Robert DeVore is the owner and founder of WP Dispensary one of the leading plugin and theme shops aimed at the cannabis dispensary industry. We discuss Robert’s WordPress journey and what lead him to developer WP Dispensary also what have been the challenges and what are the key things he has learned from the process connected to WP Dispensary which he can share with our audience.
Transcript of Interview
John: Welcome to the WP-Tonic episode 212. Today we’ve got the pleasure of having as our guest Robert DeVore of WP Dispensary and Devio Digital.
Robert: Devio Digital.
John: Oh. I’m sorry. Devio.
Robert: That’s all right.
John: And I also want to introduce my co-host Jonathan.
Jonathan: Oh. Hi there folks.
John: Robert, just jump right into it. How did you first get into web development?
Robert: I was thirteen and didn’t like school. So I’d stay up late and just sit on the computer and I messed around with a little bit of designs for people’s message boards, signature posts. And then that just progressed to learning basic table-based design. And then from there, I stuck with it because it was something I could do on my own without having to take the school route. So it kept me focused on something important and gave me a way of building a 9 to 5, I stumbled upon it, but I built a 9 to 5 for myself so I didn’t have to go clock in somewhere else. So it just worked out I guess. So ever since a young age, I’ve been messing with computers.
John: So 100 percent you’ve always worked for yourself?
Robert: When I was a teenager I had fast food jobs here and there and stuff like that. Once I don’t my own, I’ve been doing it all on my own.
John: Nice. Nice. And let’s talk about that for just a second. Before you launched WP Dispensary, what were you doing before that in the web development space?
Robert: Freelance work. Work for agencies. They get all the credit, but I’d be the one behind the scenes doing everything. Just a little bit here and there. I’m still doing that right now actually. WP Dispensary’s growing, but it’s not a full-time income where I can focus 100 percent of my time to it. But I’m hoping soon that it will get to that point. That’s the goal anyway.
John: Definitely. So let’s talk about that for a second. Obviously, the cannabis industry is an emerging market. Let’s talk about your product offering. What exactly is the WP Dispensary? Who’s is it for? What’s it do?
Robert: WP Dispensary is, in my opinion, a complete menu management solution for the cannabis industry. So dispensaries and delivery services. They can take what other websites are allowing them to do on their website. They can do it themselves and have their own menu hosted, have access to all their data. So they’re in complete control of all of.
John: Yeah. Definitely. It’s a very complete solution. I know that there’s not a lot of other people doing this in the space. When it comes to that, do you feel that gives you a little bit of a competitive edge? And do you think the market’s going to change?
Robert: Okay. I think the market is going to continue to grow to where there’s going to be more people in the space. I’ve talked to a few different people who are putting things together. Drew Poland’s the guy that puts together listed themes. And he’s working on his solution right now. And then I know a couple other people who have been talking to me, getting a little bit of advice and things like. So I know it’s growing. Right now I don’t really look at competition as competition. I’m just trying to build something that I feel comfortable with at my own pace. have weeks where I go 16 hours a day and I’m doing nothing but development for it. Then I’ll have 4 or 5 days where I don’t even touch it. So I’m just kind of growing at my own pace right now. Until it becomes something that I can focus full-time on, it gets my attention whenever I have the spare minute or 2 to mess with it.
John: Yeah. Definitely. In your estimate, how many dispensaries are using this for their online system right now?
Robert: Right now it’s going back and forth between 200 plus and 100 plus active installs in the WordPress repository. So I guesstimate a couple hundred different dispensaries. I know there’s a lot more that have downloaded it and they’ve got the free themes that I put out before and they’re using that. I’ve seen the (inaudible [04:50]). I haven’t kept track of an exact number. But I’d say somewhere in hundreds. The low hundreds. I know there are thousands are them out there. So I’m still trying to grab and grow every single day.
John: That’s actually pretty good. That’s not bad. Like I said, as more states legalize cannabis, I think that number will continue to grow. So let’s address that. How did you first get the idea to build themes and plugins exclusively for dispensaries?
Robert: I kind of fell into it. I was starting to build just free themes to give away and let people use, trying to build up a following on my own personal blog. And I built a plugin for Leafly that would show, through using their API, would show reviews from the dispensaries on their website. And it put it and display it right on your WordPress site through a widget or short code. And a month after I built that, they shut their API down. So I was stuck wondering what to do next. And I liked the idea of working within that industry. So I was looking around and I couldn’t find anything that showed there was an open source solution for the menus. So I just took that and ran away with it. And the first product I built, the Base 1.0, compared to what it is now, it’s horrible to look back on. But I was just happy to get something out and work on it.
John: Definitely. And it’s a good looking product. In your estimation, looking out there at the different dispensary sites, what are some of the major problems or obstacles that they face with their digital presence?
Robert: I’ve seen a wide variety of dispensaries from top ends where you can tell they’re making millions of dollars a year on their website displays that. All the way to what looks like a kid in his basement who probably put a GeoCities page together and said, “Okay. Now I’m going to sell weed”. It fluctuates. It just really depends on the area. I know in California they’re a little above and beyond what the newer states are. So they’ve got a little bit of a curve ahead of everyone else as far as what their website looks like and how they’re presenting it. But I think the main thing always has been you can get an iframe to add to your website from these other menu sites. But then that’s an iframe. It’s really doing nothing good for your site. It’s hard to make sure it’s going to be mobile responsive and still look good when people. Most people are going to browse on their phone and then want to all of you directly or find the address and come right in. So having it easy to browse on the website makes it a million times better. I think that’s the one thing that’s lacking right now.
John: That’s an excellent point and I think you’re right. I think a lot of people are, they have to prioritize mobile friendliness with that because a lot of people are looking for a place where they can head in and pick up their goods.
John: And definitely with dispensaries too, a thing to remember too is a lot of people are using this for medical purposes. The presentation is super super important. When it comes to design, do you have anyone helping you with that? Or s that all you as well?
Robert: Everything’s been me. I have control issues a little bit. So it’s hard for me to branch out and let other people touch stuff. But the code is up on (inaudible [08:22]). So I always open any poll requests or any issues that people find, I’m always open to looking into that and working that way. But for the most part, I’ve been doing a little bit at a time on my own. I’ve just kept it that way for now.
John: Definitely. Awesome. When it comes to marketing ideas for dispensaries, what are some of the things that you see people doing that are successful with that when it comes to digital marketing?
Robert: I think Instagram has been, from what I’ve seen, one of the biggest ways. You post up a bunch of funny memes and tag it the right way. You get people from your local area following you. Then they see a social account where you’re seeing 10,000 followers, that’s got a good dispensary. So now you want to go to it because you big numbers. So I think Instagram has been one of the best ways. I know they’ve had issues getting their account shut down at random by Instagram. And on Facebook, they’ve been doing it too. But from what I’ve seen online, besides having your own website, it seems Instagram’s the best solution.
John: Excellent. Excellent. Do you see people leveraging Facebook as well?
Robert: Yeah. I know there’s a couple here right around where I’m at in Michigan where they have the messenger up where you can contact them right on their Facebook page and their real real responsive. It’s kind of tied in. The Instagram and the Facebook just blends together and becomes their solution. I don’t really see a lot of Twitter unless it’s just basically for promotion. They don’t really do a lot of interacting through Twitter from what I’ve seen. But Instagram and Facebook is usually the direct connection than the visual marketing on Instagram more.
John: Definitely. Let’s talk about your cannabis theme. This is like your flagship theme for dispensaries. When it comes to this theme, how are you getting this in front of dispensaries? Is it just through the repo? Is it through email marketing? How are you getting this in front of people?
Robert: Every way possible. From the repo where people come and find out about the site. Once they find the plugin, they come to the site and it’s advertised right on the site that we have a theme that we offer. Then I also have newsletter lists where you can sign up and get marketing tips for your dispensary. And then I send out updates when new products are released or new updates are released. And then I’m also doing just direct contact, reaching out on my own and talking to people. Then search engine optimization content marketing have really been the two things I feel that have brought the most traffic to the site. So that’s really the main focus right there.
John: Yeah. Dispensaries are a big business. I actually have a client as well. He manufactures the displays for a lot of the dispensaries as well. How sophisticated do you see this market as being? Are these people really sophisticated as far as digital marketing? Or do people underestimate dispensary owners? Do they still have a lot of ways to go when it comes to digital marketing?
Robert: Honestly I think it’s a younger demographic that seems to be running a lot of it from what I’ve interacted with in the places I went. So I feel that they’re more ahead of the curb when it comes to digital because they’ve grown up with digital and understand the importance of people being connected. So I think it’s working out pretty well in that favor. I think again it’s just a matter of figuring out how to present your business professionally where people aren’t looking at you as just a drug spot. But you’re an actual place of business where you’re giving medicine to people. They’re coming and getting healed. I go to places and they’ll be people anywhere from 18. I’ve seen people up to 75 years old and there at the same time as me. So it’s never really what people first think of when they think of a spot like that. So I think a lot of the marketing needs to push the professionalism. And that’s what I’m that the plugin and the work that I’m doing does is give people a way to present things professionally to where they don’t have to work hard to make it look good.
John: Definitely. I think you’re doing a great job when it comes to presenting the professionalism. Right now we’re going to go to our break and then we’re going to come back. We’re going to be talking more with Robert DeVore of Devio Digital. See you in a sec.
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John: Coming back from our break. And we’re talking more with Rober DeVore of WP Dispensary and Devio Digital. Jonathan, do you have a question?
Jonathan: Well, where do you see this business going really Robert? Do you actually feel that you’re starting to get some traction? And do you want to expand it where you’ve got actually yourself and other people working on the business?
Robert: Yeah. Definitely. Definitely. I’ve been doing it for about a year and a half now. And within the last 6 months I’m starting to see a little more traction. So I think about the first year it’s finally starting to pick up steam. People are realizing, “Okay. It’s a product that’s here and it’s not going anywhere”. Where you see a lot of products that come in and a couple months later you don’t know what happened, what’s going on with them. So I think I’ve built the solid base now. And long-term goal is to make it a full-time job and have a ton of people working for me. I would love to have a multimillion business from it. So whatever I can do to make that happen, that’s the goal. There’s no limit. I just want to keep going up. So whatever I can do to make that happen I’m going to do it.
Jonathan: So what is your basic business model? So you have a set of free themes that are in the WordPress repository. And then I presume that you have add-ons or have you got a pro theme?
Robert: Yeah. WP Dispensary plugin is in the repository and that’s free and that will always be free. So the main core plugin itself is always free. And then on my site, I have a few different themes that I’ve released for free. They’re not geared specifically towards WP Dispensary. But you can use them with it because the plugin works with any theme. So those are out there. And that brings the traffic in from that and build the following. And then I can the cannabis theme, which is the commercial theme, where I’m putting a lot of the time and effort into building it and integrating it with all the other add-ons that I got. Because I also have, I think, seven different add-ons on. And I’m working my way up towards ten hopefully within the next couple of months. I’ve got a couple that I’m working on releasing. So I have a couple free add-ons and then I also have paid add-ons. So the money coming in is generally from the add-on, the theme. And then I also offer a setup service. So if you don’t even want to touch nothing, you just want to get it set up to match your logo and your company, you go ahead of pay for it and it’s done for you.
Jonathan: So what’s been a couple of the main things you’ve learnt through this process so far?
Robert: Patience. That’s the main thing. Because I always want things to go a lot faster than I can make them go. I can only stay up so many hours before I pass out. So it’s just learning the patience of understanding. And then taking a step back because I’m always trying to run so fast with it. When I step back a little bit and look everything over I can start to see how I can piece things together a little bit easier without being, can’t see the forest or the trees. You’ve got to step back a little and then you can make way of the best solution going forward, rather than what I feel like I want to do at this moment.
Jonathan: So what’s the main competition outside of WordPress? Is it fully hosted solutions?
Robert: Yeah. There are a couple big ones like Weedmaps, Leafly, and a couple other sites. They’ve been like the Myspace and Facebook of social media where they’re the big giants in there. But then over time, we’ve seen how Myspace and other places like that go. So I’m hoping that with an open source solution, it gives people the ability to use it for as long as they need to without having it dependent on someone’s services like that.
Jonathan: And how do you see the industry going in general. I live in Nevada folks, Northern Nevada near Reno. And recently dispensaries were made legal. And a number of other states. But obviously, with the Trump administration, they’ve made it clear that their policies are going to be more hard lying towards any kind of form of drugs. So you’ve got contradictory forces. How do you see that playing out?
Robert: I think with it now being over the half the country has either legal or medical purposes or recreational purposes, I think the cat’s out of the bag. They can fight it as long as they want to and argue about it all day long. But everything shifted so much and I don’t think you can put it back away now. You can’t stop. There’s too much going on where you go to Colorado and they’ve got millions of dollars in tax revenue going to schools and rebuilding schools. Crime’s going down. Car accidents are going down. People are getting healthier because of it. You can’t really find a bad reason for it except for the ones that they’ve been spewing since the (inaudible [18:40]) program, 20, 30 years ago. So it just seems to me like it’s just going to keep growing and it’s eventually be accepted as much as alcohol. So you’ll see ads for it everywhere. I feel like that’s where it’s headed. It can’t stop I don’t think now.
Jonathan: So have you had a lot of different requests from owners that were looking at your solution? And how do you choose the ones that you’re going to try and implement into your platform?
Robert: Well, I’ve had a lot over. That’s where a lot of the advancements have actually come. Because I built the base product off of what I’d seen. And then after working with people, if I hear three or four times in a row from people, “This is what I’m looking to get done”. And I go, “Okay. Well, it sounds like it’s going to be more than just a one off case. So maybe it can go in”. And then, you talk to other people who are selling more of the seeds and clones rather than other products. So they have more information on what they’re looking for, for that area. So once I see, “Okay. Well, yeah. Everyone could benefit from having, what they’re cloned from in the description of, the meta information. So let’s go ahead and add that in”. And that will allow everybody to put that information. So it’s just figuring out what seems more like a one use case for this specific person over what’s going to be used by a lot of people over time.
Jonathan: Obviously your experience is in WordPress. So was WordPress the tool that you decided straight away to build this? Or were you looking maybe at Ruby on Rails and a full custom solution? Or was it always WordPress?
Robert: It was always WordPress. I’ve loved WordPress. Because of WordPress I’ve been able to support myself for my entire adult life. So I wanted to give back. So I knew building the base plugin and making it free, that was a good way for me to be able to say, “Okay. I’m supporting open source. I’m showing that open source can be a sustainable business”. So I always wanted to go with open source with it. Plus, that so many websites already use WordPress, that I knew it would be better to have them integrate a plugin in, rather than wipe their whole website out and put a whole new solution up. So I figured it’d be easier on the end user also. It felt natural.
Jonathan: And because of the industry, was there any kind of difficulty getting the plugin in the repository?
Robert: No. I submitted it. And they looked over the code. And I guess the code looked good to them. And they were good to go with it. So I had no issues with that.
Jonathan: Oh. Well, that’s great. Got a question John?
John: Yeah. Definitely. I want to ask you Robert. I’m looking at your extensions page. Like you mentioned before, you have an add-on business model. A large part of the revenue comes from the add-ons. So my question to you is, are there certain ones that seem to be more popular than others? What are your top sellers? Or your top installs in this category.
Robert: For the extensions, I think the top one is the WooCommerce connection. Because then it lets people place orders right on your website. It comes with an option where you can have pay on pick up as your payment option. So you don’t have to actually accept cash through your website or through a credit card processor if you don’t want to go that route. And then WooCommerce has so many other extensions already built into it for shipping and everything else. I know in Canada you can ship. So it’s like there are certain things that I wanted to make it extendible for everyone else. Instead of just building a payment solution for WP Dispensary and leaving it at that, figured to just capitalize on the big user base of WooCommerce and let it all integrate together. So that one’s been the top one for sure. Because everybody wants the payment options on their website. So above and beyond that and then the cannabis theme are my two top sellers because they both go hand in hand. You get that along with the menu and now you’ve got a whole styled website. You click and pick whatever colors you want from the theme and then it’s automatically integrated with WooCommerce. So you’re good to go.
John: Yeah. Definitely. Have you had people take up on the offer, like set up the whole system for them?
Robert: Yeah. I’ve had a few actually. And it works out really well. I’ve built everything and I’ve had my hands in all of it. I know where to customize things if they want something changed. So it’s a really smooth process. They give me a link to their menu. I copy over each of their menu items in the WP Dispensary. And it’s up and running for them and they don’t have to touch anything. Yeah. It definitely works out good.
John: Definitely. One thing that I see you tweet about a lot is #nevernotworking. It really resonates with me. I see in you someone who’s a hardcore hustler, an entrepreneur. Someone who’s making these sacrifices to get to where you want to go. How has been being an entrepreneur and creating your own product line? How different is it from doing the kind of freelance work you were doing before?
Robert: Freeing. I feel like I can breathe. When I think about building something for WP Dispensary or something that I want to do on my own, it’s a totally different vibe than if I’m thinking about a client project because I’m to base what I’m doing on their limitations on what they want. For me, I’m just free to think about whatever I care about thinking about. At that moment, I can see it how I want to see it and build it how I want to build it. So it’s given me a lot more freedom. It’s more exciting if I’m being honest. Wake up in the morning knowing, “Oh. I’m about to work on my stuff”, rather than working on something for someone else. So it’s an exciting thing. And that’s why I’m hoping to have the shift to full-time income from it, so this way I can just focus solely on it. And then I’ll be able to build it faster, build it better because I’ll be able to devote more time and energy to it. Yeah. It’s definitely nice.
John: I totally feel what you’re saying. It’s the ultimate reality hack. You’re creating your own reality.
John: And one thing I wanted to ask you too. When it comes to people, you’re setting up their dispensary site, do you recommend for them to have maintenance packages? Do you do retainer work for people after they’ve launched?
Robert: Yeah. I have a couple people right now that they come to me if they ever have questions. They’ve pretty much figured out how to run it on their own. But they’ll come to me and say, “Hey. I need help updating this”. They don’t want to update the plugins or anything or the core files because they don’t want to mess nothing up. So I’ll go in and set them up with a new backup. Take care of that stuff for them. So it works out. And plus, over time they keep giving me tips on what they think would make the site better. So I can take that and use it to make the plugin better which in turn makes the overall product experience better. It’s definitely a win-win with that.
John: It’s definitely great. I noticed too you have a link. At the bottom of WP Dispensary, you have free stock photos. Do a lot of people visit this page and use the stock photos here?
Robert: Yeah. I haven’t them in use, but I’ve seen a lot of downloads from it. So I know someone’s downloading. And I don’t know if it’s (inaudible [26:21]) or if it’s designers looking for images that they use to create sites for their clients. I don’t know where exactly they’re going to. But I do know that they’re getting pretty decent downloads. And I put them up a while ago. So it’s just kind of grown. I don’t know if it’s just the search engine optimization for cannabis stock photos or whatever it is. But they definitely do get views from it.
Jonathan: I think we should finish up John and then we can go for some quick bonus content.
John: Yeah. Let’s do it. All right. I want to remind everyone. If you’re getting value from our Podcast, go ahead and leave a review on iTunes. We’d totally appreciate it. And Robert, how do we find you? How do we get a hold of you?
Robert: I’m on Twitter every day, deviorobert, which is D – E – V – I – O, Robert. That’s the main twitter account. And you can find everything else in there linked to my website, wpdispensary.com. I’m pretty much on Twitter every moment I’m awake. My phone’s either on it. If I’m out somewhere standing in line. If I’m sitting at the house and I’m just on the couch waiting for the commercial to get over with or whatever, I’m usually on Twitter. So that’s the best place.
John: Cool. How do we get a hold of you Jonathan?
Jonathan: Oh. It’s really easy folks. You can get me on Twitter @jonathandenwood. Or you could email me at [email protected]
John: And you can get a hold of me on my site which is lockedowndesign.com. You can find me on Twitter Lockedown_ or follow my Facebook page. Just Google Locke Down Design. For the WP-Tonic posse in effect, we’re saying peace out and get your dose.
More About Robert DeVore
Robert has been online since 1998 when his family got their first computer. He’s lived through Angelfire, Geocities, AOL chatrooms, Myspace and countless other internet relics.
Before working with WordPress, he was knee deep in table based html layouts and ultra-basic php code.
After realizing a CMS was a growing requirement for his personal web projects and freelance clients, he found WordPress (version 1.5) in 2005 and never looked back.
Because in his words “open source saved my life“, he has released various open source WordPress themes and plugins.
Most recently blending his love for open source and WordPress with the cannabis industry, he released WP Dispensary which is a complete menu management solution for WordPress.
In his spare time Robert likes to create music, read books, hang out with the Mrs and enjoy the finer things that life has to offer, like pizza and caffeine.
Writing in third person is weird, and Robert hates doing it 😂
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