Beth Stavola offers an inside look at the branding and business philosophy that have helped MPX Bioceutical expand across the U.S.
Keeping up with Beth Stavola is no easy task.
At any given moment, she could be working from her home office in New Jersey, managing one of four vertically integrated licenses in Arizona, overseeing dispensary operations in Maryland, checking the progress on her company’s build-out of a 40,000-square-foot cultivation and production facility in Massachusetts, following up on license applications in Ohio or looking at ways to improve the company’s cultivation and processing facility in Nevada.
Oh, and she’s also a mother of six children, ranging in age from 10 to 21.
“It’s a good balancing act,” she says during a layover in her home state in between business trips to Massachusetts and Maryland.
Stavola is the chief operating officer of MPX Bioceutical Corp. and president of the company’s U.S. operations, which includes the Melting Point Extracts brand and the company’s retail arm, Health for Life. In addition to its various cultivation and manufacturing operations, Health for Life currently has four medical dispensaries in Arizona and manages three dispensaries in Maryland. In the near future, Stavola says the plan is to expand its retail footprint with locations in Massachusetts, Nevada and Ohio.
Each dispensary will have the same “high-end, Southwest feel” and copper accents of the company’s original shops in Arizona.
Marijuana Venture: What do you find most exciting about the state of the cannabis industry right now?
Beth Stavola: I’m very excited about the news of (former Speaker of the House) John Boehner jumping into the cannabis space, because I think in 2011-2012 he was one of the Republicans who would never legalize and said that he would never change his mind. Just the fact that the he joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings. I think this speaks a lot about where this movement is going. And with 64% of Americans feeling that not just medical cannabis, but adult-use cannabis should be legal, it’s something that Democrats and Republicans right now seem to be able to agree on — and there’s not a lot of other topics that we can say that about in our government right now.
Another thing I’m excited about is the mergers and acquisitions activity that is going on. It seems like some of the bigger players are doing mergers of equals or just looking for a bigger national footprint. So I see a lot of that activity going on, which is exciting.
MV: What do you think that says about the future of the industry?
BS: I think consolidation was really inevitable, because it is such a fragmented market. I’ll give you an example: When I order cartridges or packaging, or something like that, when I’m ordering for multiple states, I can’t submit a blanket order. Every state has different warning labels. I think the M&A activity is really healthy and it’s also showing that there are some significant business people getting into this industry now.
MV: Do you think some of the mergers and acquisitions have the potential to help the state-by-state nature of regulations in the U.S.?
BS: I think so. What we do as a company is operate at our most restrictive state in all of our states, which makes it easier on my executive team, because we know the regulation is coming. If we’re ahead of the game, it’s a lot easier when the regulators make things more restrictive.
MV: What are you currently most excited about in your own business ventures?
BS: Branding, I would say, is really at the top of my list. I think the brands are what is going to be most valuable in the end when we see national legalization. When you’re grabbing a Budweiser, you’re doing it because it’s a Budweiser, not because you’re looking to see where the hops come from to make that can of beer. I think cannabis flower will be commoditized and I think the brands will be really what succeed in the end.
MV: To that end, what are you doing to ensure your brands are developing that level of recognition in the cannabis space?
BS: We keep a lot of data in our stores, so I can tell you the average age of our customer is 45.4 years old. That data is going to be really important in the future. Because of the federal illegality, there isn’t really good data.
Melting Point Extracts is a concentrate brand we started in Arizona and have taken to the other states that we’re involved in. We’re doing a lot of promotion and then adding different brands under that, such as an edibles line called LK Infusions, which we started in Las Vegas.
We’re coming out with a number of brands focused toward women. I think that’s an under-served part of the market. Although other people are coming out with them now, I still think it’s still under-served.
MV: What was the process for you to develop the look and feel of the dispensary brands?
BS: It was really a lot of going back to the drawing board and seeing what we liked. The branding side of things is probably my favorite aspect of the industry. I’m always coming up with new ideas, so that’s what I like the most.
I want these stores to be a place where someone like me, a 47-year-old woman, is comfortable walking in there and feeling really good, almost like a spa or high-end retail feel. I wanted great customer service and consultants — we don’t call them budtenders — who really know what they’re talking about and are educated on cannabinoids.
MV: Are you focused on the medical sector right now?
BS: We’re focused on both markets. We started in medical, but when the residents of the state vote in adult-use, we’re happy to move into that arena.
MV: Does that factor into the branding of your products and retail spaces?
BS: Yeah. I think the look and feel of our stores can really be either medical or adult-use. They feel somewhat medical, but they’re also really cool, which fits more with the recreational side.
MV: What did you do prior to getting into the cannabis business, and how has that helped guide you in this complicated industry?
BS: I did institutional equity sales, most recently for Jefferies and Co. in New York City. Frankly, I think Wall Street prepares you for anything. Wall Street in the ‘90s was a bit of a jungle, and Jefferies was a firm that was super entrepreneurial, like an “eat-what-you-kill” type of firm. I really enjoyed that and a lot of the practices I have in my current business are things that I learned at Jefferies. One of the main reasons I wanted to be a public company was learning that it’s important for all of your key players, even all of your employees, to have equity. So each of our 220 employees has stock options.
It was also important for me to make sure we provided really good, full medical benefits, dental, long-term and short-term disability. As soon as I was financially able to do that, I set that in motion. I think the overall industry has to start looking at becoming much more corporate.
MV: As a New Jersey resident, what are your thoughts about the potential for changes to that market?
BS: I’m excited about my home state because it was so frustrating to be going to states like Arizona and see people with symptoms, whether it’s pain or epilepsy, and come back to my home state and see people with those same ailments not being helped.
MV: How big do you think New Jersey can be in terms of its economic and health impacts and as a linchpin for the rest of the East Coast?
BS: I think New Jersey will end up being one of the best programs in the country. I think the legislators are really interested in hearing what works and what doesn’t work in other states. They’ve been very open minded.
MV: In a normal week, where do you focus most of your time?
BS: New business development, government affairs, overseeing operations. I have someone in my office that is in charge of each state and that information filters up to me.
Another challenge in our industry, because it’s growing so fast, is the lack of talent that has good corporate experience and marijuana experience. It’s a combination that is probably harder to find than in a normal industry that is not federally illegal.
There are still corporate executives who are not comfortable jumping in yet, so the pool is smaller for talent.
MV: As a final thought, what would be your advice to people who are looking at getting involved in this exciting, fast-growing industry?
BS: I would say don’t give up, be creative, leave your ego at the door and educate yourself as much as possible. One other thing that’s challenging for the national players is that we’re all operating our businesses, but when new states come online, we have to start the competitive application writing process. It’s a challenge when you’re running your business, but this new state requires a lot of your time. It’s a lot of working seven days a week. More seven-day-a-week work weeks than not.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.