Living the Dream: Helen Cho

Helen Cho

Director of Strategy

Aloha Green Apothecary

Honolulu, HI

Each market in this industry is unique, as are the combinations of challenges and advantages cannabis companies deal with in those markets. Aloha Green Apothecary’s specific lessons may not be fully applicable for your company’s situations, but we think there’s something in here for everyone to think about.

Here’s some basic context: Hawaii has eight vertically integrated licenses across four islands. Each license can serve only the island for which it received approval. Of the eight, five are currently operational: three on the island of Oahu (where 90% of the population lives — Honolulu/Waikiki) and two on Maui. There is no wholesale market, no inter-island transport and dispensaries can only sell what they produce within their own production facilities.

As the first dispensary to open in Honolulu, Aloha Green Apothecary has experienced both the pros and cons of being first. 

We have been focused on strengthening our business and moving forward our industry as a whole. But with the third and final Honolulu licensee opening its doors, the market is shaking up. Between the three dispensaries, prices are falling, product lines are shifting and marketing is increasing. It seems like a whirlwind of activity, but Aloha Green is standing very still at the center of it.

We monitor the market very closely. Considering that there are only three players in this field (that frequently have to work together on industry-related efforts), it’s not hard. What is hard, however, is maintaining the collective self-control within our executive team and not reacting to what others are doing. We make changes within our company on our terms, pushing things out when we are ready. Competition is secondary to our business plan. We consider competition in our decisions; competition does not dictate them.

It’s difficult to combat the fear that customers will go elsewhere, but it’s important to recognize them for what they are: a distraction that diminishes long-term strategy into a series of disconnected, rash actions that leave a company constantly on the defensive and quickly squandering its resources.

For example, one of our competitors came out with mid-shelf quality concentrates and oils very soon after opening, attracting patients with an extended product line. We were focused on expanding our production facility and improving the quality of our flower. But there was some internal debate about fast-tracking our extracts and pushing some of our experimental items to the shelves, just to “compete.” Ultimately, we decided to stay the course and take the time to properly install equipment, bring in consultants and complete thorough training. There are still slow days when we get impatient, but we also know that by the time this article comes out, Aloha Green Apothecary will be the state’s leader in every product category. It’ll be worth it.

So what’s your game plan? It takes deep knowledge of the inner workings of your company and dedication to your long-term strategy to not be swayed by the winds of competition. You need to stay nimble in a fast-changing industry, but you need to also stick to a plan. There are no shortcuts. Stay strong and on course.

 

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