An empty space with an open-minded building owner in downtown Lee’s Summit became the perfect spot to fulfill Native Hemp Co.’s potential, said Rich Dunfield.
“God always has a plan,” he said. “This [location] is better for my life. I live out here; my family’s out here. I like how we’re brand new, and I feel like we’re creating something special here with this community.”
Click here to shop Native Hemp Co.
Previously operating through online-only sales, the storefront opened in late December — the culmination of a years-long quest by Dunfield to launch a brick-and-mortar retail space. Delayed by COVID-related economic uncertainties and other setbacks along the way, its opening marks a significant milestone from the brand and Dunfield himself, he said.
“Sometimes all that is what it takes in order to live your dream,” the founder added. “At the end of the day, everything we’ve gone through, it’s in an effort to help people.”
Bogarted downtown dream a drag
Rent paid and paintbrush in hand, Rich Dunfield recalled, he and his business partner, Michael Babbitt, were prepping a storefront in 2019 for what was supposed to be Native Hemp Co.’s first storefront in downtown Kansas City when they heard a knock on the window.
“It was the building owner,” Dunfield said. “I can still remember that moment. He was like, ‘What are you guys doing?’”
The business duo’s world flipped upside down, he continued, with the building owner’s firm statement: ‘You’re not moving in.’”
The shock came after the hemp entrepreneur struck a deal with the founders at MADE MOBB to sublease their downtown space on Grand Boulevard after they relocated their apparel business to Southwest Boulevard in spring 2019. Although MADE MOBB was supportive of the deal, the building owner took issue with Native Hemp Co.’s subject matter — CBD and cannabis, Dunfield said.
CBD is an active ingredient of cannabis and an essential component of medical marijuana. While CBD is a component of cannabis, by itself it does not cause a “high.”
“So 2019 was really almost just as hard for my business as 2020 has been for all small businesses,” he said, explaining that on top of being kicked out of the building, he had no way to process payments and generate revenue from May to October 2019.
Major U.S. banks and payment processors dropped their clients within the cannabis industry during that time because of complications within the federal and state regulation.
Click here to read more about the local impact of the banks’ moves.
“So after telling all these businesses that they would work with them, [the bank] decided it was too risky,” Dunfield explained. “They were really putting a lot of pressure on small businesses — if you weren’t doing $100,000 a month — then you’re not big enough to take the risk on.”
Having faith in Native Hemp Co., Dunfield pushed forward, eventually partnering with Square, a payment processing company, he noted.
“I’m blessed that Square stepped into the cannabis industry at the end of 2019,” he continued. “I’m thankful that Square accepted me, and at that time, it felt like things were headed back on track.”
Click here to read more about how Rich Dunfield’s battle with Lyme Disease led him to founding Native Hemp Co.
Joint efforts and high ratings
Childhood bud Babbitt — also known as Babbs — now serves as the co-owner and director of Business Development for Native Hemp Co. He also has been Dunfield’s right-hand man throughout all the trials and tribulations, Dunfield said, noting the two motivate each other to keep going.
“Babbs helped me build up a lot of the vision I have inside, and he’s also added a lot of his own vision that’s made us better,” Dunfield shared. “I couldn’t imagine doing this by myself. It’s been great to have Babbs.”
Within Native Hemp Co.’s first few weeks with an open storefront, most of the community’s response has been positive, he noted.
“There are some people who may be a bit scared or don’t know what we’re about, but I’m excited for us… I want Native Hemp Co. to be a place for people to feel special, a place to build love and a place to have fun. We’re about feeling happy and feeling good.
“We understand that for some people, a trip to our shop may be the only time they get out of the house that day,” he continued. “I want to make sure that they enjoy it.”
Along with having hundreds of five-star reviews online, Native Hemp Co. now has dozens of satisfied in-person customers, Dunfield said — noting that none of his customers “fit a mold.”
“We’ve talked with young people, athletes, teachers and artists. We’ve had doctors who recommend our products,” he said. “On New Year’s Eve, we had 70-year-old ladies coming in here wanting a pre-roll. So that’s my favorite thing about cannabis. It connects the whole world.”
Dunfield has high hopes for the shop — envisioning a coffee bar, original health food and possibly a VIP smokers’ lounge.
“Maybe even getting a liquor license, so we can sell hemp beer and hemp cocktails,” he shared. “We’re going to keep trying to make this a place where people can feel better and have fun. We’re not going to rush anything, but over time, we’re going to keep adding.”
Until then, Dunfield plans to share his story with other fellow entrepreneurs and dreamers, he said.
“I want this to be an inspiration and a motivation for people to never give up,” Dunfield said of his long-awaited storefront. “Even if you’re out of cash, it doesn’t mean you’re out of wealth. Your ideas, your heart, your love, your products, your creation, your art — that’s what will drive you.”
Click here to connect with Rich Dunfield or to learn more about CBD.