“Morgan Hutchinson and Gareth Kautz were fresh out of college when they won a cannabis retail license in Washington’s lottery. Kautz had just finished up a master’s degree in teaching from Concordia University and Hutchinson had earned her digital technology and culture undergraduate degree from Washington State University Vancouver, but they shifted gears when Washington legalized adult-use cannabis. “I grew up smoking and I’d always said if it were legal, I’d try for a store,” Kautz says. “So we decided to take the risk and we won a license.”
After that, Kautz put more than 20,000 miles on his car, driving around Clark County trying to find a location for the shop, before finally finding a willing landlord in uptown Vancouver. In January 2015, Kautz and Hutchinson opened the High End Market Place, also known as HEMP.
“Through that process we really learned how to do a lot of things ourselves,” Hutchinson says. “You have to have the motivation to want to learn in this industry. We really approached it knowing the regulatory environment would be difficult, but also knowing we could learn the process.”
To set their shop apart, the co-owners dedicated the company to customer safety by personally vetting all the products HEMP carries. That takes a lot of driving to grow sites around the state, but it’s paid off in customer satisfaction, Kautz says.
“We go and visit every single grow, and I make sure we inspect how they grow,” he says. “We want to know the people behind the products. I think that’s the best way to tell who you should get into business with.”
HEMP often sends products from its shelves for further testing, just to be certain they don’t contain pesticides or microbial contaminants. HEMP was also the first cannabis business to join the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. Hutchinson, who previously worked part-time at the Chamber, was able to break down some of the stigma surrounding cannabis in her time there. It also helped normalize the industry within the city’s business community.
“Because I saw the way things worked in there, and I saw the opportunity for us as a small business. … The Chamber was one of the first to consider us in the cannabis industry as professional businesses,” Hutchinson says. “And for them to jump on so early I think was really important — not just for us, but for all the cannabis businesses in our city.”
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