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2021 12 People: John Lopez

Veteran Entrepreneur

Posted online

If you ask John Lopez how business is going, be specific. He owns 11.

Lopez, 38, could be called an accidental entrepreneur. He wanted to join the military after high school, but asthma disqualified him. He attended Missouri State University but dropped out senior year, by which time the Afghanistan war allowed Lopez to obtain a medical waiver and he served as a combat engineer in the U.S. Army’s 37th Engineer Battalion in 2006-07.

When Lopez returned to Springfield in 2008, he thought he’d go back to MSU. But then he joined a friend’s tree business, which led him to carve out his own venture.

“Once I discovered the possibility of the American dream, that made going back to school on the back burner,” Lopez says.

Axemen Tree Service took off, and it soon had 16 employees. Then the Great Recession hit, and Lopez’s first venture went under.

Inspired by a first sergeant who encouraged his soldiers to tackle their fears when they returned stateside, Lopez started working with canine nonprofits despite his fear of dogs.

Lopez had a knack for dog training. He started Standing Obeytion Dog Training in 2010, which morphed into Howliday Inn Pet Resort three years later. He also launched K9s For Camo, a nonprofit that trains rescue dogs as service animals for veterans at no cost to them.

Lopez never intended to sell Howliday. But when legalized medical marijuana passed in Missouri in 2018, he wanted to invest in a product he believes helps people. The proceeds from Howliday’s sale funded the purchase of a building on North Glenstone Avenue for Old Route 66 Wellness, a dispensary Lopez owns with seven people that opened Nov. 3. A second location in Ozark will open when there is enough medical marijuana supply.

The regulations are steep and require extensive security. No problem. Lopez started Ozarks Protective Services, which offers cannabis security and cybersecurity. Old Route 66 includes drive-through service and plans to offer delivery. And because marketing cannabis requires a strategy specific for the highly regulated product — paid advertising options for cannabis are limited, for instance — he is co-owner of digital marketing agency 420 Marketeers.

Lopez believes demand in Missouri for medical pot will grow to a billion-dollar business in a few years. Unlike some states, Missouri limits dispensaries to 192; 14 are in and around Springfield. Lopez expects Old Route 66 – the only local dispensary to have passed inspection as of early December – to capture between 25% and 35% of the local market.

And some day, Lopez foresees taking his cannabis business model nationwide.

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