Planting Change: How This CBD Beauty Brand Hopes to Lift Rural America

Portrait of Cannuka CEO Michael Bumgarner, standing inside his barn smiling at camera wearing a black Cannuka sweater. This is a tight portrait of his face and the background is out of focus.

When Michael Bumgarner decided to start a CBD beauty company, he knew there’d be stigmas to fight. There were also big challenges ahead—including frustrating roadblocks from marketing and payment channels. But in the process, he built a soaring brand that is paving the way forward for struggling communities in rural America.

Michael Bumgarner has always been an entrepreneur setting his sights on his next big move. Back in 2012, he started looking for inspiration in his own backyard.

Michael grew up in Mechanicsburg, Ohio, on his family farm. “What I’ve seen over the past decade is the decimation of rural communities, starting with the family farmer,” Michael says. 

The downward economic spiral he’s seen over the past several years in his community and others like it—a spiral that has led to unemployment and addiction crises—motivated him to act. “I wanted to figure out a way to help to solve those problems.” 

After plenty of research, Michael set his sights on industrial hemp. “After learning about the plant, I fell in love with CBD…and my wife, Kelly, who works in dermatology, inspired me to consider a skincare line.”

Aerial photograph of Michael Bumgarner's farm where he grows hemp and produces his Cannuka skincare line.
Michael Bumgarner believes the success of industrial hemp will help turn the tide for struggling farmers in rural America. Shopify Studios

A green beauty brand was the direction that Michael wanted to go, but in such a competitive industry, he felt that launching a solely CBD-based product wouldn’t be enough for the company to stand out. 

So Michael started looking for a “synergistic ingredient” to complement it. His cousin, who worked in a burn unit in Nashville, told him that the hospital was using Manuka honey to treat patients’ wounds. It was a “lightbulb moment” for Bumgarner, and Cannuka was born.

We launched our website and it was starting to take off—and then no one would take my money.

The brand is a natural skin care line that combines CBD and Manuka honey to create products like skin balms, eye creams, and face creams. It’s now seeing explosive growth—a 600% revenue increase in the past year—and can be found in 1,700 retail locations across the United States. From its office in downtown Columbus (which is now home base for four full-time employees, with five others based in New York and Los Angeles), Cannuka is working toward becoming a global CBD beauty brand.

Photograph of a bar of Cannuka soap with a honey dipper resting on the top, and honey dripping across the center of the bar, across the Cannuka logo. These products are photographed against a bright pink background.
Cannuka’s skincare products incorporate hemp-derived CBD and Manuka honey. Cannuka

It wasn’t an easy road to get to where Cannuka is now. “I had an amazing [direct-to-consumer] strategy that I pitched to my investors. We launched our website and it was starting to take off—and then no one would take my money,” Michael says. 

One after the other, every major advertising platform shut him down. These challenges put a huge damper on Michael’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) dreams. So like most entrepreneurs had done before him, he had to pivot. 

A little over two months post-launch, Michael went back to his board with a more traditional launch strategy: working with national retailers. Fortunately, the quality of the product spoke for itself, and before long you could find Cannuka everywhere from Neiman Marcus to Free People. Ulta Beauty was a supportive early partner, placing a 15,000-unit order that would make a massive impact on the brand’s reach. 

Then, in December 2018, things started to shift for the US hemp industry. The passage of the Farm Bill, which removed industrial hemp’s classification as a “controlled substance,” meant it was no longer federally illegal. That, along with the growing mainstream acceptance of hemp and CBD in the American beauty industry, means Michael can finally pursue his DTC vision again.

Shopify supporting CBD merchants will be a huge step in the right direction.

“We’re just starting to implement our DTC strategy,” Michael says. Cannuka’s ecommerce website returned in July 2019, and the team was able to quickly scale up. 

And they’re doing that with Shopify’s full support. With the launch of CBD on the platform, merchants like Cannuka can leverage key ecommerce tools including built-in SEO settings and blog templates, and access reliable CBD-accepting payment providers, shippers, and partners.

Despite these new resources, DTC remains challenging, Michael explains, as there are still issues around advertising restrictions and punishing credit card fees that make his experience much more difficult than the average consumer packaged goods brand. But he thinks the stigma that exists around CBD products won’t be that way for much longer.

Still life photograph of five Cannuka products that includes eye balm, lip balm, body cream, and skin balm. They are photographed against a bright pink background and there is a sprig of fresh rosemary nestled among the products.
Cannuka’s products can be found in hundreds of retail locations across the United States. Cannuka

“Shopify supporting CBD merchants will be a huge step in the right direction,” he says. “With Shopify and other large companies leading the way, saying ‘We’re for this, this is happening,’ I see things changing even more quickly in the near future.”

That future, for Cannuka, will go beyond topical skin care products. As he plans ahead, Michael is considering a transdermal wellness line (think sleep routine), and eventually ingestible wellness products—FDA permitting. 

It will also mean going global, as Michael’s team prepares to make inroads to other legalized countries. His goal is for Cannuka products to be sold in major outlets around the world.

Cannuka’s strategy is predicated on the easing of restrictions around CBD products, but also a greater reach, understanding, and trust among consumers for the brand, and for hemp itself. 

Everything rises if we can make a big impact in rural America.

“The conversation around [the hemp plant] is the only one I see that’s not divisive,” Michael explains. “We can get people on all sides of the aisle coming to the same conclusion—a conservative farmer from Ohio can see the economic impact on his family, while a liberal environmentalist can support the product because it helps deliver nutrients back into the soil.”

With wildly different groups coming together to get behind the hemp movement, Michael sees a bright future—for his company and for communities like Mechanicsburg, Ohio.

“We want to create opportunities to get people back to work and to do work they’re proud of,” he says. “Everything rises if we can make a big impact in rural America.”

Learn more

Feature image by Shopify Studios