Jeremy & Fritz of The Official Manufacturing Co. stopped by our Career Tools event to talk about breaking into the fledgling business of cannabis, how they work with their clients, and the future of this industry.
Who is OMFGCO?
Anyone, big or small, can be a visionary. It is about having a mission to improve things.
Jeremy Pelley and Fritz Mesenbrink met each other during a 1-month overlap at Wieden+Kennedy (Jeremy on the WK12 side, Fritz on the studio side). After Jeremy had switched over to be Lead Art Director at Ace Hotel and Fritz had worked solo they came together for a project with Olympia Provisions. It felt like the perfect match, and they decided to make it official.
OMFGCO has now been around for almost 8 years, working with a whole host of clients including hotels, Canvas Lands’ End, G4, Poler, and Stumptown Coffee. They recently started working out of their fancy new office space right off Burnside – which AIGA was lucky to tour when it opened.
Getting into the Canna-Business
Legal cannabis is booming. Over 50% of the US population has access to medical marijuana, and 8 states have legalized marijuana. With any growth industry, there is an increasingly competitive landscape – but a very low bar in terms of design.
“That’s the good thing about this industry: you can make dumb jokes all the time.”
After medical marijuana was legalized, Jeremy and Fritz explored some of the dispensaries. Their first impression: huge eyesores. Liquor stores and gun shops were converted into dispensaries – displaying product, but with a gruffness and a feeling of inaccessibility. But at that time it didn’t matter: those shops had the goods, and to enjoy you had to go through the hurdles.
A Partnership Vaporizes
OMFGCO was working with a company to bring design to the cannabis industry, but it came to a point where the client could no longer afford to work with them. Instead of shaking hands and calling it a day, Jeremy and Fritz doubled-down on their desire to elevate the cannabis industry: they formed a partnership with this company. The first product released from that partnership was Quill, a low-dose cannabis vaporizer designed to fit into your everyday carry.
Quill wasn’t designed to be low-dose from the start. Their first delivery was improperly filled, and instead of pushing back they realized that they had a new, untapped opportunity: a product that allowed people to experience cannabis at a not-as-mind-blowing level. Until that point, most cannabis development was about increasing THC levels and making it easier to get completely stoned – the equivalent of only offering shots of hard liquor. Quill came in as the cider or low-ABV beer, allowing people to enjoy the cannabis at a gradual pace. For the industry, it opened up the door for nuance.
From there, OMFGCO and their partner launched OCO, focusing on refillable cartridges with a mad scientist mindset. With an elevated, sophisticated feel, it is in many ways the opposite of the approachable Quill vaporizer. The difference in branding allowed OMFGCO to explore alternate aspects of the cannabis industry, considering different perspectives and markets that they could work within and push.
A Cannabis Company, or Two
Their next entry into the cannabis industry was through their work on The Woodlark, a Portland boutique hotel that is currently in development. The developers have ties to people who were interested in entering the cannabis retail industry. When OMFGCO was approached, the brief only required there be an A version and a B version. For Jeremy, Fritz, and the OMFGCO team, this provided them the opportunity to develop two very distinct brands. The A version they developed: Serra.
Translated to greenhouse in Italian, Serra eschews any of the dumb jokes that follow the cannabis industry. The idea was to go be the opposite of a closed-in pawn shop, allowing for a retail-feel with personality. While most shops take the perspective of “how well can you see us when you drive really fast down Sandy?,” OMFGCO decided to avoid the iconic marijuana green and imagery, instead opting to focus on feelings. In the end, that’s what a lot of people care about: how will it make me feel?
“You literally can buy happiness at Serra.”
When you enter most cannabis stores, the first experience is usually one of a holding cell. To alleviate that intimidating feeling, OMFGCO designed the space to have large windows and light, creating a feeling of accessibility and thoughtfulness. With custom builds throughout, the greenhouse feel is one that encourages people to look around and enjoy the retail space.
The B company that came out of this engagement was Electric Lettuce, which showcases the glory days of pre-1971 cannabis culture (think pre-tie dye, pre-Bob Marley). This allowed for more embracing of the dumb jokes, but still with a cohesive feel that brings together the fun of that time.
Questions from the Audience
Is medical marijuana still relevant?
Yes, and in many ways it should be more medical. Medical was the only way that the discussion about marijuana could begin. The same thing happened with alcohol: first it was prescribed, but now we drink it because it’s delicious. You can’t take medical away from the recreational, but for now it will probably take the backseat.
How do you talk about your work with the stigma that still surrounds marijuana?
It depends on the client. For more conservative clients, we talk less about it – but it’s still really great work, so we’ll include it in our presentation decks. We have shown this work in Japan, where marijuana is still super illegal, but the reception has been positive (and has ended up with people asking us for weed).
Our work in the cannabis industry also acts as a litmus test – if they don’t want to work with us because of this work, we probably don’t want to work with them. But so far there has been no known backlash.
What segment within the cannabis industry is being spoken to the least?
For a while it was the high end. But now the room to grow is between the super-curated and the disheveled-skate-shop-vibe. The middle market still has room for a lot of personality and growth.
Our parents also aren’t really being spoken to. Quill is an easy way to enter into cannabis experience, but Serra is too fancy – moms would probably want to walk in and see the space, but it would be too intimidating for her. There is a whole market of former stoners who need a new way into the industry.
What stereotypes within drug culture are you comfortable using within your design work?
We are weary of the jokes: 4:20, Bob Marley (which already is a brand). But it really depends on the project. We try to avoid the low-hanging fruit and look for what is not being done.
In our world, we need less stuff. If we do add something new, it needs to be better.
How open are businesses to not having the traditional marijuana look?
It all depends on the business and their culture, but so far no one has mandated that we include 4:20 or other clichés.
Is packaging still as regulated as it was when legalization first happened?
Yes, but at least now it is more consistent. Packing requirements used to change all the time, so we have learned to design packaging that allows for change. But it is still a state-by-state process, and will likely be that way until federal legalization.
One example was that the typeface on some of the product packaging disclaimers was supposed to be Helvetica or Arial only, but the state’s example used Helvetica Condensed. This made for a lot of ambiguity regarding how regulations were enforced. Now it is more consistent, though.
Is there a resource for requirements?
There is, and the website is updated frequently with any changes that happen. We have a team member who keeps track of that and then lets us know if a change may impact our work.
If another industry like marijuana opened up, would you do it all again?
Probably, if it fit our interests. We have learned a lot in this process, and we probably would not do it the same way. Having more money to support the efforts would be nice.
What does the future hold for OMFGCO?
Right now, the future is in branded interior and cannabis. We want to get deeper into the digital side of things, as there exciting opportunities that can help shape the brands we work with. It’s much easier to get noticed for the work you’ve done than for the work you want to do, though
We consider ourselves industry agnostic: if we believe in an industry, product, or person, we’re in.
Duncan Lawrence is an optimization strategist in Portland. Original article reprinted here with permission.