From making a short video of a homemade rolling tray and posting onto TikTok, Annabel Hill became an overnight success. Amassing a huge four million likes, seventeen million views, and half a million followers on the platform, we wanted to reach out and discuss her place as a young entrepreneur in the cannabis industry, how TikTok has helped her grow a small empire, and get her thoughts on what the future looks like for cannabis in the UK.
Firstly, let’s start with who you are and what your business is!
I’m Annabel, I am 20 years old, and a full-time student currently at university in Newcastle. I have a business called Annabel’s Hotbox, which began at the end of August 2020.
My business is in the production and sale of colourful themed smoking bundles, which centre around a handmade epoxy resin rolling tray. The trays are accompanied by a selection of matching smoking accessories – all of the beginner essentials – papers, roach cards, a grinder, lighter, pre-roll holders and finally some sweets in case of the munchies! Each Hotbox is put together carefully with matching packaging, and always sent off with a little handwritten note!
How did you get the idea of creating hotbox trays? What circumstances led you to create them?
I love the question of how my business began because it was born pretty much by accident. My best friend and I had booked Amsterdam for the end of last summer, we had talked for years about going together and were both super excited! For her birthday, which came not long after we booked the trip, I wanted to get her a cool rolling tray to go along with the theme of our trip so I ended up buying one from another small business owner that I actually initially found on TikTok! The tray was pink and super cute, and I happened to spot a pink lighter when I was out that very same day, so I thought why not add all the matching bits! I ended up buying all the same items that I now add to my hotboxes, and it looked so good together that I couldn’t resist taking a video of it all laid out together.
When did you realise you could market your trays and make a business out of them?
At this point I was very new to TikTok, it was literally just an app I had downloaded to jump on the bandwagon and use as a lockdown pastime, I had hardly any videos of my own but given the whole matching aesthetic, I had an inkling that this would fall into a category of content that people love to see on TikTok, so I made and uploaded the video. After about a week or so my video had almost a million views, I was completely shocked – and the only thing I was reading in the comments was people asking over and over if I could start selling the bundles, it was crazy.
From that point, I kind of knew straight away that there was potential for a very easily marketable business, and given the extremely fast-paced, viral nature of TikTok, I saw a huge potential for growth through social media. I had also found a bit of a niche concept, and as far as I was aware there wasn’t anyone else on TikTok who were doing matching smoking bundles in that way – I might be wrong here of course, but I hadn’t been able to find anything similar! The appeal of my concept was, therefore, its uniqueness, and the visual factor that plays a huge part in the success of my TikTok videos, and ultimately my business. I ended up just ordering the stuff I needed to create my own trays, which I designed in a very different style to the one I had initially purchased – after the first two trays I made sold in less than an hour, I did another order but increased the amounts and then started to incorporate the matching accessories to form the whole Hotbox. I’ve since just built up the business from there – gradually improving my products, packaging and everything else in my spare time!
You’ve mentioned you use TikTok as a way to promote yourself and you have nearly 4 million likes, which is a huge achievement within itself! Could you explain to us how TikTok and social media has had an impact on your work and the way you market your business?
Social media has had an absolutely immeasurable impact on the success of my business! As I mentioned, it wouldn’t even exist had I not been compelled to post a video of the gift I made for my friend, and even if I had come up with this concept with the initial intention of creating a business out of it, Tiktok has given me a platform that has an enormous reach, giving me potential customers from all over the world. The beauty of marketing any small business on a platform such as TikTok is that you don’t even need a large number of followers! The algorithm means that you could have none at all, but your video still has the potential to go massively viral and completely change your business.
The FYP (for you page) in my eyes is nothing short of a gift for small business owners. Even without a viral video, you are still likely to be seen by at least 10 – 20 potential new customers with each upload. In terms of advertising, I think when done right, TikTok is absolutely the biggest and most efficient platform we have ever seen for mass marketing – I think my business can be an example of this, with over half a million followers in under 6 months, it shows the speed at which someone can grow if they market their brand correctly. The TikTok followers who are genuinely interested in my product then funnel directly into my Instagram following, which is ideal because this is where I post all of the information regarding my restocks. The advice I would give to any and every small business who struggles with product exposure is absolutely to jump on TikTok!
What inspires you?
It’s hard to say exactly what my inspiration is, but a huge component is that I have always felt like a fairly creative individual, but never really had an outlet for it. I can’t paint, draw or sculpt to save my life, but I have found something I truly enjoy creating, and I turned out to be quite good at! It allows me to explore a different part of myself that I had never really given much attention to before. I also love the business side of things, I think my strengths definitely lie in strategic thinking and problem solving, so I have been really enjoying navigating the whole process – from the product development and marketing to organising my accounts. Its taught me a lot in a few short months, and it’s of course always an inspiration in itself to feel like you’re achieving something that you’re proud of! What has surprised me most, however, is definitely how much work one person has to put into a business when it’s just them doing it – you have to be on top of every different element of the business, even if you’ve never done it before – and I don’t think I ever really appreciated that! I’m now an accountant, a photographer, a digital marketer, a manufacturer, and a packager all in one – this is also why small business owners tend to price their products slightly higher, which I now completely understand.
Where do you see Annabels Hotbox in 5 years time?
In terms of the future: my business model currently revolves around scheduled “drops”, which I can post multiple times about and build up hype for – people set their timers and everything, it’s actually insane! I think this adds a huge desirability factor because it makes it known how exclusive and in-demand the products are. Whilst I believe this is always a good thing for a business, it’s also frustrating – for both my customers and myself! The products are very personal, I put a lot of time and energy into each and everyone, so at this stage whilst I am also in full-time education, it is impossibly hard to keep up with the demand and people are sometimes unhappy that they aren’t able to get one because they sell out so fast.
My view for the business in 5 years time is absolutely to have a system in place that could allow me to mass produce my Hotboxes, so I can elevate my business, and massively increase the number of customers I am able to sell to. I also want to expand the product range – I’ll continue with the coloured themes, but I have a fair few completely new Hotbox collections in the works, which I am super excited to bring out!
What’s your opinion on cannabis legalisation in the UK?
My view on the legalisation of cannabis is naturally a positive one. As recreational drugs go, I believe that it is comparatively harmless – especially when considering the effects of alcohol consumption and tobacco smoke, which are both readily available to anyone over the age of 18. Of course, it must be viewed cautiously, and it must only be done in moderation, like anything, but I think if not full legalisation, the de-criminalisation of cannabis is particularly important – as a starting point at least. When we look at the crime rates of drug-related offences, accidental overdoses and transmission of drug-related diseases (such as HIV) in the United Kingdom compared to countries such as Portugal, who actively decriminalised the use of recreational drugs – there is a huge difference. I believe that UK drug laws are generally in desperate need of reform – not only to benefit those who wish to use cannabis recreationally, but also to combat the drug-related issues that are rampant in prisons, and to help those who find themselves in difficult circumstances within the wider society due to drug misuse and distribution.
To get your hands on one of Annabel’s hotboxes visit Annabel’s Hotbox to wait for her next drop!