Three CBD Retailers Share Their Thoughts and Practices in a Tricky Market

Lauren Fisher, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Chris Buske of Wonders of Nature Hemp Products
Chris Buske of Wonders of Nature Hemp Products.

Getting into CBD sales comes with all the same challenges of starting up any business, plus the uncertainty of wading into a newly legal industry with evolving regulations and a customer base that’s often just as new to the game. Every day comes with new questions, new answers, new problems, and new solutions, but the people who are getting into the market are dedicated to their products and their customers.

“The workload on opening a business is just insane,” said Christopher Buske, owner of Wonders of Nature Hemp Products (416 S. Barstow St., Eau Claire). “And this industry takes it tenfold, a hundredfold more complicated, just because nobody knows anything because it’s brand new.”

CBD is short for cannabidoil, a derivative of hemp that people use to treat pain, sleeplessness, anxiety, and many other ailments.

Buske is licensed by the state of Wisconsin to make his own hemp products, and carries a range of oils, cannabis flowers, and more.

Just getting people in the door can be a challenge, he said. Many people associate hemp and CBD with other substances, behaviors, or aesthetics they are uncomfortable with, making them hesitant to explore the topic. Buske tries to make people feel welcome by maintaining a calm, quiet atmosphere. Wonders of Nature is clean without being clinical, with a social space in the front where people will soon be able to hang out and enjoy CBD-infused baked goodies.

High-CBD Cannabis Flower
High-CBD Cannabis Flower.

“I see this as medicine, and if people don’t feel comfortable with something then they’re not going to be as accepting of it,” Buske said.

Because the substance is relatively new to the legal market, people also have little reference to determine fair prices or good quality. Buske hears stories about people paying high prices for low-quality CBD oils and not experiencing the benefits he believes are possible. This gives the industry a bad name, he said, so he invests all he can in giving each customer a good experience at a fair price, building his reputation as a reputable merchant.

Buske came to the business when a family member asked him to help her find legal, quality CBD products to treat symptoms she was struggling with. A personal connection is a common thread among CBD retail operations; Melissa Bellovary, owner of Your CBD Store (1418 S. Hastings Way, Eau Claire), benefitted from the use of CBD products before going into business.

“I didn’t have any intention of starting my own store, but I started using the product and I was amazed with my results,” she said. “I feel like it’s a way to help people with another option. Whatever they’re searching for, I hope we have something that will work.”

Bellovary sells a wide range of SunMed CBD products, including oils, water solubles, bath bombs, and even pet products.

Full-spectrum CBD oils
Full-spectrum CBD oils.

Azara, a statewide retail chain specializing in tobacco products, vaporizers, pipes, and smoking accessories, expanded its offerings to include CBD products when the substance became legal in Wisconsin. While Azara Vape (2510 London Road, Eau Claire), offers hemp cigarettes, CBD vape liquids, and tinctures in its dark, edgy store, right next door their subsidiary business, Evolution Hemp (2600 London Road), sells a wider variety of products in a calmer environment.

“Most people who come into the Azara stores are looking for our pipes, our tobacco products, and then they see the CBD,” although some come on recommendation from friends who have enjoyed the benefits of CBD products, said JP Parker, who does marketing for Azara. Their customers range in age and lifestyle from 18-year-old college students to middle-aged parents and even grandparents, which is true for Bellovary and Buske as well.

Quality control and product security is a huge focus of Buske’s business. He personally evaluates the farms that he sources his hemp from, keeping meticulous records of the THC content (the psychoactive ingredient in recreational and medical marijuana) in the raw product. To be legal in Wisconsin, hemp and hemp-derived products need to have less than 0.3% THC content. Buske documents his processing procedures, gets things third-party tested for legal compliance, and packages his finished items with security seals to ensure that the product in a container is exactly what it’s supposed to be.

Azara’s products come from a wider range of distributors, who should be able to provide paperwork of third-party testing for legal compliance, Parker said. Your CBD Store deals with a single distributor which provides proof of quality and legality, reducing the burden on Bellovary to track down lots of paperwork.

Buske keeps an open dialogue with local government officials and law enforcement agencies about hemp and CBD. He hopes that in doing so, he can educate people, and that informed citizens and representatives can make wise decisions as they create and enforce product regulation.

Some CBD retailers are looking ahead to potential marijuana legalization in Wisconsin, viewing the product as a stepping stone to what they perceive as the enhanced healing possibilities of the full plant.

Buske looks to other states that have decriminalized or legalized all cannabis for instruction, trying to stay ahead of the curve.

“I’m playing the long game, basically, and I want to do it right,” Buske said.