The Green is Life: Lil Shop of Growers
Lil Shop of Growers is fueled by an old-school idea: a business should focus on people and relationships rather than profits. Here, writer Jamie Olhiser sits down with co-owner Paul Fullerton to talk about that vision—and the shop’s badass decor.
Article by Jamie Olhiser
I go into sensory overload when I walk into the store. Lil Shop of Growers is a beautiful chaos of products, graffiti, animals, Bob Marley, incense, and people.
I am overwhelmed by the options: Should I dive into the product selection, pet the bird, look at all the fish, view the pirate ship, or have a seat on the vintage theater seats?
I keep staring at the sand that surrounded the cabana-style cash register. Customers from all walks of life come in, each one greeted like family. I feel like I am at a secret hangout.
Then, I have the chance to chat with one of the owners, Paul Fullerton.
What did you do before opening this store?
I was a firefighter for 25 years. I was a captain at the UC Davis Fire Department in Davis, CA.
How did you get into this industry?
I was hurt on the job; I have 12 screws and three plates holding my cervical spine together. The injury was so severe that I could no longer do my duties as a firefighter and I was retired out. Following the injury, I had several surgeries and then the doctors began to pump me full of pharmaceuticals.
I knew I couldn’t live like that, so that’s when I began to try cannabis… Now, I use cannabis as my go-to and I am off all prescription medications. It was at that point that I began to dive into the business; I wanted to help others. Early on, I recognized that my background as a firefighter could help bring legitimacy to the industry.
When and where did you start your company?
I started the grow shop in 2012, in Woodland, CA. At this time, my friend Erik Maiden had his pay cut due to budget issues at the Fresno Fire Department and I offered him the opportunity to buy into the company to help supplement his income. He took the chance and we’ve been partners ever since. We complement each other; he tends to focus on the financial side of the business and I focus more on the people and products.
What were some of your struggles as you started the business and how did you overcome them?
Hands down my number one problem was inventory. I struggled to find suppliers that were willing to work with me… It was a challenge until I met with Hai Truong from Sunlight Supply. He flew out and we met at the store. He believed in my vision, and most importantly, he believed in me. Sunlight Supply now provides Lil Shop of Growers with 99 per cent of its inventory, and the relationship that we’ve built is extraordinary.
How did you set yourself apart from your competitors?
I hired a team of seasoned growers from the community and that quickly gained the store its credibility. My team and I wanted to do things different; we wanted to be old school. Growing up, my dad owned an automotive repair shop in Esparto, CA, and I remember people would just come and hangout at the shop.
A group of guys would stop by in the morning with their coffee, shoot the shit for a little while, and then start their day. Businesses now-a-days don’t want you to hangout. I wanted a theme store with character; a place for people to go and enjoy the experience, not just the product. For me, it’s about the industry and the people, not the money, and I think that comes from my 25 years as a firefighter.
What products do you carry?
We carry everything Sunlight Supply has to offer: Sun Systems, Titan Controls... everything and anything you would need to have a successful grow. We carry BioBizz; it’s currently our number one selling nutrient. Currently, Lil Shop of Growers is the only store in the United States that has signed product with TrimPro. We have $15,000 worth of their wet trimmers on hand.
What makes your employees so awesome? How does your team bond?
I hire stars. You can’t have a successful business without a superior team. I find their talents and then I utilize those talents. I run my team just like I did at the fire house with a clear chain of command. On the weekends, we hangout.
Share your favorite story from a day on the job.
I think one of the things that I’m most proud of is being involved in the Woodland Library Rose Club. This is an opportunity to shed a new light on our industry as we get more involved in mainstream America. There is still a stigma against marijuana growers and I would like to help change that... My goal is to raise $10,000 in supplies to be donated to the project.
What words of wisdom can you share about the business, the industry, or the future of the industry?
Always treat your clients with the respect that they have earned. No matter how much money you make or how much product you sell, it’s all about the people and the relationships that you build.
Any goals for the future?
PF: We want to expand by opening up another store in Vacaville, CA. The new shop will have the same vibe and the same set of fundamental principles. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people and the relationships you build. My main goal is to just keep doing what we’re doing.