An interview with Charlie Kieley, Co-Founder and CEO of Kings Garden
Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about how this whole thing began?
Well, I started smoking at a much younger age than my parents would like me to admit. Then when I was 18 and went out to college I started growing with my brother Tommy in our closets. I grew outdoor in Northern California for almost 10 years. Got pretty worn out and tired and I missed home. Palm Springs was licensing cultivations and dispensaries under Prop 215 so I came back home and started getting out in the field. By chance, I was doing some consulting for a grow that Mike King came to tour as a potential financier. We linked up and planted the seed in each other’s heads that we both could benefit from a partnership.
What does it mean to you to be building a business in your hometown?
I’m a third generation Palm Springs native. My two sons were born in Palm Springs so they’re both 4th generation Palm Springs natives. I’m proud to call the desert home so the opportunity to participate in the cannabis space in my own backyard was huge. It meant being around people that I love and care about, but it also meant the ability to give back to the community. We employ over 200 people, most of whom are from the greater Coachella Valley area. We also pay a massive amount of taxes here so that’s all going back into bettering our communities and improving the quality of life for all the residents out here in the desert.
What was your very first Kings Garden grow like?
Well, I had to prove to Mike that I could actually do what I said I could do so we built one 16 light room in a 10,000 square foot warehouse. We actually still run that building to this day.
And today’s grow?
So right now we’re at 3,200 lights and north of 250,000 square feet of indoor space and we’ve got two massive projects that are underway. They’ll both take a significant amount of time to complete but when it’s all said and done, we’ll be at 12,000 lights and 650,000 square feet.
Can you tell us more about Charlie’s recipe and how that’s played into your ability to scale so quickly?
It was my mission when we set out to go from 16 lights to our initial goal which was a few hundred lights. It was important for us even then to figure out how we could generate the same results at a slightly larger scale. That’s, of course, what you have to do if you’re going to deliver a consistent product to your consumers, time and time again.
I will say, our system is not the only system. It’s not the right way. It’s just a way that we’ve been able to grow and scale and eliminate as many variables as we can that would result in some change to the product.
We’re always looking for ways to improve quality so the recipe has had some adjustments to it over time. Most recently, with improvements in technology, we’re finally seeing some promise with LED lighting and some nutrient lines and mixing salts and things like that, so, for the first time ever, we’re starting to implement some changes to those systems. The recipe is subject to change, I guess, but the goal always remains the same. I’ve been growing in some fashion for almost 20 years now and have always just been super passionate about continuing to grow the best weed we can.
So what about strain selection, how does Kings Garden select strains and what are a few of your personal favorites?
This is a tough one. I’ll say, in full transparency, it’s very, very difficult in the legal marketplace to stay on top of evolving trends when it comes to strains. We’re very limited on how we can bring new strains into our facilities. We would love to be growing a lot of these strains that we see getting hyped up on social media but until we have licensed nurseries and breeders who have those genetics, we’re constrained by the regulations.
We’ve still been putting so, so, so much energy into getting new strains into the product offering. It’s just a slow process going on pheno hunts and popping seeds. Oftentimes it’s 10 or 11 months before you see the results and you’ll have a very small percentage that are actually viable. I’m proud to say though, we’ve made some good progress recently and we’ll have a lot of surprises coming up over the next couple months. I can’t say exactly what right now, but be on the lookout for a handful of new strains to drop.
We’ll keep that work up and then there are some of our flagship strains; the Gelato, the Roxx, the Jack, that we’ll keep in the lineup, too. We want a good even mix of what we believe is going to remain relevant and what we’re doing our damndest to bring into a very difficult, restricted world.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share regarding the current state of the California market?
How to bring new strains in is a relatively small issue realistically compared to what we’re seeing with the overall market. We’re hearing horror stories of retailers who’s sales are down 50% or more year to year. We’re hearing similar stories from brands who are down comparable amounts.
There’s mass production from black-market farms and that’s why we see these wholesale prices and things at an all-time low. Unfortunately, I think this is just the beginning of it. I think we’re going to see serious consolidation in the marketplace; with cultivators, with manufacturers, all the way down to the retailers. Until California figures out how to reduce the tax burden and eliminate some of the illicit production, we’ll continue to see margins get smaller and smaller and we’ll continue to see a lot of our smaller operators who aren’t able to weather the storm, disappear from the legal market.
It’s not a lost cause if we could get the right people to make the right decisions. No other industry has taxes as burdensome as ours. We have to pay taxes on product before it’s ever even sold to the final consumer. It’s just absolutely absurd. It’s taxation without representation. Take all this money but don’t protect us in any way.
Are there any widely held misperceptions that you think consumers in California have about the industry or about growing?
One of the original things I recognized was too many people thought you couldn’t scale this industry and grow good, high-quality product. Everyone who had any experience had it, like myself, coming out of a gray or black-market where we couldn’t scale. Not because we didn’t know how, but because we were hiding in the woods. So when we didn’t have to anymore, I set out to prove that you could produce some of the best, high-quality, high-testing, most-consistent product on the market on a large scale. You don’t have to look very far in agriculture to see how this is possible. Look at the greenhouses in the Netherlands, a million square feet or more under one roof all growing tulips.
Other than that, to anyone who thinks Kings Garden is too big or too corporate, I’d say, at the end of the day, this is still just a family. We’re still a bunch of people who are super passionate about the product, and who consume pretty heavily. We’re not just some big conglomerate trying to maximize profits. We care about what we do and we’re always trying to improve and learn more.
So if you could flip a switch and change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
On a national level, of course, it would have to be decriminalization and full legalization. Having interstate commerce and open markets across the country would be, you know, normal and fair and amazing.
What are you most excited to see happen in 2022 and beyond for Kings Garden?
So, I touched on our expansion. That’s huge and exciting for us but realistically, I think, right now, it’s the things that I can’t talk too much about that I mentioned. It’s bringing in some really exciting new flavors. That’s probably the biggest, most exciting thing for me right now.
If you could smoke with any person dead or alive, who would it be, where would you be and what would you be smoking?
Oh man. I want a good ole Granddaddy Purple or Purple Urkle. I can say that with confidence. I’m thinking in the White House. Isn’t it Snoop Dog who said he smoked at the White House? Yeah, Snoop Dog. He’d be a good one to do it with.
As the original and largest cultivator in California’s renowned Coachella Valley, Kings Garden produces perfectly consistent, creatively curated, superior quality strains of cannabis. And it’s the #1 recommended brand by budtenders for new smokers.