Only in Las Vegas could a parody Donald Trump Twitter account become a prime marketing tool for a cannabis brand. But the handle, with more than 300,000 followers, is one of many ways out-of-the-box thinking and consistent effort propelled BuyLegalMeds.com.
The company serves more than 1 million customers and is on a path to become the world’s largest online store for cannabidiol (CBD) products in just three years.
2014 Farm Bill
The U.S. Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the “Farm Bill,” protected growers, users and sellers of hemp and CBD from federal prosecution, opening the door for sales and shipments of the plant between U.S. states. Legal CBD products come from hemp, a type of cannabis plant that contains minimal THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gives users a high. Unlike sellers of cannabis plants with THC, store owners selling only CBD products with less than three-tenths of a percent THC do not need a state marijuana license.
“It’s just grinding and hustling and figuring out new things in this space and doing them,” founder Joe Vargas said, “from the time I wake up, until the time I go to bed.”
An 8-year Navy veteran, former Las Vegas nightlife executive and blogger, Vargas, 40, has always possessed an entrepreneurial motivation. He began the CBD website after selling or closing each of his nightlife-associated businesses, which included VIP concierge site InstaVegas.com and insider news outlet KingOfNightclubs.com. Once living week-to-week as a single dad in a Budget Suites, the Cimarron High grad became a millionaire through his nightlife endeavors in a span of less than 10 years.
But during a January 2015 trip to California, an industry colleague introduced him to the growing business of hemp and CBD production.
Vargas, who was looking for an escape from nightlife, found his new calling.
“I saw it as my third life. I wanted something different and CBD provided that avenue.”
Vargas changed his phone number, dumped his VIP clients and began acquiring Twitter handles such as @weed, @drugs, @CBDoil and the most popular, @reaIDonaldTrunp (with a capital “i” instead of “l” and an ‘n’ instead of ‘m’) to market his new business. After months of research on CBD, he set up BuyLegalMeds.com in June of 2015 and officially bid the nightclub industry farewell with a going away party at Surrender, hosted by Lil Jon.
It didn’t matter that Vargas had “no idea” what he was doing when he whipped up a batch CBD-infused syrup for the first time in his father’s small kitchen. The product, marketed as Cloud N9Ne Syrup, was admittedly “not great” when it first went up for sale, he said.
Working up to 20 hours a day, Vargas multitasked as the company’s email customer service representative, phone sales representative, shipping department manager, social media manager and CEO.
“The perception of the company was that we had a few people employed,” he said. “But really it was just me as five people, getting help from my father and two kids.”
He didn’t have to look far to get some of his earliest and most influential real employees.
Nahtaly Vargas was just 16 when her father started his CBD business. A junior at Arbor View High School at the time, Nahtaly was commissioned with younger brother, Joshuah, 11, to help pack and ship BuyLegalMeds.com’s products.
Four months after launching, Vargas brought in more staffers and a certified herbalist to help make his CBD syrup “stronger and cleaner,” resulting in the products still sold on his website today.
Nahtaly, now 19, oversees the company’s factory in an executive-level position. She deferred her dreams of being a police officer or veterinarian to help manage BuyLegalMeds and hopes to one day take over so Joe Vargas can retire early.
“We were taking a chance at something we didn’t know too much about,” she said. “But it got easier over time.”
Shipping internationally to thousands of overseas clients, Vargas said he still has occasional problems with governments holding packages at the border for inspection and confiscation. When contacted by international authorities who mistakenly believe BuyLegalMeds.com’s product contains illegal marijuana, Vargas said he explains the products as if the agents were customers themselves.
“It’s a matter of shipping it and dealing with the problem as it arises,” he said. “It’s not really a problem in the United States. But when you’re dealing with other countries, you never know what they’re going to do.”
While the lion’s share of its business is still done online, BuyLegalMeds.com expanded into three brick-and-mortar stores across the valley this year—Tropicana at Decatur; Flamingo at Grand Canyon Drive; and Las Vegas Boulevard, just south of Planet Hollywood. Each location sells more than a dozen CBD products, such as syrup, flower, topical lotions and oils, and the company employs more than 30 Las Vegans. In January, Vargas hired a COO, Raquel Geraldo, to help him at the executive level.
Vargas said he has leases on three additional properties and is set to open his fourth, fifth and sixth facilities by summer 2019.
“I can feel the difference in support,” he said. “People just take us more seriously when we have stores.”
Social media marketing has helped build a strong following of thousands of loyal customers as well, Vargas added. He calls them “Space Monkeys” after the name of his company’s LLC, and offers everything from cash giveaways to store discounts across his dozen Twitter handles. He hires on Twitter and said nearly a dozen followers obeyed a challenge this past year to get tattoos on their bodies. One follower even inked a tattoo of Vargas’ face on his leg.
Posts go beyond CBD to topics related to politics, gaming and real estate. In October 2017, Vargas posted to Twitter raising doubt about whether a woman accompanying President Donald Trump during a news conference was actually his wife Melania. The post went viral, garnering more than 66,000 retweets and media coverage from USA Today, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, New York Post and more as the Twitter-sphere speculated whether the president’s wife was using a stand-in. Vargas picked up thousands of new Twitter followers and online sales.
Creating, marketing and selling his own products has allowed BuyLegalMeds.com to be the only CBD-exclusive show in town, according to Vargas. As long as he’s in business, he wants to continue finding new ways for thousands of people worldwide to use the plant medicinally.
“I’m all in,” Vargas said. “After all the stress and challenges I’ve overcome, I just want to keep working on this as much as I can and continue expanding worldwide.”