The owner of Northland Vapor and Alpine Hemp has found success, regionally and nationally, thanks to strategic partners, continued expansions and a great team.
The concept of “luck” is defined as success brought on by chance rather than through one’s own actions. But good fortune and a spell of luck have nothing to do with how Brett Erpelding has transformed his vaping and CBD businesses into an empire.
As with most success stories worth telling, Erpelding’s past was not along the straight and narrow. While he studied Chemistry at NDSU, some would say the most important part of his education came from the school of hard-knocks. His 20s were decorated with addiction, incarceration, rehab and everything that comes with those territories.
When he met his now-wife, Renae, she was pregnant and he quickly assumed the role of father. Although not his biological son, Erpelding later adopted the child and was his parent from before birth. Taking on the job title “Dad” while also developing a business and trying to make the title “CEO” stick, his 2010s were fueled by grit and a lot of energy drinks.
Now, those days are unapparent in Erpelding’s demeanor, save for the glimmer of childlike mischievousness that’s always in his eyes. Today Erpelding is a curious, unpresuming autodidact. To the passerby, he doesn’t come off as a multi-million dollar business owner. And you certainly wouldn’t guess that that success comes from developing high-quality vape and CBD products.
The two main legs of Erpelding’s operation are Northland Vapor and Alpine Hemp. He began with Northland, developing and selling vape/e- liquid products in 2015. This later lead him to CBD and the innumerable possibilities that came with it. His interest in the similar industries come from a harm-reduction philosophy and a desire to curb his cigarette habit.
“After I had kid number one, I pawned my X-Box and got a vape so that I wouldn’t smoke,” he said. Not initially setting out to quit altogether, vaping allowed him to cut down on cigarettes, bit by bit until he didn’t reach for them anymore and he had successfully quit smoking. Seeing how helpful it was to him, Erpelding introduced vaping to his family of long-time cigarette smokers, and soon they were converted as well.
Erpelding became fascinated with the vape industry from a chemistry standpoint, too. He wanted to learn more about how it was made, how it worked and how it was healthier than cigarette smoking. “I suppose I like figuring out how things work. [Chemistry] came fairly easily to me, as I expect most people’s passions do,” he said. He began working at another local vape shop, absorbing more about the sales environment and store operations, in addition to vape as a whole.
Having learned the ins and outs of the industry, Erpelding began experimenting with his own formulations and flavors. This entrepreneurial spirit was first practiced while still employed at the vape shop, but as things progressed, holding the day job and developing a new business was no longer viable. In the fall of 2015, he moved his operations to a 10-by-12 room in his mother’s basement. From this small, underground space, things began to take off.
He found early success promoting his products on the popular online forum, Reddit. His first notable batch of sales came following a Black Friday promotion he shared on the web forum. Orders came in quicker than he had means to fullfil — not a bad problem for an infant business.
Erpelding never intended on turning the online business into a brick- and-mortar retail operation. But after two-and-a-half years of online sales out of his mother’s basement, the operation, unsurprisingly, outgrew the spare bedroom. So when an office space that included a retail storefront in downtown Moorhead came to him, he gave retail a shot.
On the heels of partnering with a Colorado CBD/cannabis extraction company, Erpelding had the opportunity to take their raw materials and mix it with his knowledge of formulation. “As we started to bring more products in-house and make them ourselves, we saw the costs of those and it made more sense, we just needed a way to distribute them,” said Erpelding about deciding to go into brick-and-mortar.
The customer-service arm of opening a retail location turned out to be a good fit in fulfilling Erpelding’s aspirations for the company. Erpelding has a big, warm heart and is a believer that you get back what you put into the world. And in this industry, a lot of that karmatic philosophy comes with educating customers. It wasn’t until the last five or so years that CBD and vaping came onto the scene as big players. So naturally, there’s still a cloud of misinformation and a general lack of education about the products. Just as you’d want to go visit a doctor to get your ailments treated and looked into, Erpelding believes that shopping for CBD and vape products should have that same personal experience. “You want to talk to someone and touch the products and whatnot,” he said. By expanding into retail, he and his carefully-chosen store associates can have those one-on-one personal conversations, hand-selecting the best product for each customer. Staying true to a customer-first ideology, keeps Northland and Alpine true to their roots.
The Synergistic Future
Now fully off the ground and still growing, Alpine and Northland are expanding to new avenues. To the team, the most exciting development has been venturing into white- labeling and blueprinting their process for easy replication.
By creating a vibrant and engaging eCommerce platform, Erpelding was able to expand the company into a large warehouse and office space. From there, they began providing fulfillment services on a wider scale. He was able to build his own 3PL and can now help other companies in the industry build their own sites and eCommerce businesses. “We already addressed all the trials and tribulations, so they don’t have to experience the same learning curve we did,” said Andy Richards, Director of Marketing and Opportunities at Alpine Hemp. “And in that process, we have established the ability to create our own retail products and provide fulfillment, but now we can also white-label products for other people and provide services beyond that.”
Furthering this concept, the team has enjoyed being able to make strategic introductions and connect the right people together. Networking is everything, and helping get the right people talking to each other has been huge for them.
“We began realizing that strategic partners were an important part of continued growth. We’ve met some very good people and some of the strategic partnerships we’ve created essentially align us to be a vertically integrated company,” said Richards. From farmers growing the biomass to extractors to retail partners, Erpelding’s team has helped make connections between many entities in the process from soil to oil.
“The main thing right now is to keep investing in the process, the efficiencies and growing the product line. And growing the integrations between them to make the company’s retail and online presence an asset, but to make it valuable in replicating that for other companies, too,” said Richards. Perfecting production, fulfillment and helping other retails businesses get started are the businesses’ current focuses, a far-cry from their origins in a residential basement.
“Brett [Erpelding] is not lucky. Alpine’s not lucky. Northland’s not lucky. You have an owner who sees where markets are going and what he is doing is continuing growth and finding good people and building good business practices. But in the process of doing that, he is preparing himself for opportunities to happen, which some people perceive as luck,” said Richards. “But it’s not luck if you’re prepared for opportunities; you just get more opportunities. I would say Brett has evoked an environment – not only for himself, but for those who surround him – where opportunities happen and preparedness for those opportunities allow for success.”
If you are looking to improve your quality of life visit www.alpinehemp.com and use code FF50 for 50% off your first order on CBD products.
Eprelding’s businesses operate under the triple bottom line framework. Triple bottom line is the belief that companies should balance their focus on not only profit but social and environmental concerns as well. Instead of a traditional bottom line, there are three: profit, people plante.
In this, Alpine Hemp is a 1% For The Planet member. Founded by Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia and Craig Matthews of Blue Ribbon Flies, 1% For The Planet is an international organization where memers commit 1% of their gross revenue (whether the business is profitable or not) to environmental causes.