TJ Werth is the founder, owner and self-described ‘Top-Dude-In-Charge’ of Top Shelf. Talking to Werth, you get the idea that he’s a little gritty, a little rough-around-the-edges, someone who isn’t afraid to speak his mind. His motivation for starting Top Shelf, however, reveals a softer side.
How it all Began
“About eight-and-a-half years ago I was driving down the road in my Honda Accord going to my cube job down in Bellevue,” TJ Began. “I was stuck in traffic listening to NPR, as I always do. A couple of days before I had gotten an estimate for treatment and private school for my autistic son. It was in the vicinity of $34,000. My take-home pay was about $58,000, I had a decent job. So I was pondering this. At the time I had Hepatitis C, I’ve since been cured. It was a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. And even though it wasn’t bothering me, I needed to get this money. A little light went off.”
Werth had grown cannabis in his youth and enjoyed it. Growing medical cannabis seemed like the perfect way to bring in extra income to help his son get the care he needed. So Werth went about doing what you did back in those days to become a medical grower.
“I went and got a green card at a THC clinic in Bellevue, next to the Arco station,” Werth recalled. “I had it sitting in my pocket for a couple of months because I’m an alcoholic and I don’t drink or do anything. So I was really worried that weed was going to make me thirsty so to speak. And then I talked to a few people about it for a couple of months, and decided it was ok.”
Once Werth made up his mind to go forward with cannabis growing, things moved fairly quickly.
Making Weed a Business
Werth began growing cannabis with six feminized Cheese seeds he bought online. Out of the six seeds, he got four plants into bloom. A true backyard grower, Werth flowered them in a plastic backyard shed.
Like many growers, Werth used The Grower’s Bible by Jorge Cervantez as his credo. He followed the book religiously from planting seeds to curing flower. His first harvest yielded a quarter pound. Werth consulted Weed Maps to find an access point, and found a dispensary in Bothell, called It’s Only Natural.
“His girl was cutting hair in front, and he was selling weed in back,” Werth remembered with a laugh. “The cop station was two blocks away, he said ‘Yep, gotta hide in plain sight.’ I walked in there with a little cooler with weed in it and my green card. I was scared to death.”
The owner calmed Werth down and explained the legality of the transaction. He made $150 an ounce for his efforts, $600 total. Once Werth made the sale, he was hooked.
An engineer by trade, Werth did the math and figured out he could grow $48,000 worth of cannabis a year. So he went all in.
In the years following, Werth experienced a series of ups and downs. He expanded from his backyard to a warehouse, started a delivery service, and had a falling out with his first partner. But through all of the struggles, Werth kept going and kept succeeding.
When recreational cannabis entered the picture, Werth was still going strong and decided to enter the market. He applied for and received a Tier 3 license. Luckily for Werth, he’d always ran his business on the up-and-up, with W-2 employees and all that entails, which made the transition smooth.
But that’s not to say there weren’t trials. Top Shelf lost some facilities due to Snohomish County politics. During the massive oversupply in years past, Top Shelf had to lay off many of its employees and downsize its grow. Despite those setbacks, Top Shelf is still going strong.
The Link Between Success and Process
According to 502data.com, Top Shelf’s year-to-date sales in 2019 are $9,712,426, and its sales numbers are steadily increasing.
It’s no mystery why Top Shelf is such a steady cannabis producer. Its products are truly top-shelf, as the name implies.
“We’ve got about 15 strains that we run constantly. We’re usually hunting for something good. So we have two or three or more in R & D,” Werth said. “We’ve refined our trade. Our weed is better than it was a few years ago. We always use premium nutrients, premium medium, the best lighting, the best air conditioning, and a CO2-enriched environment.”
Werth compares the mantra for his grow facility to Jurassic Park character John Hammond’s famous quote, ‘top-of-the-line, spared no expense.’
“Our plants are much more comfortable than I am at home,” Werth joked. “Environmentally controlled. UV lights for bugs. Clean, you can eat off the floor.”
Werth explained that Top Shelf’s cannabis brand is aimed at connoisseurs. The cannabis is hand-trimmed and packaged in quality glass jars decorated with custom art. No pesticides are used, ever. All of this adds up to flower and distillate that are pure, and enjoyable to consume.
At the core of any cannabis businesses’ origin story is some driving force. The motivations vary, from a genuine desire to help people’s health, to a chance at getting your foot in the door of a burgeoning industry. Perhaps Werth’s desire to help his son helped keep his eyes on the prize, and his business operating in a legitimate, profitable, and ultimately successful manner.
Regardless of his motives, Top Shelf has managed to be an industry leader in a cut-throat market.