By Jessie Schiewe
Wes Eder only knew his grandfather Sidney for a few years before he passed away. But their time together made a great impact on him.
"Although I was really young, the time that I spent with him clearly paid off, because I have his blueprint," Wes says.
The blueprint he's talking about is his and his grandfather's abilities to sense opportunities in emerging industries. When Prohibition ended in 1933 and alcohol was no longer banned, Wes's grandfather decided to get into the liquor business. With his then-business-partner Meyer Cohen, Sidney founded Cohen Brothers, a Connecticut-based alcohol distribution company that became Eder Brothers., Inc. in the 1940's, and is still around today. Wes's father Andrew now runs the company, along with Wes's brother in law Cutter Smith. Over the decades, Eder Brothers has supplied libations to bars, restaurants, and retail stores throughout Connecticut.
More than 80 years later, Wes found himself in an analogous situation. Like his grandfather, he, too, smelled potential in an industry on the precipice of becoming decriminalized: cannabis. Taking a cue from Sidney, Wes decided to specialize in distributing marijuana products, and in 2017 he formed Shelf Life, a multi-million dollar cannabis distribution company that now sells to more than 60 legal dispensaries throughout Southern California.
"I saw a lot of similarities between the distribution of alcohol and cannabis, so it was just a natural fit," Wes says. "There was just something inside of me that was pulling me, that kept saying, 'Do this and keep doing it.' "
In the decades before Shelf Life's inception, Wes worked at Eder Brothers, taking on a litany of roles at the family business, from night crew worker to marketing manager. "I did everything but answer the phones at the reception desk," he says. "I learned A-to-Z how the business was run."
In 2013, after stints in internet marketing and wine brokering, Wes relocated from Connecticut to Southern California, instigating a series of events that would soon change his life.
Since middle school, Wes had been taking a cocktail of Ritalin and antidepressants to quell his ADD and anxiety. But though the medications worked, they came with side effects. "They sedated the heck out of me," Wes says.
Once on the West Coast, he started smoking more weed and realized that he was feeling better and more energetic than he had in years. He began thoroughly researching the plant, learning about different strains, their uses and their health benefits. Wes realized that unlike with pills, which can take weeks to kick in, the effects of cannabis can be enjoyed instantly. You also don't have to worry about dosages so much with cannabis. "If you smoke too much weed, you're falling asleep or eating too much. Other than that, there's not a lot of downsides."
One day, after picking up a new prescription medication from the pharmacy, Wes decided he'd had enough with the pharmaceuticals altogether.
"Something in my brain said, 'This is evil.' And I took that bottle of pills and threw it in the garbage. I have never had a pill since that day, and it's been four years."
As Wes's appreciation for weed's medicinal properties grew, so too did his interest in the industry. Thanks to a friend from the gym who literally put a pound of weed in his hand and said 'Get to work,' Wes began networking in the distribution world. He cold-called and visited dozens of dispensaries in the hopes of convincing them to purchase his product, and within a short amount of time, he was selling as much as 200 pounds of cannabis a month. He credits much of his early success as a distributor to the Wild Wild West nature of the cannabis industry at the time.
"There was just so much inconsistency. You had vape pens in tubes and you had edibles in zip-lock pouches with stickers on them. Shops would only see distributors once every couple of months or maybe once every few weeks," he says. "It was such an underdeveloped industry, and the caliber wasn't very high. And I just said to myself, 'This is a gold mine.' "
He was right. By applying "very simple things" he'd learned from the beverage and alcohol industry, Wes was able to attract more clientele, and gain additional product from cultivators. He visited dispensaries the same day every week and created release date calendars for new strains so that shops could pre-plan for their arrivals. He also focused on sourcing only superior, "top shelf" cannabis strains and curating a varied selection of clean, compliant, and great-tasting products with proven track records. "Consistency is my big thing," he says. "That's why I personally get involved from seed to sale."
Under California Proposition 215, Wes formed the flower wholesale business OC Analytics, which sourced and sub-brokered to more than a 100 dispensaries at its peak. When the Adult Use of Marijuana Act passed in 2016, making the recreational use of cannabis legal in California, OC Analytics was dissolved to create Shelf Life, a fully licensed distributor under the new law. In addition to selling to dispensaries and delivery services, Shelf Life distributes source supplies to businesses that need raw cannabis materials for their products.
Earlier this year, the company increased its foothold on the Southern California cannabis industry by acquiring another distribution company. Formed by Ryan Cron-a former sales executive from PAX Industries and JUUL-the merger added five new California compliant brands to Shelf Life's portfolio, as well as 20 new licensed dispensaries. In addition to Cron, who is now sales director, Shelf Life's core team consists of CFO Edan Boukai, who formerly worked for the streetwear brand DOPE; Courtney Eder, Wes's wife who is the president; and her father, Dirk Bruinsma, who serves as general counsel for the company.
Though Shelf Life's future looks bright, Wes can still remember the bumpy road he traveled to get where he is today. Some of those stories he holds close, knowing it was persistence and dedication that helped him achieve his goals.
"My father spent a month in California in March and he was in all of our sales meetings and he was there consulting for us," Wes says. "He was able to see the benefits that cannabis had on me and my own personal life, and our business successes. I couldn't ask for a bigger gift."
Like his father and grandfather before him, Wes knows that being in a highly regulated industry can come with risks and pitfalls, but it's a wager he's willing to take.
"While the industry is very young and constantly changing, I feel like I'm doing the right thing," he says. "So is it a little risky? Yeah. But I also enjoy the constant change."