browsing rental space and it just felt right. Now we have four locations and one franchise. Maybe we grew too fast, but the community has been amazing in supporting Natural Ways CBD. Our inspiration came from our customers’ support of the brand.
Who are your customers? What are they looking for?
Our customers come from all walks of life. The beauty of CBD is that it’s good for everyone. It comes in so many forms and varieties that no matter what you’re looking for when you walk in our door, we have it. Each of our stores draws a slightly different crowd. Some locations have a customer base that prefers edibles, others buy more oils, and some, smokables. The beauty of our model is that no matter what you’re after, we have it.
What’s the best-selling category at Natural Ways?
Currently there is a competition of sorts going on between Delta 8 THC and CBD oil in our stores. Both are popular, but with the new addition of Delta-8 THC products our customers’ options have reached a whole new level. We have found combining CBD with Delta 8 takes care of many of our customers’ concerns.
Marijuana (high-THC cannabis) is legal for medical use in 37 states, with 18 states also legalizing it for recreational use. What’s your take on Texas? How will Natural Ways respond if or when marijuana becomes legal?
We’re looking forward to the legalization of marijuana in Texas, although we don’t think it will happen for a few more years. There have been so many studies on the positive effects of this plant that it’s a shame we still have to wait. Hopefully it’s addressed sooner rather than later.
When marijuana is legalized in Texas, do you think there will still be a demand for CBD products? Why or why not?
I do. There’s a big stigma out there when it comes to CBD. The Texas population is slowly overcoming that stigma as friends and family share their experiences. Once both hemp and marijuana are fully legal, we believe there will be a large segment that will want either both products or one or the other. Natural Ways will carry both types of cannabis to continue meeting the needs of our customers no matter which they prefer.
The market in many places is saturated with a CBD store or outlet on every corner. What are some things about Natural Ways that set you apart from the other guys?
Our teams don’t focus on sales. We focus on customer education first. Taking this stance has created a very loyal customer base. Many brands of CBD products use chemical additives and other fillers like synthetic flavors, trying to appeal to consumers. We won’t carry those products. There’s also is a licensing process that a retail location must go through to legally offer CBD products. Many locations have not done this; instead, they’ve simply added CBD to their shelves. If you’re at a gas station or smoke shop, you’re risking your health by taking CBD sold at those locations.
What are some things you wish people understood about cannabis generally and CBD and other cannabinoid products specifically?
Specifically, I would love it if people understood that CBD does not get you high. That is the number one concern customers have. Our products are derived from the hemp plant which is so low in THC you do not get the lifted effect. This is the first fight we face with new customers. Many people do not understand the difference between hemp and marijuana. Even though they’re both a type of cannabis, they have some very distinct differences. Hemp is very high in CBD but low in THC, while marijuana is very high in THC but low in CBD.
CBD isn’t the only cannabinoid sold at Natural Ways. Tell us about the others and why you decided to bring them in.
There are over 100 cannabinoids in the hemp plant. Most are still not understood in terms of their benefits. At Natural Ways, we focus on the top seven cannabinoids — CBD, CBG, CBN, CBC, CBDa, THCv and Delta 8 THC. Combining the first six cannabinoids into a product along with 0.3% Delta 9 THC creates a full spectrum product. In the body it has what’s called an “entourage effect.” If you take a CBD-only product (an isolate), you won’t get nearly the results. The results of a full spectrum CBD product are tenfold over those of an isolate.
What has to happen before Natural Ways will consider carrying a newly touted cannabinoid other than CBD? What do you consider before bringing ANY new product in?
We research. We read as much as we can on the new cannabinoid and make sure it is naturally derived from the hemp plant. If a chemical has to be added to create this new product, then we won’t carry it. A good example is Delta 10. This is a chemically derived cannabinoid; it does not occur naturally. Natural Ways CBD will not carry Delta 10 because of this. We prefer what is natural. It’s in our name for a reason.
Natural Ways offers its house brand in just about every category it offers. What’s the benefit to customers?
We consider the “house brand” to be our top shelf line. Our tinctures, topicals, edibles, and pet products are incredibly potent and effective. This is where we have done the most research and believe we have the best quality available from around the country.
What are people saying about Natural Ways’ products?
Check our Google Reviews — that alone speaks volumes. It’s amazing what we’ve heard. So many customers using our products have gotten off chemical medications, for example, and are receiving the same or better results with cannabis. We also gain customers from other CBD stores because those products are not working for them.
Natural Ways has an entire pet product line. Why?
Pets are people too!!! We love our furbabies and we wanted to make sure they were offered the same relief we provide our human customers. In fact, all animals have an endocannabinoid system and can benefit from CBD. They have aches and pains too, so this is a natural non-chemical way to help them.
Where do you see Natural Ways in five years? Ten? Do you let yourself think that far ahead or do you tend to just focus in on what’s right in front of you?
We would like to see Natural Ways grow both beyond the Houston market and online. Our customer testimonials tell us that what we are doing is working and we would love to bring that to the rest of Texas and other states. We have franchised to allow anyone to work with the Natural Ways CBD model. In five years? I would love to see us throughout Texas. In ten years? I would love to see us in many other states.
You don’t do this alone. Your wife Alisa is your business partner. How do you two decide on the division of labor?
We started this together and make all decisions together after talking out a product, location, policy change, everything. I attribute some of our success to this; different perspectives have built a great product line and service model for our customers. We each have our strengths and together we figure it out and get it done.
What’s one thing you’d really like for people to know about Natural Ways CBD?
We love it when people stop by and talk with us. There is a lot of false information out there and some pretty unscrupulous people trying to sell poor quality CBD. When you shop at a CBD store, talk to the employees and make sure they can answer your questions. If they seem like they aren’t sure about what they’re selling – and expecting you to put in your body — you need to run, run fast and far away.