When the feds arrested me and shut down Jerome Baker Designs, I had to rebuild the company over more than a decade. Many business owners will have to figure out how to put their businesses back together in the wake of coronavirus. Here’s the story of how I put JBD back together.
I built Jerome Baker Designs into one of the leading cannabis glass companies throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2003, the feds embarked upon Operation Pipe Dreams, cracking down on glass producers in the industry. I was shut down by federal authorities. I lost everything, was sentenced to one year under house arrest, and 5 years in federal probation. That was a bummer.
My website, JeromeBaker.com was seized from me, along with all my inventory, assets––all seized in 2003 in Eugene, Oregon. They put a graphic on the website of an American flag, and put on there it’s government property. I ran without a website for a while. I stayed underground. I wanted to be a good boy. Once my house arrest was up, I packed my bags and moved from Eugene, Oregon to Maui, Hawaii, where I laid low and blew high end art glass.
As soon as I was arrested, and all my studios and facilities were shut down, I knew that I needed to somehow maintain relevance. In my heart, I knew I could eventually bring Jerome Baker back. I had been doing too much business, and it was too cool of a niche industry to just fall away and be gone forever. If I kept the things relevant somehow, I could sell another product with that logo on it.
When it came to rebuilding the business after being arrested, the challenge was to try to work within the existing laws, so they wouldn’t arrest me again. That was the main focus. The second challenge was being able to use the same logo and the same marketing concepts and brand that we had since the beginning and reignite those. During the 10 years not in the pipe business, we had to maintain engagement with our old clientele, so the new 21 year olds coming into the industry knew about us. You have to stay relevant with those new people buying.
I stewed on what I can really do to be legal and remain relevant, and decided to start making state boards and lifestyle products. I even had a little skate team for a number of years, and we would hit the road. I sold decks in the smoke shops I sold glass in. I would use those same connections and sell them skateboards, t-shirts, hats––cool lifestyle stuff.
It was nickel and dime stuff for me, but it kept me afloat, and it kept the brand relevant. We used the same logo, and put it across the bottom of the skateboard. The skaters who smoked cannabis were able to have a skateboard and kind of tell their little backstory without pot leaves or overt cannabis imagery on their decks.
But, to be perfectly honest, the skateboards were not a good business decision. They were a bad emotional decision. I should have never spent any of that money, and instead made some head pieces and continued with the glass. The skateboard stuff didn’t keep the brand alive. What kept me alive was blowing glass art. I appreciate the skateboards. We have some great products from it, and we had some incredible times selling it with an incredible skate team and everything else. But, I could have been more wise with my decision making processes. Eventually, I felt it was safe to start picking up the pipe business again.
When you seemingly disappear from an industry for a certain period of time and then come back into it, the main focus is the clientele that used to know about us. Once I started doing the pipes, again, I looked at JeromeBaker.com, my old website, and low and behold, it was for sale for $700. How that all works, I don’t know. You can look at it like when a car is seized by the government, and then they auction it off. Somehow, I got the car back. I don’t know of another case where a website got seized by the federal government, was regained by the owners, and put back into business.
Initially, I didn’t have my own studio. Not until 2018, when we really started humming in Vegas. From 2003 to 2018, I was only working out of other people’s studios. So I’d have to train their guys, and use their equipment to make my pieces. I had to sacrifice a little bit of my design element.
I was able to use other people’s equipment, because I had a good reputation among people who had studios or factories. They showed me respect by saying come in and use my gear. They’d charge me the minimum, and we worked it out. We had a mutual respect. There’s a certain family vibe between the people that I worked with through that time.
There would have been no other way I could get my pieces made without the support of my network. It was really important that I get the right people that could work with me, because, during that time, there were some good factories in America. I had to get into them, and personally over the products and make them specific to me. These days, there’s not so many factories, as everything has been outsourced to China or wherever else.
When cannabis became legal in Colorado for the first time in 2012, I was invited to come to the High Times Cannabis Cup there. That Cannabis Cup was the moment I knew that, in America, weed was going to become legal, and we could bring JBD back, for sure. There were no ifs, ands or buts in my mind––this thing is going to be huge. I knew we had something golden, because we’re still standing here. There wasn’t anybody else there at that point, who had gotten arrested and wanted to come back out and make pipes.
The second turning point that happened for our business was the legalization of cannabis in Nevada. I had the biggest brand on the west coast. And I knew that there were going to be hundreds of cannabis trade shows, and that the biggest ones would be in Las Vegas. I decided to get a warehouse down the street from where all the trade shows are, and my buyers could all come visit me. The warehouse in Las Vegas has been my saving grace. We got it one week after legalization.
We’ve been there ever since, and it’s just been a hot box––I mean, a hotbed of activity. Everybody’s coming through my warehouse, including baseball players, rock stars, rappers, tattoo maestro’s. So, it’s been a lot of fun. The hype and the energy of Las Vegas has really taken our business to the next level.
The response that I’ve gotten so far from head shops and the industry has been super. I have friends, who own stores, with whom I’ve been dealing with for more than 20 years. Since I have my own studio, and my own guys, I don’t have to sacrifice those design elements anymore like I was doing before I had my own studio.
We can now make killer stuff. We’re also able to make custom work; whatever people want. Everybody’s been extremely responsive and hyped on being able to get this kind of glass. People are psyched, and I am, too. Soon, cannabis will be legal nationally. This is only the beginning for the cannabis industry.
It’s also only the beginning for JBD. I am building something that I can be proud of, and perhaps even pass down to my children. This was always for the long haul, and that’s why. With patience and determination, I was able to get it ripping again.
Right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty around coronavirus. But, no matter how bad it looks––I had everything seized and was looking at jail time––there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.