The Bay Area's boutique glass-pipe-of-the-month club Pipes 2 the People went national last week, bucking consumer demand for chillums, bubblers, and dazzling table pieces. The service started three months ago by two 28-year-old Mission district residents, Jesse and Gabriel (who requested that their last names be withheld), both glass snobs who were amazed that someone else hadn't already thought up the concept, which they claim is the world's first glass-pipe-of-the-month club.
"It turns out the only other type of pipe club is the old-man pipe for people who smoke tobacco and stuff," said Jesse. "We don't really take a stance on what you use it for."
Indeed. Interstate drug paraphernalia trafficking laws got entertainer Tommy Chong sentenced to nine months in jail. Per their lawyer's advice, the club is neutral on what customers actually do with their glassware.
"Our stance is these are basically art pipes," said Jesse. "They're not for any sort of illicit use, and it says so in our terms and conditions."
Whatever people use an ornate glass pipe for, aficionados nationwide are clamoring for a membership. Members pay $12.99 a month to receive a pipe that retails between $15 and $80. It solves the problem of dirty pipes, broken pipes, sketchy head shops, lack of sketchy head shops, and gift-giving, the owners have found — especially outside of liberal California.
"We thought California would be our biggest market, but we realized people outside of California have an even bigger demand," said Jesse.
Jesse says he got the idea one evening after going out with friends, one of whom was a member of a sunglasses-of-the-month club. "I break sunglasses like every six days," he said. "Girls take them. I was like, 'What else in my life is like that?' It was right up there in front of my face, literally. After I did the research, my first thought was, 'I can't believe there isn't one out there already.'"
The two bootstrapped the company in ninety days with a web coder and artist working for sweat equity. Jesse held down a day job and Gabriel collected unemployment. They incorporated, then launched on April 20 with a key mention on daily e-mail newsletter Thrillist, which turns 18- to 34-year-old men onto new, local products and services like whiskey bars and distressed denim. Jesse was a Thrillist fan and friend of the local Thrillist editor. The mention ignited membership rolls.
Pipes 2 the People sends its customers one of six types of glass, from small travel pieces to multi-chambered "hydronic" table pieces, which they can keep. Customers never receive the same piece and get a rounded selection of types.
"We have the pipe genome project going on," said Jesse. "It's more conscientious than a gumball machine, more like the genius shuffle on your iPod."
Discrete packages come with cleaners and a description card with a space on the back to name the piece. All glassware comes from within the United States and the club will start featuring key glass blowers on its site soon. They're also adding a gift plan, merchandise shop, and online store for non-subscribers.
"We're actually pretty swamped, to tell the truth," said Jesse. "The margins are super-low, so there's not a lot of room for error on our part."
Membership has often doubled in a single week, and their retention rate so far is 100 percent, according to the owners. Investors have offered the duo capital, but Jesse and Gabriel say they're enjoying building the company from its grassroots themselves. Beaten down by a recession that has mangled a generation's career strategy, Pipes 2 the People — whose motto is "Peace, Love and Pipes" — offers an escape.
"When something hard happens, you got to work through it and around the corner something better happens," said Gabe.
"We basically wanted to branch out and do something and be ourselves and be our own boss in an industry that's our own," added Jesse. "We see in the next five, ten years, it'll be just as big as all other major industries out there."
Though Pipes 2 the People is now national, the company won't deliver to Iowa or Pennsylvania (where, coincidentally, actor Chong was convicted in one of the highest profile paraphernalia cases in US history).
Seeds & Stems
Now that Oakland has approved permitting four large-scale medical cannabis farms, Oakland landowner Jeff Wilcox is aiming to be the Trader Joe's of marijuana, he tells Reuters. "The new Two Buck Chuck will be $40-an-ounce pot," Wilcox said. Current retail prices for an ounce hover around $300. ... The NBA fined the Minnesota Timberwolves $50,000 and the team's president of basketball operations David Kahn an additional $50,000 for "inappropriate" and "detrimental" comments Kahn made about newly acquired forward Michael Beasley. "Michael Beasley smoked too much pot in Miami, but he's a changed man now," Kahn told St. Paul's KSTP radio station in an interview on July 22. "He's a very young and immature kid who smoked too much marijuana and has told me that he's not smoking anymore and I told him that I would trust him as long as that was the case." ... Washington, DC, finished approval of eight medical marijuana dispensaries this week, twelve years after local voters approved use of the drug by the ill, the Drug War Chronicle reports. Congress had been blocking the nation's capitol from permitting dispensaries until the change of guard in Washington two years ago. ... Lastly, key campaign finance reports from the Proposition 19 ballot initiative come out this week, and polls continue to show that opinion is split on legalization in California.