Traversing the cannabis space today is often a juggling act of changing policy, social attitudes and advancing technologies. However, some companies, like vaporizer legends
The folks at Storz & Bickel, including Co-founder Jürgen Bickel, are now looking ahead to the future, namely the potential legalization of cannabis in the company’s home country.
With so many changes over the past two decades, and surely a new chapter of transformation slated for the road ahead, High There caught up with Bickel to unravel the company’s storied history, tackling the abundant shifts around cannabis and navigating the industry with a soon-to-be-legal recreational market in Germany.
Building the Storz & Bickel Legacy
While the VOLCANO CLASSIC was
Immediately enthralled by the concept, he built himself a Hot Air Generator using a glass pipe and hot air gun, the first iteration of the original VOLCANO vaporizer. Because the heat guns emitted carbon particles into the air, this acted as a first draft. The second version came in 1998, with a heating element, air pump and bimetallic regulator. In 2000, Storz assembled the first 100 VOLCANOs in his basement, sold under the brand name VAPOTEC Inhalatoren.
While the technology developed for the VOLCANO continued to be developed and improved, its basic principles are still in use today.
“I was one of the first clients and bought the VOLCANO at the time,” Bickel said. “This is where, let’s say, the story started.”
At the time, Bickel was working in Peru as a civil engineer, with a background working in development projects, drinking water supply and wastewater treatment. After returning to Germany from Peru, he was already familiar with the product, and Bickel enlisted him for help. Bickel officially joined Storz as a partner in 2002, the same year Storz & Bickel was officially founded.
Bickel noted that the market was obviously much smaller at the time. Only a handful of U.S. states had legalized medical cannabis, and it wouldn’t be until 2016 that medical cannabis products would see legalization in Germany. For vaporizers specifically, it seemed that Storz & Bickel was ahead of the action, as he nodded to the lack of other available vape accessories at the time.
“When we started out, the competition at the beginning, we always said, ‘Our competition is not another vaporizer company; our competition is a joint,’” Bickel said. “And so we were the first guys on the market with a vaporizer that was really an alternative. It wasn’t chunky, self-made, so it was a really sophisticated device that was reliable.”
As a novelty, one-of-a-kind product, he admitted that the price was high for many consumers, but the product worked well. And soon enough, people started to recognize Storz & Bickel through their flagship VOLCANO vaporizer. By 2003, the team would build the first 110-volt device for the American Market, moving ahead to founded the subsidiary Storz & Bickel America, Inc., founded in Oakland, California in 2005.
Other companies soon took notice, creating technology to emulate the VOLCANO experience, but Storz & Bickel held firm. Bickel described those early days as “not very stable,” adding that you could “never be sure if you’re on the legal side or not.”
Bickel also noted some of the other advancements they had to account for. Notably, in those early days, concentrates were generally not part of the conversation in general, let alone when it comes to vapes.
Taking on the Modern Cannabis Industry
As we know, the last decade has seen an immense shift in cannabis policy both in the United States and in countries around the globe. However, despite some of the initial challenges finding footing in a world that had yet to embrace cannabis, Bickel said that there wasn’t a significant shift as this progress took hold.
Rather, he said that the company has always seen a fairly steady trend of growth, maybe with an exceptional year coinciding with a new product or a less thrilling year when the company had fewer new developments. Fortunately, Bickel said that the company has never faced “bad times,” despite a handful of global economic shifts over that period.
“Of course, today, the market is much more crowded, much more people of course,” Bickel said. “Also, the legal environment doesn’t necessarily make things easier. Sometimes, a tolerated market with all the allowed rules can also be a good thing.”
Bickel nodded to Canadian policy that creates additional challenges for the company, namely that a “functional device” cannot be on display.
“There have been strange things that have happened, a little bit unnecessary.”
While navigating the web of new cannabis policies and procedures, Bickel ultimately pointed to the VOLCANO’s functionality as a prime reason for the company’s continued success.
“The VOLCANO is still unbeaten in efficiency,” Bickel said. “If you’re somebody who is already used to a certain level of consumption, you invite them over, and you enjoy two, three balloons, already people know, this is something that really works.”
The second factor, Bickel said, is the reliability of the Storz & Bickel catalog.
“Our devices are made to last,” he said, adding that most people are “really heavy users.” The devices are also medical grade, which Bickel said provides “no competition.”
Finally, Bickel said that Storz & Bickel has the “frills.”
“We said, ‘OK, our name is Storz & Bickel; it is Markus Storz and Jürgen Bickel; our address is here, and you can come to us at any time, complain, you can buy, whatever you want to do — but we are here.”
Compared to the many “anonymous” companies out there today, Bickel said that being transparent and human has built a solid fanbase, people who really trust the team and are willing to pay a bit more for a long-lasting, quality vaporizer.
Tackling the Next Chapter: A Retail Cannabis Market in Germany?
And looking back at the history of the company, alongside the history of cannabis as a whole, Bickel said that acceptance has been one of the key changes he’s witnessed. It’s also a reminder that progress is slow.
“If you look to the actual discussion in Germany, yeah, they want to be fast, but these developments are slow and going step by step,” Bickel said. “And this means for you as a business, you know, normally you don’t change the role from today or tomorrow. What you need to do in the cannabis industry, you need to be consistent and you need to deliver consistent quality.”
He referenced technology trends of the 2010s, with some vaporizer companies that may have had strong footing vanishing just a year or two later. He ultimately suggested these trends were due to a lack of long-term vision on behalf of the creators.
Germany is now set to
“There’s still a long, long way to go,” Bickel said. “And there’s still a lot of hurdles. It’s like the UN Convention is one big hurdle for Germany, if you want to adhere to it and to legalize it. Same thing with EU laws, you know, Schengen Treaty, with the borders with our neighbors.”
Storz & Bickel is still trying to participate in the discussion and be a positive voice, showing that cannabis is a serious industry — what Storz & Bickel does, and has done for years, isn’t something hidden or strange.
He also recognized that the opinions around cannabis are shifting, and Germany’s move to legalize cannabis could influence other countries in Europe to make the same move.
As it stands, Storz & Bickel already has a global presence, but Bickel admitted that the more people living in legal cannabis regions, the better things fare for cannabis-focused businesses like his.
“I really hope for the Germans and for all other countries who may come after the domino effect, this will make their life more peaceful and easier,” he said.
Storz & Bickel: Honing in on Innovation and Advocacy
While he continues playing the waiting game, along with 83.24 million other Germans, business of course doesn’t stop. Storz & Bickel’s current flagship product, Bickel said, is the
The product is a smaller, portable alternative to the VOLCANO, boasting a study and resistant ceramic-coated chamber, fins on the bottom of the device to ensure it can stand up straight, a Supercharge function allowing for 80 percent charging in just 40 minutes, a 60-second heat-up time and more.
“It’s extremely, extremely demanded,” Bickel said. “We had difficulties following the demand.”
The sea of five-star reviews on the product page are tough to argue with, too.
Storz & Bickel also unveiled a limited-edition, white version of its VOLCANO CLASSIC, dubbed the
“The VOLCANO CLASSIC is an industry icon beloved by consumers, and with the debut of the PEACE VOLCANO, we hope to raise awareness for values around solidarity, respect and love during a time it feels more important than ever,” Bickel said at the time.
In regard to the new campaign, Bickel added it was important for the company to show up for its cannabis community and to spread an overarching message of love and unity, especially in today’s world.
“We have so many different opinions and so many fights… Everybody thinks the best solution is to get small, to get by yourself, and then stop cooperating, stop discussing stuff. So, I really hope that at some point, we make a move in another direction, that only working together will lead to a peaceful future. Everything else will lead to disaster.”
Looking ahead to the future, say the next 20 years after an already stellar 20-year start, Bickel said the team obviously aims to maintain their high-quality status, continuing to deliver outstanding products in what he calls a “win-win” for consumers, where the product is truly worth every dollar spent.
But, as a leader in a growing industry, Bickel returned to the foundations behind the “with Love, for Peace” campaign:
“This is beyond SMB; this is beyond cannabis; this is something really very fundamental,” he said. “I hope in our lifetime, the next 10 to 20 years, something will change. We can come back to where we were before, you know, we have more than one opinion but we have not, let’s say, killed each other because they are different.
“This was the baseline of our ‘with Love, for Peace’ campaign, and I think peace and love are two things I would really like to see more of in the next 20 years.”
To keep up with Storz & Bickel, check out the brand’s