We had the good fortune of connecting with Sharon Kevil and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sharon, we’d love for you to start things off by telling us something about your industry that we and others not in the industry might be unaware of?
One thing people might not be aware of in the cannabis-serving, but not plant-touching part of this industry, is that even a whiff of cannabis in your marketing will definitely put you squarely in the paraphernalia category. This was something that was discussed at length while we were going through branding with our legal team, and the feeling was that our furniture was legally no different use-case wise than a gun safe. Gun safes can be legally advertised and sold without issue on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, but guns and ammunition can not. Our furniture is the equivalent of a gun safe, but we quickly realized that unless we wanted to start a lawsuit there really isn’t anything we can do. Their platform, their rules.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Forti Goods is a new product category in the market – lockable furniture to safely store cannabis. The furniture has a companion app that lets the user pair the furniture to their WiFi and securely lock and unlock their furniture with a tap of a button from their phone. The line was designed with aging in mind. Cannabis (THC and CBD) can be such a miracle for the aches and pains associated with aging, so we wanted to make sure that the furniture was easy to use and operate for our current customers and older ones. If you know your WiFi password, our furniture set up and use is a breeze – and it’s secure! While there are certainly features that tailor it to cannabis storage – like our accessories to organize and store cannabis consumables, and our replaceable carbon filters – it can definitely be used for anything you want to lock up. We’ve had customers with teenagers and adult children that use our side tables as nightstands to lock up their sex toys, prescription meds, jewelry, and money, and others who have inquired about using our furniture in their Airbnb/Vrbo properties to keep guests out of their stuff.
The challenges in bringing Forti Goods to market were few, but difficult to overcome. First, I had to find investment. I had spent the first year developing prototypes on my own, which is very expensive when you’re building a furniture line – and you never get it on the first try. I had this initial goal that all of my investors would be women and we would grow this company together, but that was naïve. I’m a GenXer and it’s easy to forget that women could legally be denied their own bank account up until the 1970’s if there wasn’t a husband or male co-signer for them. So to expect there’d be all of these female investors to tap into in Wisconsin (where Forti is located), was unrealistic. It was a lot of “no” until I met someone who really saw the vision and potential and gave me a “yes”. The second challenge was developing our hardware and the app that we use to control the furniture. I spent months looking for an “off-the-shelf” solution, but it just didn’t exist. I knew how I wanted it to work, found a development company that could make it happen, and we were off to the races. There have been some hard “lessons learned” for both of us, but we made it work – and now we have an amazing product that is quite unique in the market.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The last time I landed in Denver was to go skiing – I was about 12 weeks pregnant and we got the call with our test results mid-run at Keystone – a healthy baby girl. That was 7 years ago! We are way overdue for a trip back, and it’s high on our priority list for a return trip soon. For a week-long trip we’d definitely have some kid-friendly day hiking, and a trip to the aquarium & to see the mermaids – our daughter loves the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago near where we live – but I’d keep the mermaid part a surprise. At six years old, she is still very much into the world of magic and pretend. We’d visit our friends in Denver and check out some of their favorite spots with their kids. And though I’m sure it’s not loved by all residents, I would definitely make a solo trip to one of your adult-use dispensaries. Cannabis is still fully illegal in Wisconsin where we live, so the safe and legal access Coloradoans enjoy is welcome.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Just one? There are so many people I want to recognize! I guess if I had to pick one organization, I’d like to recognize my incredible PR team, Joint PR. I met Alysha Light in 2019 through a mutual friend (shoutout to the talented Liz Martin of Liz Martin Creative) while I was still looking for investment in my company. Alysha was generously giving away nine, 1-hour-long PR consultations for 9 lucky entrepreneurs and I was one of those she selected. I was SO impressed with the guidance and information she gave me for free that I knew I wanted to work with her once I had a budget. Fast forward to December 2020 and I had the funds and the product line to make that happen. I’ve been working with Alysha and Kristen Grossi, the other half of Joint PR, for the past 4.5 months and I’ll never work with another PR team. Not only do they work in cannabis PR, but they’re also in the tech sector. For Forti, it’s the perfect blend – my furniture was designed for the cannabis connoisseur to safely store their THC goods, and it utilizes an app – so were canna + tech. These women are at the top of their game, and they’re wonderful people – I’ll never work with anyone else!
Anna Spaller Photography