A Kickflip by a FLOW Guy

02 Feb 2020

The times have finally caught up with William Dean's dream

By Jonathan Scott  »  Photos by Diana Matthews

In September 2000, William Dean, owner of Flowland Counter-Culture Outlet, was far from home. He and his wife, Gwen, were in Sydney, Australia for the XXVII “Millennium” Olympiad. The US Men's Basketball team slam dunked the gold from the French, 85 – 75. Dean was proud of the US, but he had something else on his mind. He had passed by a store outside of Sydney which specialized in products made from hemp, and he couldn't seem to shake the idea that it sparked.

Dean, a native of Moore County and a graduate of Pinecrest High School, had a degree in marketing from UNC-Charlotte. He had been working as an assistant manager of a brokerage firm, but his heart wasn't in it. He had always been an entrepreneur at heart and knew he had a good instinct for recognizing a promising business opportunity.

In fact, as a teenager, he was part of a skateboard group that called themselves Team FLOW. “It was a racially diverse group of young men,” Dean says. “We pushed each other to do better — whether it be in learning a new trick or pushing forward with our education. I'm still friends with the majority of those guys to this day. FLOW stood for 'Future Leaders Of the World.'"

When Dean returned to the states, he knew he wanted to come back to Moore County and open a store like the one he had seen in Australia. And he wanted to honor the memory of the group of pals that had helped inspire him. So Dean became the founder and owner of a store he originally named Flowland Hemporium.

Despite the risk he was taking — his wife was giving birth to their second son just around that time — opening Flowland turned out to be a good business decision. The biggest problem was Dean's foresight. The store was years, even decades, ahead of its time. “I had to keep explaining to people that hemp wasn't marijuana,” he says. “Actually, I have to do that sometimes even these days.”

In the early years, Flowland attracted mainly younger set, customers who weren't intimidated by the counter-culture products that were included for sale. Dean was no longer a kid, but he had a keen sense of his clientele. His background in, and love of, skateboarding inspired him to work hard to promote the idea of a community skateboard park. With help, Dean was able to make the concept a reality, and local enthusiasts were able to enjoy the facility for four years until the “Great Recession” caused it to close in 2009. It's still an achievement which he is deservedly proud.

 Despite his efforts in the community, Dean still dealt with resistance from certain segments of the community. “My kids occasionally get some flack from peers and even teachers who thought their dad was a drug dealer.”

Unfortunately, myth can all too often overshadow reality. A few years ago, Flowland was raided by a North Carolina state agency, and Dean was charged with seven felony counts for selling and distribution of THC. THC is the active substance in the cannabis plant that gives the user a high. “At that time,” says Dean, “the state of North Carolina was only able to test products for evidence of any amount of THC, not for the percentage.” Hemp is defined by law as cannabis that has less than what is called “0.3% delta-9” THC, so it doesn't produce a “high.” It is completely legal here to sell hemp products with a level of THC less than that. In contrast, common marijuana contains over 10 times that percentage, and some now over 70 times. All Flowland's products were all under the allowable limit.

All the charges were finally dropped. “It cost me $25,000 and two years of my life to be cleared,” says Dean.  

But he doesn't seem to have any resentment over what happened. Dean is too savvy a businessman. In 2014, Flowland moved to its current location on 1200 N. Sandhills Boulevard in Aberdeen and has a new name, Flowland Counter-Culture Outlet.

They still have a well-stocked section of hemp products, but now there's a huge interest in cannabidiol, or CBD, the other major active ingredient in hemp, and the substance that's caused medical marijuana to leap to the pages of almost every popular health journal. Flowland's selection of CBD products helped it to be recently voted the area's Best Place For Alternative Medicine.

Sure, some of the clientele are still the younger crowd. Flowland has the region's only departments devoted to skateboarding and the booming sport of disc golf. And sure, there's an 18+ only “smoke shop” that's well stocked for vape supplies. And plenty of funky, unusual t-shirts, hats, and jewelry.

But Dean reports that the average age of his clientele keeps climbing. “Of the customers shopping for CBD oil,' he says, “75% are retired.

“Our tag line is that here you can find a gift for just about everyone, even the normal ones.”

Flowland Counter-Culture Outlet offers an eclectic mix of products you won't find in the department stores. Visit  lowland.net or call 910-757-0244.

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