Every minute in the U.S., 76 people quit their jobs. This is a great opportunity for the cannabis industry. Why?
People are shopping for new roles, and cannabis companies, with the right strategies in place, can attract talented team members from many industries and backgrounds—people who are looking for a place that values them and their work. People who are interested in a nascent industry that is evolving and growing.
Attracting talented workers will become even more critical as more job seekers enter the market. In 2018, the number of people who quit their jobs increased by 2.4 million (to 40.1 million total) compared with the previous year, according to a workforce turnover survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In a news release about the report, the Labor Department noted that the number of “quits” rose for the ninth consecutive year and now outnumber layoffs and other separations.
A low unemployment rate—3.8 percent at press time—has fueled this trend. It’s great for employees, as companies compete for the best people with higher pay and career advancement, but finding the right candidate can take months. Getting the word out about your great company culture and workplace environment can be difficult.
People are looking for a place that values them and their work.
This is where Cannabis Dispensary can help.
Cannabis Dispensary and sister publication Cannabis Business Times recently launched the “Best Cannabis Companies To Work For” studies for both cultivation and dispensary operations. The research project, which is free to enter, includes an employee satisfaction survey that covers areas such as corporate culture and communications, role satisfaction, work environment and training, and development and resources. The results will help us recognize great dispensary businesses in the industry like yours and share insights into company cultures that win the loyalty of top employees.
To enter, companies must have 15 or more full-time or part-time employees, operate a licensed cannabis cultivation and/or dispensary business in the U.S. or Canada, and register by Sept. 6. We will celebrate the best companies to work for by featuring them in future articles in both Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.
To learn more and enter your company, visit BestCompaniesCannabis.com. In the meantime, feel free to reach out with any questions. We look forward to sharing your stories and ideas for creating positive, productive and inspiring places to work.
Michelle Simakis, Editor | email@example.com
If you have launched a business in the cannabis industry, at one point or another you have probably wished for a guidebook or mentor to refer to when hurdles appeared insurmountable. Jeffrey Herold sure did.
Herold, COO of Massachusetts’ Garden Remedies, a vertically integrated cannabis company, remembers the company’s senior leadership sitting around a conference room table about 18 months ago, commiserating over the challenges they overcame to launch their operation in the Bay State. The wide-ranging conversation spanned lessons learned, mistakes made and “how just having a one-on-one mentor that had been through this would’ve really helped,” Herold says.
A team member chimed in: “Why don’t we launch a mentorship program?”
That thought sparked the idea for Garden Remedies’ Catalyst Mentoring Program that pairs team members with cannabis license applicants to help guide these license hopefuls through the early stages of launching their businesses.
Some might think that helping potential rival business owners is a bad decision, but Garden Remedies has a different perspective. “I think it's a big industry, and we think there's plenty of [market share] to go around,” Herold says. “We'd much rather help people do it right so that the industry as a whole doesn't get a bad name.”
Garden Remedies’ team knew that it wanted the mentorship program to have a personal feel to it. “Originally, it didn't feel like it was going to be too structured and more just a one on-one-mentor relationship, where if somebody has a question, they know somebody in our organization that they can call,” Herold details.
While it has retained a personal level of support, the program has evolved into a 14-week program with three separate tracks: cultivation, processing and retail, the same industry verticals in which Garden Remedies operates today. Each track has one designated mentor, and the inaugural class saw one mentee paired with each mentor.
Garden Remedies isn’t directly training program participants on how to cultivate cannabis, process edibles or manage a dispensary. Rather, mentors are there to answer questions and help their mentees avoid making the same mistakes they did in the licensing process, with design or with sourcing materials.
Mentees have weekly calls with their mentors to discuss any issues they encountered that week and get advice on what to expect from the next steps in the process. Biweekly calls with various company subject matter experts relevant to each mentees’ business and licensing stage are also scheduled. Those experts remain available throughout the licensing program to answer questions related to their areas of expertise.
Herold is clear that there isn’t a business relationship being established, but a personal one. And even though the program formally is 14 weeks, mentees are expected to make connections that last beyond the terms of the mentorship. “[These mentees] literally call us … when any kind of question comes up that may take them hours to research, and they can call our head of security [for example] and get the answer in just two minutes,” he says.
The first Catalyst class graduated May 2, and two of the three graduates had economic empowerment priority status, meaning they all qualified as businesses having “practices that promote … economic empowerment in communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for offenses under state and federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act,” according to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (MCCC).
Caroline Pineau, owner of Stem—a dispensary license applicant based in Haverhill, Mass. (a city designated by the MCCC as one of the 29 areas where drug laws had a disproportionate impact)—is a Catalyst graduate. A yoga studio owner and instructor, she first heard about the program through a business associate, and, after some additional research, reached out quickly.
“To have the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the industry … has been instrumental and has really helped to propel my project forward,” Pineau says.
Her mentor, Julia Wentworth, Garden Remedies’ director of retail operations, spoke with Pineau every week and discussed everything from “floor plan … all the way down to paper clips,” Wentworth says. Store design is Wentworth’s specialty, as she is in the process of designing her third dispensary—Garden Remedies’ Marlborough location.
Pineau, for her part, is quick to give credit to Wentworth and Garden Remedies for continuing to help shape her business to match her vision. “[Julia] has vast retail experience and really helped me hone in on exactly how I wanted the flow of the experience to take shape,” Pineau says. “I really felt like they were a resource in every aspect of my business and really helped to shape my business strategy, and also helped me to feel really empowered that I can be an aspiring leader in this industry, even as a mom-and-pop operator.”
Brian MacIver is senior editor of Cannabis Dispensary magazine.
Today, Alameda County’s Garden of Eden dispensary is a model of efficiency, according to its chief financial officer, Shareef El-Sissi. The California dispensary welcomes some 1,400 patients daily, El-Sissi estimates, to its 1,000-square-foot space, which makes it one of the busiest dispensaries in the country—as well as one of the smallest and most technologically friendly, he adds. That’s a lot of people in a little area, and Garden of Eden was not always as adept at handling them as it is now.
“Trying to serve 1,200 customers or 1,400 customers in a day—that broke the shop,” and resulted in long customer wait times, El-Sissi says. To make matters worse, a 2016 review of the dispensary by the Alameda County newspaper, the East Bay Times, described it this way: “Garden of Eden sits beneath a huge billboard in a run-down, one-story, cinder-block retail shop, with little to attract shoppers beyond copious street parking. … The retail area is small, with two cash registers. There are no clones, edibles, extracts, or trappings. The only splurges are the [HD] flat-screen menus, displaying a truly miraculous marijuana lineup.”
El-Sissi admits that this is a “100-percent” accurate description of the dispensary at the time, adding that it was “just a beige [building], as simple as can be.” Back then, the dispensary’s menu kept patients coming in for the time being, but Garden of Eden knew that wouldn’t last. To stay competitive, the company, which launched in 2003, had to reinvent itself with its customer in mind.
At first, Garden of Eden was reluctant to make sweeping changes. As El-Sissi explains, the Garden of Eden team didn’t want to upgrade the space—neither technologically nor aesthetically—because it had been difficult to operate the dispensary in Alameda County. The dispensary—along with all dispensaries in the county—was only allowed to sell flower for many years, which limited its ability to become profitable. In addition to that hurdle, “We had been raided by the DEA,” El-Sissi says. “We had been [audited] by the IRS—you know, all these occurrences that kind of limited our desire to invest a ton of money into a shop where we didn’t know if we were going to be open the next day or the next year, and we had a bureaucracy in Alameda County that made it really tough for us to build a new building.”
However, in 2015, the dispensary team began conceptualizing the major re-design that patients enjoy today. “We basically have been clawing and fighting uphill for a long time,” El-Sissi explains. By this time, regulations that had slowed the dispensary’s growth—such as one that restricted dispensaries from having more than 20 pounds of flower on site at one time—began to ease or be eliminated.
As “the times kind of shifted, we were able to dedicate the attention that the shop really deserved,” El-Sissi says.
Garden of Eden contracted multidisciplinary design firm Sand Studios for its redesign, which was completed and unveiled in September 2018. This time, when the East Bay Times wrote about the dispensary, its tune had changed: “Smiling greeters at a check-in desk, soft lighting and creams displayed behind glass make the Garden of Eden more like a spa than a marijuana dispensary.”
According to El-Sissi, “We literally didn’t spare any expense to build the Garden of Eden—to build that world-class experience that our customers had deserved for a long time here. That’s something that we had envisioned for a long time.”
Garden of Eden and Sand Studios worked for six months to refine the redesign plans, El-Sissi says. Construction took an additional eight months. “The end product is really beautiful, really efficient,” El-Sissi says. “We’re able to serve a lot of customers.”
Today, the building’s exterior is wrapped in ivy and “is very easy on the eyes,” El-Sissi says. “The front door is a piece of art,” he adds, mixing metal and glass to make a bold impression on customers as they enter the dispensary.
Inside the store, “we went from a two-room layout to a single room,” El-Sissi says. “Now, when you walk into the front door of the dispensary, there’s one continuous space that patients can go in—and we kind of broke down the barrier between intake and retail [for medical products].”
The dispensary’s gray concrete floor blends well with the bronze-glazed glass displays. “There’s all these different design elements that kind of pop out at you,” El-Sissi says. “For the most part, the first time people walk in, they are really taken aback. You see people looking up, down, left and right, or looking at the lighting.”
The color, lighting and decor choices were purposeful: “People want to go to beautiful spaces,” El-Sissi explains. “So we wanted to attract people on the outside, but we also wanted people to feel good on the inside. The lighting selections, the color of the floor, the color of the glass, the countertops, all of those elements of design to make you feel good.” Flat-screen TVs positioned throughout the space rotate among 12 channels that show information or menus. “We’ve used tech to enhance the experience,” he says.
What’s more, El-Sissi adds, “We owe it to our employees to feel really good. I wanted them to want to come to work and … be in a room filled with oxygen being produced by plants.” As such, greenery fills the space via a large live wall across the room from the check-in counter.
Garden of Eden’s changes weren’t strictly aesthetic, though.
With a check-in process performed entirely on iPhones, Garden of Eden’s patients can quickly obtain their medicine without hassle, El-Sissi says. Before transitioning to the smartphone system in 2017, Garden of Eden captured required patient information, such as names, purchases and dates of visits, by hand.
“As we got busier and busier, we needed to make those systems quicker, so we moved into scanning driver’s licenses and capturing people’s pictures so they didn’t have to bring in their recommendation or their ID because we had that information stored in the system,” El-Sissi says.
Garden of Eden, in its tech-friendly fashion, has also “designed our own inventory system that enables us to count the entirety of our inventory every day,” El-Sissi says. “We’ve been able to count a ton of money—and a ton of our inventory value—in a very short period of time.”
Its inventory system works a little like this: Using software called Treez, employees can “cycle-count” inventory and sort it by product and location, says El-Sissi. “Counting inventory daily allows management to reduce shrinkage and hold employees accountable for the inventory they came in contact with,” he says.
These are merely a few examples of how Garden of Eden has evolved to become a forward-thinking and in-demand dispensary.
In addition to its modern-day check-in system and its inventory tracking method, Garden of Eden has also prioritized its digital presence. “If you take a look at our digital footprint—whether it’s social media or on our website—you’ll see we really care about our representation of our business digitally as much as we do physically,” El-Sissi says.
On the company’s website, prospective patients can take a 360-degree, virtual tour of the space before ever entering the building. “We’ve also started a pick-up program that if you preorder online, you don’t have to wait when you come in,” El-Sissi says. “We’re trying to improve the efficiency of the store so customers don’t have to have a waiting experience. … The more preorders that we [can] get, the quicker and shorter the wait times are. That’s very important for us.”
Whether they order online or come into the store to browse, El-Sissi says that Garden of Eden’s patients do have preferred products. According to him, the store’s most popular products include the Honeycomb Farm brand of flower, and vaporizers account for roughly 20 percent of total sales. When it comes to flower, “We don’t buy flower in huge lots,” says El-Sissi. Instead, “We buy small amounts and we keep the flowers for [short] stints and keep [the menu] constantly rotating.” At any given time, Garden of Eden has about 24 cultivars on its menu, El-Sissi says, including some “classics” the dispensary always keeps in stock. But, as he explains, “The best cultivators tend to keep their offering relevant to the times as newer, more exclusive genetics command higher prices. When we find a cultivator who works well [with] the classics, we find shelf space for them.”
Garden of Eden has evolved quickly, but the dispensary is far from finished. “We’re really turning toward becoming the Apple store, where you sell your products and they are super high quality and they are well designed, well packaged, well thought out—and that’s the bulk of our business. That’s something we’ve been working toward.”
It has also been working toward opening as many as four additional dispensaries. “By the end of this year, we’ll have one in Union City, Calif.,” El-Sissi says, describing it as a “campus” that will have its own indoor cultivation facility, distribution and retail “in a city where there’s no other cannabis businesses open today,” he says. “That [Union City location] is going to become Garden of Eden’s hub and kind of the headquarters of our entire business.” Additional locations are also planned for outside Fremont, Calif.; Ukiah, Calif.; and in Mendocino County, Calif.
“We’re going to continue to seek licenses for retail and … continue to extend our retail footprint,” El-Sissi says. “We already have enough infrastructure for us to do cultivation—outside cultivation and indoor cultivation—that we really could be growing into that [footprint].”
El-Sissi anticipates these new locations and operations will grow quickly—just as its original location did—without much marketing. “I think word of mouth goes a long way, especially when you’re in an area [where] you may be the only game in town,” he says. “It doesn’t take a ton of spend to have really wide-reaching impact when you’re selling quality product,” and, of course, enjoying Garden of Eden’s new design aesthetic.
Jillian Kramer is a Cleveland, Ohio-based freelance writer.
The Federal Bank Secrecy Act (the “BSA”) prohibits national financial and banking institutions from accepting money generated from the sale of illegal narcotics, including cannabis. Nevertheless, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued guidelines in 2014 for banks to conduct business with cannabis companies without violating federal regulations.
Presently, banks that wish to conduct business with cannabis companies face a lot of regulation and uncertainty. Cannabis businesses looking to secure banking services must understand that banks are required to comply with anti-money laundering laws, which require national banks and credit unions to file Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) with FinCEN if they suspect any of their account holders are engaged in or trying to cover up illegal activity.
Many of the major national banks take the position that following the FinCEN guidelines would constitute an open violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, which is why they consistently refused to open their coffers to cannabis clients.
However, even given these setbacks, there are still steps you can take to legitimize your business with banking services. Here are three tips to help get you started when searching for and approaching banks.
1. Focus on Local Banks and Credit Unions
Many local, community and credit union banks are willing to deal with cannabis participants; however, it is important to approach those banks with caution and tact. Ask questions, such as: What are the bank’s compliance standards and requirements? What type of reporting does the bank require from clients? What type of cannabis businesses does the bank have as clients? What banking services are offered and what are restrictions/limitations? What are the bank’s expectations?
2. Be Prepared for Due Diligence Inquiries
The best approach with banks is transparency, honesty and collateral. The more a bank understands your cannabis business, structure and operation, the easier it will be for it to comply with FinCEN guidelines. As such, it is important to understand that banks are wary of doing business with cannabis companies having short or non-existent operating histories, limited financial information and uncertain license statuses. Expect a diligent and thorough investigation by the bank into the ownership and management team, the company’s business affairs, financials and regulatory compliance history. Establish personal relationships with key bank personnel who will be responsible for overseeing your banking needs. Be prepared for multiple rejections before finding a suitable banking partner.
3. Be Prepared to Pay More
Banks will require prospective clients to bear the cost of their due-diligence inquiry and investigation into the affairs of the cannabis businesses. Additionally, because cannabis accounts require more monitoring, reporting and special attention than other business accounts, set aside extra funds to pay a monthly premium for banking services. This premium will depend on the amount of work the bank has to do in order to confirm compliance and meet its own reporting and compliance requirements. The more organized and transparent the cannabis client is, the easier it will be for the bank to do its job, and thus the fees may not be as high.
Gene Markin is a partner with law firm Stark & Stark based in Princeton, N.J.
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