Winning the Small Business of the Year Award from the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce is no small feat. It reflects the proper planning and execution of a business model, the successful gathering of a team of workers, and a positive response from both customers and neighbors of all sorts. Bellingham’s 2020 Solutions was honored to win the prize on December 5th at the Annual Awards Dinner.

Aaron Nelson displays some of the local product for sale in his store. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

Aaron Nelson, Director of Actualization for the cannabis retailer, was pleased by the recognition. “It was a greatly appreciated surprise when they announced us as the winner at the awards dinner,” he says. Part of that astonishment comes from the fact that 2020 Solutions sells cannabis products and is the first in its industry to be recognized in this way in Whatcom County.

In 2012, the people of Washington state voted to legalize marijuana. Such a large change in longstanding policy meant that the industry had plenty of hurdles to clear. In the early days, banks were unwilling to handle the money associated with the sale of cannabis; consumers now can use debit cards in retail shops (though not credit cards).

I ask whether broad push-back remains against the industry, or whether the domino effect has taken over, and hurdles are being cleared away. “The dominoes are velcroed to the table right now,” Nelson says, “a little slow to flip, but they are flipping.”

Megan Murphy, Mariah Kerrihard and Michael Gamel provide the client relations that have made 2020 a success. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

This award from the Bellingham Regional Chamber represents the company’s first recognition from the business community, but 2020 Solutions has been steadily collecting accolades from customer polls, as well. “We’ve won the Best of Bellingham for the last five years, and the Best of the Northwest for the last five years,” Nelson says—a good track record for a business that’s been around for just five years. When asked the secret of success, he doesn’t hesitate: “It’s a true commitment by our team to put the guest first.”

Nelson first saw aspects of that commitment while working at other jobs. Growing up in Point Roberts and moving to Bellingham 20 years ago, Nelson was approaching 15 years with FedEx Office, a national printing and shipping chain, when he received the offer that changed everything.

The tools of the cannabis trade make for a colorful display. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

“My best friend, who I met in birthing class—my son and his daughter are two days apart—had applied for the license to open the store,” Nelson says. When marijuana was legalized, there were a limited number of licenses issued, and people were very motivated to get their hands on them. “We were on vacation in Hawaii together and he was telling me how he was getting all these calls from people, asking him to sell the license. But he was going to open a store, and he said, ‘Come run it for me.’ And I told him, ‘Not a chance in hell.’ I was very comfortable at FedEx at the time. My wife convinced me that I should make the jump.”

So Nelson gathered the best parts of what he had learned from his career up to that point, and brought them to the new endeavor. “I surrounded myself with a team of people that was really passionate and knowledgeable about cannabis, and instilled in them my passion for taking care of the team and the guests. It was a perfect combination,” he says.

This humorous advent calendar replaces chocolates with a more adult treat. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

Nelson empowers his team with all the tools and training they need to succeed. He sees their potential, even when they don’t see it in themselves. He encourages them to find their talents, use their best judgement and even gives them the option to create a new job for themselves that better utilizes their skills.

Nelson is happy to see his company become a part of the community. “Even if you’re not a cannabis consumer, we invite you to stop in the store and ask questions,” he says, highlighting the policies that have created an award-winning business: “Taking care of the team, taking care of the guest, and providing an exceptional experience—it’s about treating people the way you want to be treated.”

Warning: Marijuana products may be purchased or possessed only by persons 21 years of age or older. This product has intoxicating effects and may be habit forming. Smoking is hazardous to your health. There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product and should not be used by women that are pregnant or breastfeeding. For use only by adults twenty-one and older. Keep out of reach of children. Marijuana can impair concentration, coordination and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug.

Featured photo by Radley Muller Photography

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