The Story of Uncle Arnies with Co-founder Ave Miller
In an interview with Ave Miller, the co-founder of Uncle Arnies talks about building a brand and the marketing which lead to making Uncle Arnies one of the best selling cannabis beverages.
Ave Miller, co-founder of Uncle Arnies, found canabis at a young age and once the opportunity to work in the space arrived, there was no looking back. Starting off as a sales and account manager, Ave’s stint with Select Oil is what gave a boost to his career where he honed his leadership skills and advanced his knowledge in manufacturing, production management, product formulation, supply chain sourcing, Sales leadership and B2B sales. In 2020 he co-founded Fly Beverage, the creator of Uncle Arnies to provide cannabis-infused beverages at affordable prices. Ave used his sales experience and built a structured sales team and cut to now, where Uncle Arnies is one of the best selling cannabis-infused beverages and is getting accessible to more and more customers everyday. Miller is the Vice President of sales at Fly Beverage brand products and has sold more than 2 million dollars in sales for Uncle Arnies. Read his fascinating story below.
Can you tell us about yourself and your journey with cannabis?
My Origin of cannabis started back when I was 13 years old with a friend back in Lake County, Florida. I grew up in the world of skateboarding culture; cannabis and partying were all kind of intertwined with each other. From the moment I tried cannabis I fell in love, but always had a back and forth relationship with the plant due to access, being shamed for using ect. Fast forward to 16 years old I was in an almost near-death accident and my love for cannabis grew more because I didn't use big pharma medicine during the healing process, I choose cannabis as a pain killer - I wasn't living at home at the time because my stepfather at the time kicked me out of my house for smoking cannabis and selling it in high school, so I was a free teen and could make those choices for myself. My mother was a restaurant entrepreneur and I got that spirit and motivation from her to have hustled and I helped run her restaurants growing up. Fast forward to college I was still selling cannabis to all the local college kids and ended up getting mixed up with the law and was facing felony charges for selling cannabis to an informant.
I took a pause on any cannabis-related activities until my case was eventually dropped a year later and just focused on my career at Zumiez. Once I had gotten the news about the case I immediately moved to Portland Oregon to get closer to states that had less harsh laws on cannabis and had opportunities there to invest more into my career at Zumiez. Then in early 2017, I met Cameron Forni, the founder of Select and Amy, his COO at the time, through my roommate who had just started a position there. They were talking to me about opportunities in Sacramento California for management and I was on the fence about it but kept in communication with them through the year and even helped them move all of their stuff in the beginning stages of their expansion to California. Then when I was in Garberville dropping off their first truckload and my friend, something hit me that this was an adventure I would regret not taking. A few months later once they were out of the mountains and settled in their first facility in Sacramento I jumped ship and took the Production management / Head product formulator position. Through that, I left in 2019 to start a consulting business and worked with brands like Saucey Farms, Potters Cannabis co, sourcing for distros and doing sales consulting which led me to Matt and starting Uncle Arnies.
What inspired you to start your journey with cannabis, and what is the backstory of Uncle Arnies?
My love for cannabis to simply put it. I've always loved the plant and when I had the opportunity to jump into the space with Select Oil in 2017, I never turned back. I used that opportunity to advance my knowledge from manufacturing, production management, product formulation, supply chain sourcing and to now Sales leadership and B2B sales. The backstory of Uncle Arnis started when Matt and I met in November of 2019 at a demo, he was with his partners displaying Nectr a beverage that they formulated and was talking about cannabis beverages. We got introduced by a mutual contact, he needed help scaling beverage brands, I loved what he was doing and I loved selling cannabis. For about two months we didn't speak and he randomly made a post on Instagram looking for help, so I reached out and that next day we met at a coffee shop then we went and pitched our first store and locked in a sale for Nectr. Fast forward he started speaking to me about this next-level idea - Uncle Arnies and being an affordable beverage play so from January 2020 to March we spent time consulting and interviewing buyers asking what they would truly want to see from a beverage brand, of course we got resistance and we laid it out for them that this was an opportunity to tell us what will work and we took our ego out of it and did what they said. Creating something consistent in the way it hits, make it 10 dollars and make sure it tastes incredible. All while we were doing this it’s worth mentioning we were in the start of covid so this was through email, anyone that would meet us and a lot of calls. So we took our format, made what the market asked us to make and two months later Uncle Arnies Iced Tea lemonade was born.
Describe Uncle Arnies and what is the story of Matt and Uncle Arnies?
Uncle Arnies is your fun uncle that lives within the family. Some would say that you or I am the "Uncle Arnies'' in the family. The person in the family that pulls up to the family function and is ready to have fun, taking safety meetings with the cousins before Thanksgiving dinner or the person that is just really bringing good energy to everything they do. He's here to spread good vibes & stand for what's right in the cannabis industry and that's making memorable cannabis products at Affordable and Accessible prices. We want cannabis to be available to the masses, no matter if you are a medical patient looking for relief if you only have 10 dollars to spend or you just enjoy a good beverage. Consumers are struggling to purchase cannabis in your local licensed dispensary because all products are out taxed by the state, which in turn drives consumers to still purchase untested & unlicensed products off the street corner. Matt is a founding partner in Uncle Arnies,brainchild and our Chief product formulator. He's our mad man in the lab creating these amazing products for our customers to enjoy and create memories with.
How do you make your products available at such affordable rates?
I don't want to give away too much secret sauce, but we have some amazing relationships.
Walk us over your experience on launching Uncle Arnies, what kind of marketing worked for you?
The experience has been the most humbling. It started with Matt and I mixing the first 300-gallon batch, bottling, shrink wrapping and boxing it all ourselves. Then locking in our first relationships with Mainstage in Sacramento and Vibe by California, to then boxing, stickering, loading and dropping off the first orders ourselves. This company has been bootstrapped since day one so we focused on what mattered most with marketing which was hooking the budtenders up and doing word to mouth marketing with some light Instagram presence.
Image Source: Linkedin
How would you describe Uncle Arnies and what makes it different from other beverages in the market?
Uncle Arnies is a legacy. Low cost, high THC and consistent, we made this for the person who still buys cannabis off the corner because of the milligram cap and the people who have to spend a boatload of money to get stoned off edibles in the shops. That has given us the ability to create the cult following we have. What makes us different is we focus on beverages that are easy to gravitate tflavoursvors we all have known throughout our time on earth. A classic Arnold Palmer, Sweet peach iced tea, apple juice and our newest, pineapple punch. As well as sticking to our mission of being affordable for everyone consistently so staying in glass bottles so there is no compromise of THC like plastic and aluminium. It may be a little bit more, but you'll get blitzed from every bottle and the THC will be 100mg until the end of its days.
What are your plans for your company and where do you see it in 5 years?
We want to continue to solidify ourselves as the legacy cannabis beverage with more products. We have an amazing out of state strategy that everyone will see years to come and to continue to expand our footprint in California. We are currently in 320 shops in the state and should double that in a year. Also focusing on growing our direct to consumer platform, unclearnies.com.
What positive changes have you seen in the cannabis industry?
There's been a lot, despite all the stuff with the federal government and the states gouging taxes. People are consuming cannabis and expanding into other categories like beverages which is exciting, but coming from traditional retail, I would say retailers and buying habits. Over the years retailers have really done a great job shaping up their businesses to become more business focused and not friend focused. It's classic for brands, even some of the biggest ones that consumers literally go nuts, to be pushed off the shelves because of the opinion of one person. Now retail owners are seeing that they are losing business to the next guy because a lot of buyers have focused on their friends and not reading consumer purchasing data and buying brands that people love and are spending their money on. Especially over the last 6 months there has been a dramatic shift in brand power over retail power. Example, our customer Two Rivers has told us they literally get yelled at by customers for being out of stock of our products.
What advice would you give to someone trying to make it into the cannabis market?
Take your opinion out of it, look at the data and more importantly, listen to your customers. Data is one half, but new things are popping up all the time and skuing it a bit. The other half is the buyer telling you a missing product that consumers are asking for all the time. There's money on the table if the ego is left out.
Interviewed by Prithvi Nagpal, Editor & Sommelier, Beverage Trade Network