Triggers To Success In A Saturated Market
White Barn Bud Ranch
by James Bridges
The Oklahoma cannabis market has openly worn the title “Wild West of Weed” for a few years now. Thousands of prospective entrepreneurs and marijuana advocates alike have rushed to the red dirt plains of this historically boom or bust state to try their hand at this so called “green rush”. Large multi-state operators and family farms alike have setup shop, and now more than three years into medical legalization the competition for market share has never been fiercer. For many investors in the space that may cause alarm, however the Elias Family and members of the White Barn Bud Ranch team seem to embrace it. “At the end of the day, our goal is to try and bring the highest quality raw medicine to the market. We believe there will always be a place for clean high potency cannabis.” Explains Eric Elias, head of sales and co-owner of White Barn.
Eric, and his brother Corey, never quite imagined they’d end up working together considering their drastically differing career paths. Eric has been a part of the home building industry in Tulsa for nearly 27 years, while Corey has been working in the IT world since its infancy.
“It all started with a simple phone call from my little brother,” Spencer Elias, Grower and co-owner of White Barn Bud Ranch explains while gesturing towards his younger of kin and fellow co-owner, Trevor Elias. “Yeah I’d started working up here for my Uncle Corey when he’d taken up this new grow business. We needed someone to help us get our flower onto store shelves and knew my brother had recently found a real passion for cannabis, so I called and asked if he wanted to come check the farm out.”
“I remember showing up to this rickety old red barn and giant white metal building sitting on a big plot of land just north of Tulsa. This wasn’t necessarily my first time in a commercial grow, but I remember being absolutely awe-struck by the size of the buds my Uncle’s team had been growing,” exclaims Spencer. There was a single flower and veg room at the time with much of the building still being finished out. He went on to describe these bottle sized buds but quickly changed to the issues that came with it. “They were just unmanageable plants, yes we were getting weights and the flowers looked incredible, but it wasn’t feasible and you couldn’t dry them properly. The smoke quality was taking a heavy hit because they were having to speed up the process to prevent potential mold problems. The flavor was just off.” None the less Spencer would still go out and find enough success selling the product that his parents began to take interest.
“My parents realized the passion I had for this plant, I’d been growing while I was at OU along with my roommate and next-door neighbor. My friends and I always had the grand plan of opening our own grow together since 788 had just passed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to bring them along on this venture, but still do my best to keep in touch and am beyond thankful they were there to push me to follow my dreams.” Elias continued to follow his calling, relentlessly pestering his family to assist him in pursuing his own grow. His father expanded on, “he kept at us, Spencer was convinced he’d find a way to grow commercially. It was great to see him pursuing something he seemed to care so deeply for. There was just a new spark in him.”
When Corey’s farm reached the point that it needed to be producing more product the Elias families partnered up and rebranded the grow, known today as White Barn Bud Ranch. Spencer began his journey as the grower, while Eric and Trevor were laying the ground work on the road going door to door to build their brand. “Something a lot of people find unique about our grow is that we keep our point of sales very limited. The only way dispensaries or processors are able to purchase WBBR product is directly through my Dad or myself,” Trevor explains. It may seem a little old school to some, but the Elias family takes great pride in who they work with and want to be able to make those personal connections with their partners. Spencer chimed in to state, “No one is going to have the same love and care for our product as the people helping produce it. My dad and brother have to sit and listen to me gush about our strains and their characteristics, what this one is good for and why certain people should avoid this plant, so on and so forth.”
Speaking about the people that love and care for the plants, Spencer is under the firm belief that his team is as solid as they come. “We’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by a bunch of likeminded individuals that have the same, over the top, level of passion for this plant. Every one of them has made substantial sacrifices to make sure our girls always come first.” He goes on to explain how his girlfriend, Molly Dudley, has taken a major role on at the grow. Earning the endearing title of Metric Molly around the farm. “She makes sure we stay organized and on task, her biggest challenge is keeping myself in check,” Elias goes on, “I’m really just the idea guy at the end of the day, she helps me bring them all to life.”
Cheryl Price and her son Jonah have been with the farm since the beginning. Cheryl is one of the lead cultivators and helps run the operations of White Barn Bud Ranch. She’s also considered by many on the crew as well as those that have dealings with White Barn as the barn mom. “I love working with this group of people. I feel like my heart has found a spot to rest safely.”
Jonah Price described how working with such an outstanding bunch of people has given him the ability to grasp comfort. He says that working with intelligent and caring family members has given him the inspiration to grow personally. He wears a ton of hats for the organization, however he says he knows that everyone else has just as many important hats in their collection.
There are a number of others that all play a significant role in getting this product ready for market. However, Spencer continuously notes one thing, “Everyone in that barn has the ability to do any job necessary. This is a group that is eager to learn and adjust on the fly.” From the sound of it Elias is always tinkering and trying to figure his plants out. “We don’t necessarily have the same SOP for each strain. The more we run a certain cut the more we can hone it in. I’ve got a big library of notes and records of the sixty or so strains we’ve cultivated here and make adjustments based on past batches. I’m sure these guys are fed up with me changing our techniques constantly, but they still go and make it all work.”
“One thing I really tried to key in on as I was transitioning from sales to growing was providing a constant variety. When I was out selling previously I’d have two or three strains with me. I realized quickly that these stores wanted a variety of top shelf products.” Thankfully for Spencer, that was right in his wheel house. “I’ve always been a genetics’ junky, popping seeds and really hunting for specific structures, smells, colors, and flavors. Having cannabis that has unique identifying factors that set it apart from what else is out there is just as important as being able to produce clean product. You have to give people a reason to want to try your flower.” Now to meet the variety White Barn is looking for not everything is found in house. “We get a lot of selections from Beleaf and other farms because they’ve put in the proper time and effort to find some special cuts. It’s not just about what yields heavy for us, it’s about how unique the flower is and how it stacks up when compared to our other cultivars.”
It wasn’t just the variety where Spencer saw the opportunity to set their farm apart. “Our process contains nothing that I wouldn’t mind exposing myself to. We aren’t using pesticides, PGRs, or any kind of foliar sprays outside of a diluted HCLO solution. Even that I don’t use once the plants have started budding.” He continued on to talk about their intense defoliation techniques and longer term drying process. “It really is key to not over dry this plant or do it too quickly. You want to preserve those terpenes and give the consumer a smoother smoke at the end of the day. When I first showed up here it was five days drying and out the door. Nowadays it can be a full month until our harvest is heading out of the door. In large part due to our low and slow drying process which I believe results in a more flavorful and less harsh smoke, but also because of our in-house trim team. Everything that leaves this facility is hand trimmed, the goal is to keep those outside trichome heads attached and the product looking and smoking consistent.”
One thing is certain, White Barn is more than happy to have the variety. “We understand that the market isn’t what it was even six months ago, we are having more small orders from buyers than ever. Thankfully we are supplied with enough of a variety to help keep their top shelves stocked. The whole goal of being a one stop bud shop is to help alleviate the constant juggling of deliveries by these dispensaries. At times, they can almost seem overwhelmed by the amount of incoming product they have from multiple people or the lineup of salesmen eager to show them the next great strain, we just want to make it easier on them at the end of the day.” Explained Eric Elias. “They just give us a call, we come to the store to show them what we have available at the time and get a drop to them as soon as they need it.”
“My family really didn’t know many people in the industry at the time we started all of this. Everything for the longest time was just cold call after cold call and it took a while to get traction. We started to visit weed events like the Cowboy Cup and Harvest Fest and really made some great connections there and next thing I know my phone won’t quit buzzing. I have to keep it on silent now just to get anything done.” Spencer and the whole room broke out into laughter. “Yeah, yeah, yeah you can blame the dispensaries for why it’s so hard to get ahold of me.”
Spencer sat and reflected deeply before speaking, “It really does blow my mind to think a year and a half ago we all were doing something completely unrelated to cannabis. We had the love and passion it takes to make White Barn Bud Ranch work and just so happened to come together at the right place and time. Sometimes it really takes someone asking the right questions to take a step back and see just what all this has meant for the team and myself. I’ve always been highly critical of my work in whatever I do, just a bit too much of a perfectionist. If I’ve learned anything from all of this it’s that with a little patience and persistence a group of likeminded people can really create whatever they dream possible. I’m beyond thankful for everyone that has played a role in shaping WBBR into what it is today.”
It’s obvious that the ultimate goal for White Barn is to bring clean and effective medicine to the people of this state. While it may not always be all of the glitz and glam that so many people expect when it comes to the legal cannabis market. This team has continuously found a way to work together to overcome hardships and times of uncertainty while finding a whole new meaning to a family business in the wild and ever-changing Oklahoma market.