Bob Shallit

Plastics fabricator finds hot market for pot display cases

Will Smith shows one of his smaller containers for displaying medical cannabis.
Will Smith shows one of his smaller containers for displaying medical cannabis.

Over the years, Will Smith has built plastic display cases for major department stores and custom cabinets for collectors of movie memorabilia.

Lately the Fair Oaks resident has discovered a booming business making similar products for a different sort of user: operators of medical marijuana dispensaries and legal pot shops.

“We’re on a real successful track,” said Smith, 59. He operates a conventional fabrication operation – All Plastic – along with his edgier side business in a 6,000-square-foot factory and showroom at 2271 Sunrise Blvd. in Gold River.

He took his first small steps into the cannabis business a decade ago after visiting a few medical marijuana dispensaries and realizing the vendors weren’t effectively showing off their wares. “There was no rhyme or reason” to the way products were displayed, he said.

He built a few cases for them on spec. Lately, as pot legalization efforts have picked up steam nationally, his business has grown, well, like a weed.

Smith’s pot division, called Bud Bar Displays, now sells to legal marijuana purveyors in 23 states, plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Canada and the Netherlands.

Revenue is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Smith – about equal to the sales in his original business.

Smith and his staff of six employees make full-size LED-lit cases with display shelves, and smaller ones that sit on counters and have tops with magnifying lenses so buyers can really check out their product.

“A lot of connoisseurs want to look at (the goods) in detail,” he said.

Most of the smaller containers have retractable plugs covering “aroma holes” so discriminating buyers can do a smell test.

I enjoy this business because it’s evolved from the hippies to the suit-and-tie guys.

Will Smith, co-owner of Bud Bar Displays

Brand new for Bud Bar are stand-alone cross-shaped kiosks called Bud Tenders that can be placed in the middle of a dispensary and enable customers to pick up small containers of product to view and smell – but not touch – the merchandise.

Prices vary from about $16 for a small Bud Pod container to $7,500 for 6-foot-long lighted display cases.

The move into the pot business is a big change of pace for Smith, who started a company called Amazing Plastics more than 30 years ago after getting out of the Navy. Early customers included big department stores such as Nordstrom and Macy’s. He also garnered some unusual jobs, building cases that were used to hold priceless collectibles.

Among them: cases for a collector who owned Buddy Holly memorabilia and, for a 1987 Hollywood centennial tour, cases to hold Judy Garland’s dress from “The Wizard of Oz,” and Humphrey Bogart’s trenchcoat from “Casablanca.”

After California legalized medical marijuana, Smith said, “professional curiosity” bought him into some dispensaries. The rest is hashish history.

Smith, who said he smoked in his youth but now “doesn’t partake,” marvels at how the pot business has evolved from tie-dye to suit and tie. He and his wife and partner, Cheryl, attend huge cannabis-related business-to-business events all over the country and rub shoulders with Wall Street investors.

“It’s no longer the little guy opening a corner shop. This is mainstream corporate stuff,” he said.

Still, Smith remains just a little sheepish sometimes when telling people what he does for a living.

“I kind of softball it with the people I meet, telling them I’m in the plastics business,” he said. “Then I might say I’m in the cannabis industry.”

Few people are shocked.

“They’re right at home with it,” Smith said, “and say they use it themselves.”