Greenhouse Wellness: 'Doing Dispensary' Their Way

Features - Cover Story

Greenhouse Wellness co-founders Gina Dubbé and Dr. Leslie Apgar have created a family-like and entrepreneurial culture, fueling a positive, profitable business.

February 13, 2020

Dr. Leslie Apgar, co-founder and medical director of Greenhouse Wellness, left, with Gina Dubbé, co-founder and managing director
All photos: © Mike Olliver

Greenhouse Wellness co-founder and Medical Director Dr. Leslie Apgar wanted to create “an atmosphere of learning and growth and support” when she and Gina Dubbé started the Baltimore-area dispensary less than three years ago. Their vision is reflected in the dispensary’s design, which features natural lighting, white leather furniture, fresh flowers and crystal chandeliers—a warmth they feel distinguishes them from other medical or retail settings. It’s a work environment that the company has described as feeling “like family.”

The dispensary’s homey vibe may be one of the reasons the company continues to receive recognition as a great workplace. Greenhouse Wellness has twice been named one of Baltimore Business Journal’s Best Places to Work. Now it adds top billing in Cannabis Dispensary’s 2020 “Best Cannabis Companies to Work For” ranking. From the company’s furnishings to its culture, Greenhouse Wellness’ Dubbé and Apgar are “doing dispensary” their way.

Knowledge Workers

For Apgar and Dubbé, creating an exemplary workplace was a priority from the start. “I’m too old to work with people who aren’t amazing,” Apgar jokes. “To cultivate a culture of kindness and collaboration and to create win-win relationships is always top of mind for me.”

Education for patients and employees was a key component of the culture the pair conceived. “I wanted [our employees] to be ambassadors for the medical cannabis journey,” Apgar says.

Hiring employees in tune with those goals has been fundamental to the dispensary’s success. Given Maryland’s status as a medical-only cannabis state, Dubbé and Apgar felt a commitment to health and fitness was an important employee prerequisite. Most of the dispensary’s employees have advanced degrees in one of those areas.

But academic achievements aren’t the qualification that really makes Greenhouse Wellness tick. “We also felt that kindness was an essential part of who we hired,” Dubbé says. “As a point of fact, we hire people based on those criteria, and then if we have to teach them cannabis, we do. But we really want them to be kind to people that come in.”

Apgar agrees that personal qualities outshine impressive backgrounds and cannabis knowledge. “We do feel that you should hire the personality and train the skill,” she says. “We don’t expect to hire people that have our level of understanding or sophistication about the science behind why [cannabis] is working, but we really want to hire the personality.”

In the quest for kindness, Greenhouse Wellness looks for applicants who go the extra mile. And for anyone who sees kindness as intangible, Dubbé can list the ways it manifests at the dispensary every day. She shares the example of some retired nurses on the dispensary staff.

“I’ve watched them walk people to their car, give people a hug, and they just seem to know and understand the temperature of the person—not in degrees, but in where their soul is that day,” she says. At Greenhouse Wellness, healing encompasses both symptomatic issues and the person within.

The Greenhouse Wellness dispensary features an open design and natural lighting to create an approachable, inviting environment.

Career and Personal Growth

As entrepreneurs with numerous academic and professional achievements between them, Dubbé and Apgar actively seek to share their experience and expertise with the dispensary staff. Employees are trained and nurtured with personal and professional development in mind.

“We want people who want to be their own operators,” Dubbé says. “We’ll help train them to be at our place, but we think that we’re growing future entrepreneurs.” To cultivate entrepreneurial seeds and further Greenhouse Wellness’ educational goals, employee learning programs go way beyond cannabis benefits and product formats.

As one example, the company brought in its accounting firm to teach its employees how to start a company. The class covered topics such as how to incorporate, how to create an LLC, what to look for in a business plan and how to formulate a cash strategy, among other things.

While some dispensary owners might see the class’s content as irrelevant to dispensary staffers or, even worse, as equipping future competition, the pair doesn’t see it that way. “We figure the smarter they are and the more they want to succeed, the better it is for us and our patients,” Dubbé says.

Greenhouse Wellness employees also benefit from mentorship programs, leadership training, self-development activities, job shadowing and cross training—all intended to further the dispensary’s goals for employee education and growth.

Most of Greenhouse Wellness’ staff has a background in health or fitness, and collaboration between employees is encouraged.

Feeling ‘Like Family’

Family-centric thinking is an important piece of what makes the company a great place to work. Opportunities for flexible working hours and minimal overtime add to the family-owned business’s appeal. Full-time employees qualify for medical benefits after 30 days on the job. Staff dinners, retreats and outings serve to reinforce the family-like workplace atmosphere.

While business-focused development plays an important role, Greenhouse Wellness’ commitment to personal development and fulfillment extends beyond its walls. One of the most popular and valued benefits among the dispensary’s employees is the company’s policy of unlimited, unpaid personal time off.

“As for vacation and time off, we accommodate most anything and any duration,” Dubbé explains. “We don’t pay for the vacation, but we encourage our employees to experience the world the way that they want to.” The company actively encourages staff to take advantage of this benefit.

“They can go to India, they can go to Russia or wherever they want to go, and if they need two or three or four weeks, we’re going to do whatever we have to do to accommodate that,” Dubbé says.

The co-founders believe that granting employees the flexibility to experience life in ways that many employers don’t allow—whether that’s a dream vacation or a month-long wedding break—delivers a payoff in the end. “What happens is the employee that comes back is appreciative and will go the extra mile for the business,” Dubbé says.

The same accommodating philosophy applies to sick time. “If one of the staff is sick, we’re going to do whatever we have to do to accommodate [that person’s] needs,” Dubbé explains. Different employees have different needs; some have chronic illness, while others care for sick loved ones. “How could we say no?” she asks.

“If you are sincere and true to your mission statement and to your goals about why you started the company and what you’re trying to get out of the company, [then] you’re going to create a workspace that perpetuates that—and it spreads like wildfire,” says Dr. Leslie Apgar, co-founder and medical director

Employee Empowerment

Employees must feel respected in the workplace for a strong, supportive staff to take shape, Apgar says. She believes that Greenhouse Wellness pays employees a little more than its competitors, but compensation is only one part of the formula for workplace respect.

A greater factor in employee satisfaction is the collaborative atmosphere where patients and employees benefit from everyone’s expertise. With a staff that includes retired nurses, fitness enthusiasts and chemistry majors, Dubbé and Apgar encourage collaboration among team members whenever a patient visits the dispensary.

“When a patient comes in, it isn’t like, ‘Oh, you’re meeting with her.’ If somebody else at the [counter] has something to offer, we like them to chime in,” Dubbé says. “It’s a group project, and every patient is important to all of us. So, we just operate a little differently.”

“We want people who want to be their own operators. We’ll help train them to be at our place, but we think that we’re growing future entrepreneurs.” Gina Dubbé, co-founder, managing director

Sharing the dispensary’s perspective with the greater community is also an integral part of the company culture. The company offers paid time for employees to participate in community outreach, company-sponsored community service initiatives and volunteer opportunities.

“We invest in the community. We’ll teach. We’ll go into hospitals, hospice and doctor offices. We also have classes for the community,” Dubbé says. In addition, the company plans to launch a recycling program later this year. “We strongly believe in our community and that our job is to support it,” she shares.

Apgar reiterates that the dispensary’s educational focus is its most important asset. “With any kind of community outreach and with any kind of effort outside of our dispensary, we’re only increasing the number of those that are exposed and trained to what medical cannabis is and does,” she says. “That’s why our focus is there; it’s the right thing to do. When you cultivate a culture of kindness, it returns to you. So, we’re really just trying to model the way in everything that we do.”

Dubbé and Apgar hold quarterly employee meetings, where information is shared between the leaders and employees. They also conduct satisfaction surveys twice a year, as open and ongoing feedback is important to the co-founders.

Leading by Example

Open communication is another key to overall workplace satisfaction and employee engagement. Dubbé and Apgar hold quarterly employee meetings, conduct satisfaction surveys twice a year and encourage an environment of open, ongoing feedback from their employees. Apgar says she and Dubbé also try to “lead by example,” which helps to build employee buy-in.

“What I’m trying to say is that if you are sincere and true to your mission statement and to your goals about why you started the company and what you’re trying to get out of the company, [then] you’re going to create a workspace that perpetuates that—and it spreads like wildfire,” Apgar says.

With a company culture designed to cultivate an intangible quality like kindness, it’s only fitting that employees cite an equally intangible benefit when explaining what gives their jobs meaning and makes Greenhouse Wellness the cannabis dispensary industry’s best place to work.

“They say it is the ability to touch people’s lives so intimately and so impactfully, and that the gratitude that it brings them is unlike anything that they’ve ever experienced,” Apgar says. “That’s the unifying theme: Our employees’ ability to really get down into the dirt with our patients and really figure out what’s going on and really create impactful change. That’s the thing that keeps them warm at night.”