California B2B cannabis wholesale platform Nabis connects more than 1,300 retailers with over 200 exclusive brands all over California. In May, Nabis doubled its monthly average number of orders alongside growth in both brand partners and retailers, which begs the question: how are they experiencing growth while potentially on the cusp of the next economic recession? When we spoke with Founder & Co-CEO Vince C. Ning, he was calm and clear about the simple main premise of the online distributor, “We just think the market deserves to have a diverse set of products.” The platform’s success may be due to having considered the needs and experiences of brands, stores, and consumers while building out standard operations and new offerings.
Ning co-founded Nabis with his best friend Jun S. Lee in 2018, just before the first legal sale of adult-use cannabis in California. Prior to Nabis, Ning co-founded SaaS platform Scaphold, Inc. which went through the Y Combinator and was acquired by Amazon. He learned a lot from these experiences and retained those lessons, but still felt it was worthwhile to trade a 7% share of Nabis to Y Combinator in exchange for the opportunity to present their idea to investors who didn’t often hear cannabis industry pitches. They secured funding through that experience and were able to move forward with their vision of helping their cannabis business clients find success.
Wholesale distribution is a crucial component of scaling the adult-use cannabis industry. Brands can utilize the online marketplace, listing their products where retailers can easily put together multi-brand, multi-product orders with guaranteed two-day shipping. All of those products will be in one easy-to-pay invoice on payment terms. For their service, Nabis takes a small percentage of each sale. According to Ning’s data, the distributor fulfills close to 10,000 deliveries to 1,300 stores in California every month today.
Most of their clients come from word of mouth, and that is only achieved by building trust. According to Ning, that came organically while building a product to truly serve the cannabis industry, “We ship products out on time in full, and then we collect payments and process it as quickly as possible,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve built a good amount of trust for our business’s brand name.”
In its first year, Nabis met the needs of the industry: deliver products in a timely manner and be trustworthy with the payments. A few years into the California industry, brands were hitting a wall waiting for payments from retailers in order to turn over their next batch of products. Nabis rose to meet this need with Nabis Capital, an arm of the company that will buy the brand’s invoice before it comes due with a small percentage off and then take responsibility for the collection from the retailer. This has allowed brands to have faster product turnover and avoid leaving their shelf space empty, which creates loyal customers and generates more revenue. It’s a business, but it was also built to help more brands stay in the market.
“The market’s so young and it doesn’t make sense to bottleneck the industry today to ten brands,” Ning said. “Ultimately it’s going to be better for the consumer, and everyone, to have choice and access to a diverse set of products.”
It was with a grave sincerity that Ning continued on at this point in the interview, where we both became empathetic for the small farms, family–owned dispensaries, and other small plant-touching cannabis businesses that are struggling in California right now. Our interview took place before the cultivation tax was lifted in the state, but it could be a few years before this policy change has a positive financial effect on struggling farms. Nabis wants to help these farms through the tumultuous nascent phase of the state’s adult-use industry.
In late March, the company entered a partnership with Sun+Earth Certified to offer Nabis’s services to almost 20 of their farms. They also allow for smaller orders which helps small dispensaries keep the freshest product on their shelves and requires less inventory in their storage rooms. Ning wants Nabis to be a guiding light through the current state of the California industry: “There’s a lot of reconfiguration that needs to happen in the supply chain and in the industry that will need a lot of empathy from people. Hopefully, we can do our part, of course, to continue to support these operators.” He went on to add that if any brand or retailer reading this is struggling and could benefit from Nabis services, they should reach out so the team can find a way to help them through.
When we spoke, Ning was in New York as the first satellite Nabis team member to explore the industry there before expanding into the state. Though he didn’t have details to share about their expansion at the time, he described the New York cannabis community event’s energy as exciting and said grassroots events are they’re alive with the possibilities of how adult cannabis sales could positively impact communities. We look forward to seeing how Nabis is a part of that positive impact.
To learn more about Nabis, explore their website or get in touch at Nabis.com.