Vendor Spotlight Vol 60: PK FWD



Specialty tobacco vets Phillips & King are refining their presence in the smoke-shop world with PK FWD, a new brand aimed at a new era of retail with a new customer in mind.

Survival of the fittest is the way Charles Darwin described his famous theory of evolution. That applies to the Earth’s species, but anybody who has ever spent any time working in the retail landscape knows that’s a world that can be just as dangerous.

One day, you’re the king of your own terrain. The next, you’re an endangered species. Rare is the company that lasts 10 years let alone a century’s worth of years. But at Phillips & King International, one of the world’s most time-tested and prolific specialty tobacco distributors, business has been moving briskly for more than 110 years.

Lasting that long and finding that amount of success takes more than just one trade secret, but these days, there’s one refrain that just seems so perfectly apt.

“You adapt or you die,” says Brittny Peloquin, Phillips & King’s marketing manager.

That’s true of both the brick-and-mortar stores that depend on Phillips & King to deliver products to their door each month and it’s true of Phillips & King itself, which has recently executed a well-timed pivot deeper into the smoke-shop world.

Phillips & King, the tobacco distributor, is doing what it has always done — sell speciality tobacco to shops around the U.S. Fun fact, did you know Phillips & King was the supplier back when Disneyland had a tobacco shop on Main Street? Yeah, they’re legit.

There’s also something new happening within the walls of Phillips & King — that’s PK FWD, a new brand for a new time with a whole new customer in mind.

Truth be told, it’s not a completely new lane for Phillips & King, but the creation of PK FWD represents a doubling down on what increasing legalization could mean for smoke shops and dispensaries. So with PK FWD, Phillips & King is making sure its presence is noticed.

“We’ve carried these products,” Peloquin says. “Now we’re putting a lot more of a proactive approach to letting our customers know that we carry these brands and we’re trying to better serve that category. We know retail — we’ve survived this long in the service retail business and we make it part of business to make sure our customers stay afloat too.”



In 2006, Phillips & King acquired Crossline Distributors to form a “full-service” tobacco distribution company. In that relationship, Phillips & King was the company with a deeper history in the tobacco industry and Crossline was the company that was a little more progressive.

Over time, Crossline became more of a brand that catered to the smoke-shop crowd. But more recently, Phillips & King decided with everything going on in the world of smoke shops, it was time for a change.

About a dozen of Phillip & King’s 100 employees formed a task force to look at the future of the industry and how best to navigate it. The result was the rebranding of Crossline into PK FWD, a company that would cater to the smoke-shop industry the way Phillips & King catered to the tobacco industry.

“Since more states are legalizing cannabis, we took a closer look at that side of our business,” Peloquin says. “We wanted to make it a little more obvious that the Crossline company was part of Phillips & King. If shops were looking to start stocking headshop items, that they could get that from us too.”

The tangible result is a catalog full of premium smoke-shop brands such as Genius, Firefly, Grav, RAW, Elements, OG, APX, DipStick, Flowermate, OCB and. NoGoo. PK FWD also deals with some brands exclusively, like Greenhouse, and has built valuable partnerships, like with Chong’s Choice, for whom it was the first distributor.

“One of the best values that Phillips & King has,” Peloquin says. “We have low minimum orders. Some manufacturers want you to buy 1,000 pieces. Not all store owners can do that. You don’t have to buy any minimum quantity from us. You can buy one pipe at a time, so we become your stock room.”



Another advantage PK FWD touts is its knowledge of the industry and its retail know-how. If a customer wants to be hands-off and order from a website, that’s entirely possible. But PK FWD says its difference comes from sales reps who are ahead of the curve and often telling shops, “You should try this on your shelf.”

“We make it our business to make sure our buyers are going to all the shows, to bring in the latest items, so when a customer asks for it, we already have it on our shelves,” Peloquin says.

As part of that direct contact with clients, PK FWD publishes its own quarterly publication, also named PK FWD, which gives customers a good view of what’s hot in the industry.

“What we wanted to do with PK FWD is have a separate publication to market more specifically to head shops and dispensaries. It’s a more custom experience,” Peloquin says.

“Dispensaries are such a new and exciting category. They’re so protective of who they work with. What’s cool about working with us is we have the ability to create those relationships where there’s a level of trust. Coming into those categories, we’re the perfect partner.”

PK FWD also has “Vape Specialists” on staff to keep track of the latest vape products as the technology continues to evolve. It’s hard to keep up with everything that’s evolving in the vape world, so having an expert a phone call away can certainly help store owners.

“People are looking for those really high-tech devices,” Peloquin says. “When they’re dropping $300 retail on a device, they want the newest stuff and they want to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. People are doing tons of research about what they’re buying. If Firefly 2 or Pax 3 are the hottest things out there but people can only afford a $75 vaporizer, we have different levels of products. The store owner doesn’t have to say, ‘Oh, you can’t afford the $300 vaporizer, sorry.’ They can say, ‘Well, I have one that does something similar.’ We tell the store owners: These are going to be worth your time.”

Above all, as Peloquin says, Phillips & King and PK FWD aren’t fly-by-night operations. They’re not here trying to cash in on trends and earn a quick buck off the smoke-shop boom. They’ve been here longer than any of us have been alive.

“We’re not just coming in and testing the waters,” Peloquin says, “and we’re not going to jump ship when things get hard.”


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