Grav Hits New High as Pot Becomes More Mainstream
When most people picture a “nice Jewish boy,” they probably don’t envision a guy who makes bongs for a living. But David Daily and his Austin-based smoking device company, Grav, defy a lot of stereotypes, including beating the competition through a focus on professionalism and high quality, and by being a stickler for following the rules at a time when cannabis laws around the country are loosening.
Daily grew up with a strong Jewish upbringing in Houston, where his family went to Congregation Beth Yeshurun. He moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas at Austin, where he graduated with a degree in economics.
Daily returned to Houston, where he worked at a mortgage company during the heyday of the subprime mortgage boom. Working with other independently contracted mortgage brokers led him to realize he too wanted to work for himself. While he found working in the industry interesting, he found it to be a toxic environment and knew he needed to find another career path.
“I wanted to create things. I was always looking at products and critical of their design and always thought that I could make products better. So I started this company,” he said.
Daily lived with his parents when he designed the first gravity bong in their garage.
“I literally cut the first bottle at their house and we tested it for the first time with them,” he explained. “My parents and family have been incredibly supportive of this whole endeavor, starting in 2004. It was a completely different landscape, the social acceptability of cannabis at the time.”
Daily started the company with the Gravitron, an all-glass gravity smoking system he first made while in college. It was the only product Grav sold for the first three years.
“I had the misconception that I could take over the world with one product. That’s what turned my company around, was the failure of the Gravitron,” he explained.
As part of making the Gravitron, Daily had learned to blow glass, and he started making small pipes to give away. When one of his buyers wanted more of the pipes, it led him to Grav’s second product line.
“They were a good foundation for other types of pipe design,” he explained. Daily continued to design and build machines to build more products and started hiring glass blowers. By 2009, Grav was on its way to becoming the biggest glass pipe manufacturer in the country.
The company now produces 200 top-line items ranging from $5 to $500, including the Grav Menorah, a hanukiah-shaped bong Daily designed when his family was hosting Hanukkah in 2012. A 2014 video demonstration of the Menorah went viral in 2015 and 2016.
“I’ve brought to market 1,000 pipes in my career, but none got the attention of the Menorah,” said Daily. Grav, which made $12 million in sales last year, differentiates itself from competitors through its emphasis on quality. Grav keeps close tabs on the scientific grade borosilicate glass used to make the products, which goes through high level testing with a local lab.
“Really what makes our product so effective and enjoyable is the level of design we put into it,” said Daily, explaining that Grav’s design department focuses on glass design, functionality, shaping and material specs.
“I don’t know of a single competitor with a specific design department with even one full-time person, let alone five,” said Daily, whose company employs 80 people.
According to NORML, a non-prot advocacy group that works to reform marijuana law, “the era of marijuana legalization is upon us.”
California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada passed adult use measures and Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota passed medical marijuana initiatives in 2016. Cannabis is completely legal in Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
In 2015, Texas passed the Texas Compassionate Use Act, an extremely limited medical marijuana bill intended to allow intractable epilepsy patients who meet strict requirements to access low-THC cannabis.
Daily, who cannot remember the last time someone had a negative response upon learning about his work, believes that it would take a federal law change or very powerful politician to make significant marijuana law reform a reality in Texas. He thinks federal law will probably be the impetus.
Grav, which does not sell product directly to consumers, is not Texas-focused but does 30 percent of its business in-state. Daily explained that per capita, Texas has more head shops – stores that sell smoking devices – than any other state in the country, in large part because they do not have as much of the market capture in places where pot is decriminalized, like California. ‑e same items are widely available, from dispensaries to corner stores, so people do not need to seek out specialty stores.
There is less demand for consumption devices in legal markets because of a destruction of ritual, Daily explained. Where cannabis is illicit, people get their weed, sneak it home, call their friends and have a ritualistic experience smoking something that is not that socially accessible. When weed is legal, many people do not feel the need to invest in gear because they can just buy it and smoke it. But there will continue to be strong demand from the percentage of the market that still desires the ritualistic aspect of smoking.
At the same time, Grav has thrived as cannabis has become less restricted because, unlike some others in the industry, the company has always made an eort to be as professional as possible.
“As the legal market unfolds, we are more accepted because we already have a very professional framework that has played into our favor. Legal markets want professionalism. When they come online, they’re highly regulated and need to work with other professionals. We’ve built that infrastructure over the last 12 years,” Daily said.
Professionalism has also helped Grav with law enforcement. Daily said the company has had a very cordial relationship with local police, even helping them out twice with video surveillance when neighbors were robbed.
A family man in his mid-30s whose family belongs to Congregation Agudas Achim, Daily pointed out that it helps that he is personally not a stoner – he would not be able to successfully run the business if he was. No one drinks alcohol or smokes pot at the facility, and Grav’s building safety team meets monthly to ensure the company sticks to strict standards.
“We work with the city and OSHA to make sure we’re in compliance. We recognize we’re in this grey area where we can’t misbehave, so we make sure everybody’s on their best behavior and complying with local laws,” said Daily.
For the past 10 years, Grav has struggled to keep up with demand, Daily explained. The company is now starting to catch up, and has many other projects in the works.
He added, “Our future goal is to be able to grow our team and push the boundary of design in cannabis accessories.”