January 2024 Grower of the Month

We’re really looking at all the information and data that AROYA is giving us and truly optimizing.

Our AROYA Grower of the Month series spotlights the stories of craft cultivators who inspire us with their ingenuity and resourcefulness. Every feature is a chance to celebrate growers who constantly find new ways to optimize, refine, and improve their processes while also blazing new trails – and finding success – in this emerging industry.

This month we spoke with Chris Dyla, Owner and Co-Founder of Tip Top Crop in Michigan. Fifteen years ago when Chris got a medical card to help manage back issues, the then-college student became inspired to try home cultivation. Within a couple runs, the budding cultivator was hooked, but a smell tip would eventually cause a years-long fight against the system and force Chris to pivot to a more traditional career. But the passion never died. 

Patiently keeping his eyes peeled for opportunities in the regulated market ultimately paid off when Chris and his partners found the right building in 2020 just north of Detroit. Two years later, Tip Top Crop went from being Chris’ XBox handle to the name of a new craft cannabis brand breaking ground in a 4200 square-foot facility. And since launching in 2023, Tip Top Crops has already left its mark in the Great Lakes State by winning two awards. We sat down with Chris to hear about his journey, tap into his passion for chasing the perfect run, and learn how data from AROYA helped set his new business up for success right from the start.

Follow the Tip Top Crops journey on their website and on Instagram.


This article has been edited for length and clarity.


AROYA: How did Tip Top Crop get its start?

Chris Dyla, Owner & Co-Founder, Tip Top Crop: I've been growing here in Michigan for about 15 years, since 2008, started very very small. Tip Top Crop itself just actually got started, our first plants went into the ground as a licensed company in November 2022 so we've only been in business for a year. Our Tip Top Crop prepackaged material didn't start hitting the Michigan market until about June so we're still very new. I've been active on Instagram for a while but yeah, just kind of getting started in the recreational side of the market. Obviously with 15 years in the market, I know a lot of people have transitioned. I still have a lot of friends on both sides – so active in the grow community, very active in the consumer community, and we just hit the ground running. We're a small-scale facility, started with me and two other owners. We restored a dilapidated building just north of Detroit that was just a junker – holes in the ceiling, leaky plumbing, just the worst it could be. Me and my partner worked long nights getting it back up to where it needed to be. We did a lot of the building ourselves, a lot of the demo, and built a lot of the grow rooms ourselves. We’re relatively small and take a lot of pride in what we built and in doing it ourselves, too.


AROYA: What was it about cannabis that drew you in 15 years ago? How did you first get into it?

Chris: When Michigan voted in medical marijuana, I had some back ailments and was able to get my card very very easily compared to a lot of my peers. On the back of the card, I'll just never forget, it says, “You are allowed to possess.” I was in college at the time and I was like, “Let's grow a couple plants, let's see what happens!” 

At first, we started with a light from Home Depot in a cardboard box and that completely failed, nothing came of it. And so then we decided to go to the grow store and get an HPS light, we put in a window AC unit and a couple fans, grew some weed and at that time it was amazing! That's where the chase began: “How can we make it better? How can we get more? Wow, this is really lucrative, let's get two lights, let's get four lights, eight! Let's rent another house!”, etc., so I just kept going from there. We eventually got raided by the police on a smell tip, and we were within our legal limits of our plants. We did have to fight the system for a couple years because at that time, we were kind of being made an example of. So I hung it up for a little bit. I got a real job selling industrial chemicals in the metal manufacturing industry. I was selling lubricants and chemicals to those manufacturers from 2012 up until recently. Learned a lot about lean manufacturing, just general business practices and how manufacturing works, and applying it in my basement in case I started growing again; how to apply those things more on-scale to other businesses and dealing with a lot of executives and production managers, operations managers. So I got exposed to the business world side of it, and most importantly to the manufacturing world side of it which is actually very applicable to cultivation in a lot of ways.


AROYA: What was it that attracted you to growing? 

Chris: I mean ultimately, it's seeing a process all the way through and being proud of the products that you're putting out. Having your peers tell you, “This is the best weed I've ever smoked!” and you being able to enjoy yourself too, the fruits of your labor being that special. And then obviously, cannabis being so expansive from a genetic side just makes you hungry. I want to see them all, I want to taste them all – the genetics, that is.


AROYA: How were you learning to cultivate? Where were you getting your information?

Chris: All the forums, IC Mag, GrassCity. At that time, the Ed Rosenthal books, we had all the volumes. Anything that we could find, we were finding it and trying trial and error. The grow stores too, meeting people at events and bouncing ideas off them.


AROYA: If there was only one strain you could grow, what would it be?

Chris: One that always comes back to me that I always loved - and I think a lot of people would probably argue with this one – was the Green Crack. I loved that when we grew that about a decade ago. It had great yields, it was a friendly grower, and I like the sativa, more uppity-feeling strain. So that was always a favorite. But today I love Skittlez and I love the candy gas like Runtz, kind of quintessential to what everybody likes right now.


AROYA: What are you growing out in Michigan? Is candy gas popular out there like it is in California?

Chris: Yeah, we're super popular. We kind of have been going through a heavy Runtz wave for the past couple years. We haven't really had the Skittlez wave like California has so I'm anticipating a big Skittlez wave this year, that's kind of what we're ramping up for. We’ve got Skittlez, Zereal Milk, Zashimi, Z runtz, which is Skittles crossed with Runtz, plus some other candy gas strains like Count Chunkula, Project 4516, Cherry Bomb. Our award-winning strain is Z-Latto, which is Skittles crossed with Gelato. We have so many other flavor profiles as well that we like sprinkling into our menu. We provide ourselves in offering a variety of profiles.


AROYA: So you left cannabis, got into manufacturing chemicals sales. What helped you decide you were ready to be a co-owner in the regulated market?

Chris: What drew me back was just being an ultimate stoner, honestly - just loving weed. And the growing side of it is like the fruits of your labor, I can't go back to that enough. The feeling of taking 12 weeks to get something to its final stage; every step being so important, and fixing errors from previous grows is what drew me in. The money was always nice too at that time when pounds were selling for $3,000+, that was also very attractive.


AROYA: So how did Tip Top get started?

Chris: We had been looking for a legal facility for a while. Me and my partner both had jobs in other non-cannabis markets so we tip-toed at it, watched as other things came online, and were patient to find a building that was local to where we knew we wanted to be. We both have family here and weren't prepared to move our lives for this project. Found a building that was an adequate size that we could afford and started a craft brand – not too big, just focus on genetics, focus on the community, and hopefully reaching the freshest product to the consumer as quickly as possible.

So we really started in 2016 and we didn't get to buy the building till 2020. We had multiple buildings and investment partners that fell through, and eventually found this little building that was central to both of us. In that time, we'd been doing consultations on a variety of grows, just gaining more and more knowledge, especially on the build side and on the design side, and were able to apply that to this building.


AROYA: What are some of your philosophies on growing? 

Chris: I hear it all the time on all the podcasts: chasing the perfect run. There's so many steps, and every single time you have a grow you're trying to chase that 100% perfection from cloning all the way to the end until the product gets into their bag. For me, it's so exciting, especially now with access to all the data, access to a variety of different research, developing products and developing technologies – really fun to watch. We love trying to increase yields while maintaining that quality like everybody says. I guess my zone is being with the plants; the plants talk to you. I think a lot of growers say they step foot in the group room and can tell if it's too humid, too cold, and that feeling of these plants are happy resonates with you every day. There's nothing more exciting for me to be able to go in the rooms. Honestly, as we grow the business, I'm trying to focus on the business more and trying to let my guys handle the grow, and it's really hard for me to let that go because I just have a love for being in there and watching the plants grow. They grow so much in 24 hours! And when they're not growing well, that fight to get them to where they need to be, I enjoy that chase just as much too, and learning about why we had that problem and how do we not make that problem again, and work with the team to achieve that.


AROYA: Love that passion! Okay, tell us more about your 4200-square-foot facility. What’s your setup like?

Chris: Our veg room is where we clone as well. We've got Pipp racking, dual-tiered. We're pretty limited on height in the entire building. I think our total ceiling was 13 feet tall. So we're still pretty limited to at most 14 feet, but we do have a veg space with Pipp racking. That's where we do all our vegging and cloning and mothering. Quick turnaround times on all of our rooms, we only veg for 14 days, and then we go into our flower rooms. We have three flower rooms utilizing Fluence VYPR LEDs. Two rooms are 20 lights and our third room is 15 lights, so we have 55 flowering lights in our facility, and then 30 lights in our veg room. And then dry room irrigation, we built and set up on our own with the design help from Demeter Design. We run on Dosatrons that go to batch tanks for individual rooms, and each room gets its own batch tank that delivers out to the plants. 


AROYA: All that in 4200 square feet! Sounds like a pretty efficient use of space.

Chris: We learned in the basements and the garages how to utilize as much square footage as possible.


AROYA: Cultivators are truly a resourceful bunch! Are y’all only doing cultivation in your facility? Are you doing any manufacturing, pheno-hunting, or R&D as well?

Chris: Yep, we are always pheno-hunting. We're hunting with Relentless Black Cherry Bomb, which is a Runtz crossed with Cherry Cookie. I'm really excited to hunt some Sunshine 4 from Bodhi Genetics, which is very exciting. We haven't done any breeding yet. We anticipate doing some breeding; we've been kind of holding on to cuts that we don't even run in production with the hopes of breeding projects in our future. But being so fresh and new, our focus right now is good flower pre-packaged. We do hand-rolled joints and regular pack joints as well, but we have an extreme focus right now on delivering the best flower possible with high hopes of eventually processing and doing a rosin label, edibles, the whole nine. We definitely want to continue growing and have multiple skus in our product lineup.


AROYA: Why are data and transparency so crucial to your operation?

Chris: Every little bit counts. Even though the cycle is so long, every single day matters and each one of those parameters is so important to how the other parameter works. As growers know, so often we have problems and it can be so hard to diagnose them when you don't have that data. When you don't have the ability to look back at what you've done wrong in the past or what you've done right in the past and compare it to what you're currently doing, you're pretty much dead in the water. You’re just kind of throwing shit at the wall essentially. I think that's most important obviously for optimization, increasing yields, increasing quality, but troubleshooting problems too – and without data, you have nothing to deal with either one of those.


AROYA: How did you hear about AROYA?

Chris: Through the socials and just seeing a lot of people talking about it, growers on Instagram and on Reddit and such. The sensors were what sparked my interest for sure, I was so interested in what was going on in my medium even before talks of all the crop steering stuff. What is the EC at, what's the pH at? We're gonna talk about water content? I can see how it's gonna dry back before the word “dryback” was becoming big. That was what attracted me to AROYA in general. In our home grows before we were commercial, all of us had the SOLUS with TEROS doing the spot checks multiple times a day, and that was what drew me to AROYA for sure.


AROYA: What kind of results are you seeing with AROYA?

Chris: Getting the facility started, it's helped a lot. We are gonna see a lot more results from all the data we've collected from AROYA in the past year. We had a lot of learning curves in our new facility from equipment failures and equipment design issues, to nutrient imbalance issues because of our water issues. So we've dealt with a variety of issues and without a doubt, AROYA has helped us to look at those issues and look back at what we were doing before. Recording data from previous harvests and having our employees record that data – not only with the sensors that are provided but also with all the task management stuff and having our employees log that information – allowed us to look back and solve some of those problems. Only until about 2-4 months ago could I say we are really cranking now and we are really looking at our drybacks hard, we’re really looking at all the information and data that AROYA is giving us and truly optimizing. Every single grow we've had over the past four months is incrementally getting better in yield, incrementally getting better in quality, and it takes all that data to help us. Resolving problems has been the true value in the past year, and we’re looking forward to optimizing now in the second year.


AROYA: You were a passionate underground grower, and now you are a passionate licensed grower. The experience of having that data: how is that different from back in your college days? What does that feel like for you?

Chris: You can see that there is no ceiling. Back in those days, you could hit two [pounds per] light, but nobody was doing that! That's the maximum, right? Now it just seems like there's so much give and take. We know that we could hit crazy yields, and we've all hit crazy yields, but now it's a balancing act to find that quality in the middle. You still want to produce as much as possible, but we don't want to sacrifice quality at all. Where is that breaking point? This data is what helps you find that breaking point when it comes to specific genetics. Obviously, each one performs a little bit differently, so creating that genetic registration so that you can find that breaking point, hit the highest yields, and still maintain that quality.  Back in the day, you didn't have that. You’d get a new genetic from Joe down the street because he got it from California and you're gonna run it a couple times maybe, and then that's it. Now, it’s, “How do we optimize this specific genetic? This one is clearly a winner for us, it's selling out in all stores, we won awards for it. Now let's optimize it on the production side and make sure that we're reaching its fullest potential.” And we've noticed that each and every grow that we've had with some of our award-winning strains, like, we're getting better. We didn't think the quality could get better - it's getting better. We didn't think the yields could get better - they're getting better. So the sky's the limit.


AROYA: What awards has Tip Top won?

Chris: We won two awards. One was called Top Shelf Showdown, it was up against a lot of the bigger growers in the state, kind of a smaller event. But the big one that we won was Bring Your Best Bag, which is hosted by Exotic Matter guys who also do the Zalympics here in Michigan. So was up against the guys that I've been looking up to for years. I was at the event last year like, “We're gonna be at this event,” with no idea that we were gonna place first in it, so that was really special for us.


AROYA: That's a really big deal, congratulations! So what are your goals for 2024? What can we look forward to seeing from Tip Top this year?

Chris: Our goals are to push out the strains that hit really well on the shelves and the customers told us they liked and produce as much of them as possible. For a small shop, we still have 15 strains that we chose to ride this year, which I think is pretty big. We pride ourselves on having a lot of variety and still maintaining the quality standpoint’s the most important piece of it, so riding those genetics hard and continuing to make waves. We’ve got quite a few new ones that I mentioned that haven’t truly hit the market yet that we've tested and we're excited to bring. Winning the awards really trampolined our business in a lot of ways – from collaboration opportunities, but also opportunities in a lot of new stores. It's all gonna be small-batch, very limited, stores are getting probably a maximum of a quarter pound, maybe a half pound of certain strains, but everybody just gets a small amount. We're trying to spread the love and make sure that everybody has access in different regions of the state.


AROYA: That means customers have to get it while it's hot!

Chris: A lot of consumers don't know that that's when the weed’s the best. When it is relatively fresh with a little cure on it, there is a window where that product is the best. It's hard to get it to the consumer in that window, but that's our goal – to get it to them as fresh and in the best shape as possible.


AROYA: Wonderful, they're so lucky! So the last few years have been challenging for people in this industry. Before we sign off, what advice would you give to folks?

Chris: First and foremost, check yourself. Are you truly passionate about it? Do you truly want to do this for the plant? If you're doing it for the money just step back, it won't pan out. So you gotta have that passion right now, especially in such a competitive market, and be willing to take the L's and be willing to learn from your mistakes. And then once you get in I’d start small. Try to try to conquer smaller markets before you try to take over the world or take over the state – whatever your grand scheme is. We found great success in being able to sell out small batches and ultimately that's how we're going to be able to scale this business. 


AROYA: Excellent advice! Thank you for such a great conversation! Next time we visit Michigan we’ll be knocking on your door. 

Chris: Come by, please, we'd love to have you! It was great getting to chat with you.