Calvin Johnson Jr.
Tile: Chief Executive Strategist
Title: Chief Operating Strategist
Unlike at many “celebrity” brands, former NFL players Rob Sims and Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson Jr. are not just the faces of Michigan-based Primitiv, but the driving forces behind it.
“The license is in Rob and my name,” says Johnson, noting that he and his business partner are “thoroughly involved” and have been an intricate part of the business in every way. “We feel like we had to be that way in order to get it to where we want it to be.”
“Everything you see from Primitiv is authentically us,” says Sims. “We had a hand in every decision.”
It’s quite the transition from professional football, where the two men had long careers in the National Football League, including four years together on the Detroit Lions. Sims was a third-round draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks and started 114 of his 125 games on the offensive line for the Seahawks and Lions. Johnson played his entire career in Detroit and was one of the best wide receivers to ever play the game. He was selected to the Pro Bowl six times in his nine-year career and in 2012 set the single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964. Johnson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021.
After he retired in 2014, Sims began investing in real estate, particularly in Detroit. He soon realized he needed investors and partners and naturally turned to former teammates. Johnson, who retired in 2017, had investments during his playing days but kept them at “arm’s length” and wanted to get involved with a business at the ground level so he began working with Sims. Working in real estate led them to cannabis real estate.
“And then cannabis real estate turned into licensing turned into building the brand turned into operating a 50-person team,” says Sims.
Johnson says the vertically integrated Primitiv is a wellness-focused brand. Though the NFL until recently banned the use of cannabis and suspended players who tested positive, Sims says the league has always had a “cannabis culture” and says he used cannabis to help with pain during recovery from a torn pectoral muscle, instead of the opioids he was given and saw as “dangerous.”
“Cannabis was how I really started to recover from that injury, and was really the thing that got me back playing, and I think it ultimately helped me finish my career on a positive note,” he says, noting that his wife also uses cannabis to help medicate her Crohn’s disease.
Johnson says the name Primitiv was chosen in part to reflect that cannabis is an “ancient healer” that has only been criminalized in the past century or so. And while the name may evoke the stone age, make no mistake that the brand and the store is a truly modern affair.
“We knew what we needed to do was have a polished offering,” says Sims, noting that, because of Johnson’s status as a Hall of Famer, “It had to be right.”
Sims and Johnson also say they have worked to learn each role within the industry and the company and have done that to be able to understand what their team is going through and to help create better processes and procedures.
“Like we did on the football field: we might not win every battle, but you’re damn sure we’re gonna get up and go watch that film and figure out how to make it better,” Johnson says.
So far, the men say the response to the store from both the Michigan community and from their NFL community has been excellent, and they hope to expand Primitiv’s footprint not only in Michigan, but to other states as well. This fall, they plan to launch a new line of products called Primitiv Performance that uses nanotechnology to help get cannabinoids into the system easier and faster.
“We’re in the cannabis industry, but this is all about being in the quality-of-life business,” says Johnson. “Now we’re here and we’re really starting to hum.”