Exceptional Retailer 58: Bubba’s Deathstar Nation



Bubba’s Deathstar Nation might have one of the coolest names around, but as you’ll learn, it has nothing to do with ‘Star Wars’ and everything to do with representing Ohio and giving shoppers a memorable experience

First things first, Bubba’s Deathstar Nation is not the kind of place where you can buy a Darth Vader action figure or Luke Skywalker’s X-wing.

You might see “Deathstar” in the name and think it’s a sci-fi/intergalactic hangout. But it’s actually something else entirely. If you don’t know: One of the most popular cannabis strains to ever come out of Ohio is Death Star. So when Brian Carnes wanted to open a smoke shop in Kent, Ohio, he thought about Ohio’s most popular strain.

Nobody calls him Brian, though. He’s Bubba to almost everyone. “The only people who call me Brian are the police,” he jokes.

From there, the shop practically named itself: Bubba’s Deathstar Nation. It’s a nation because Bubba doesn’t do things small. Just look around his shop and you’ll see showcase upon showcase filled with product, mostly glass.

“Sixty-five showcases,” Bubba says. “All filled. Over 125 artists and brands.”

So while you can’t get an R2-D2 or a Boba Fett costume, smokers can get just about anything else in the galaxy they want.

“Every vaporizer imaginable that’s popular,” he says. “Me and my manager, we put together all the hottest things, everything that’s coming out. We make sure we try to get on board. We just want Ohioans in our area that would never even think about going to California, we bring that West Coast flavor to them. Don’t get me wrong, I support local people too, but I like getting those products that other shops here don’t have.”

It’s not lip service. Bubba is deep in the culture and the industry. He’s not just some guy trying to make a profit from his smoke shop. He wants to stock the best products because he also wants to use the best products. He says he has one of every product he’s ever purchased for his store in his personal collection.

“Other store owners, they’re picking out of a catalog,” Bubba says. “Every glass blower that I have in my shop, I know on a one-on-one basis.”

It started with glass. Way back in 2006, Bubba had some glass-blowing friends from Oregon who came to Ohio to sell their work. Bubba rolled with them. It was then that he started to take to the idea of opening a smoke shop. His pals were already pretty deep in the industry, so they were able to give him some tips and contacts.

More than anything Bubba was just attracted to that moment where customers are wowed by glass. He thought if he could build that into a business, it would be a winner.

“I saw that smile,” Bubba says. “When a person sees a piece of glass for the first time. They have that look like ‘Oh my God!’ Just that look when people buy something — it’s all about what you can bring to people.”

So he opened his first smoke shop about 10 years ago in Canton, Ohio. Eventually, he switched it up and opened Bubba’s Deathstar Nation in Kent. Its coolness goes beyond the products, however. His shop also has a cafe inside — Bubba’s Kush Cafe — that brings people treats that “indulge the senses and stimulate your spirit.”

Being ordinary doesn’t fly here and you can see that in the extra things that Bubba does. Besides the cafe, he has a mobile glass studio that he uses for events at the shop.

“It’s a pretty nice rig,” he says.

He’s also launching a glass modification service, which would allow customers to personalize their pieces. For instance, if you wanted your name on your glass or you wanted a specific logo or avatar, you can do that.

“I want to customize and personalize peoples’ pieces,” he says. “If you want to put a picture of Mickey Mouse with your name or a dragon, cool. It comes from the detail.”

It’s like tattoos for glass, he explains. Only “it’s not going to be tattoo prices.”

For Bubba, it’s all about creating an experience. Something that’s memorable — from the name to the selection to the extra things that you won’t get an at ordinary, standard smoke shop.

“When new kids come into my store,” he says, “the first reaction is ‘Oh my God, wow.’ The last thing they say before they leave is ‘We’ll be back for sure. This is our new spot.’”

For Bubba and his Deathstar Nation, that’s what it’s all about. So in that sense, The Force is definitely strong with them.


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