Living the Dream: Helen Cho

Helen Cho

Director of Strategy

Aloha Green Apothecary

Honolulu, HI

For the past couple months, we’ve had a mini-crisis at Aloha Green Apothecary. It’s the worst potential problem for vertically integrated cannabis companies: the quality of our dried flower wasn’t meeting our standards and there was no alternative process, such as buying cannabis wholesale, to acquire quality product for the dispensary.

We chose not to release a substandard product and risked empty shelves at the dispensary. Our young brand’s reputation, just having celebrated our first year, was at stake. How does a dispensary known for having the highest quality flower in Hawaii make do with no flower for patients? Here’s what we did:

1.  Assess the situation: What do we know? We knew the flower wasn’t meeting our standards, but we didn’t know why or how long we would have to deal with it. We are known for the best flower and we needed to keep that perception. Luckily, we were also becoming known to have the best concentrates in the state. 

2. Attack the problem: How do we fix this? We needed to manage two very different issues: the quality issues (internal) and the brand (external). Two ad hoc teams were established to focus on solving these challenges. They went to work immediately.

3. Support the team: What do we need and how do we keep communication flowing? Requests for resources and support were prioritized, going straight to the executive team, regardless of where the ask came from. The goal was to think of as many strategies (small and big) as possible and to dispatch as quickly as possible. Speed and quantity were of the essence, and this turned out to be key.

4. Pursue solutions: What do we focus on? With our many seeds cast, we abandoned the ones that didn’t sprout and directed our attention to the plants that did spring up. It turned out that our flower quality was affected by a combination of multiple unrelated culprits — none of which were large enough to raise a flag on their own. As for our marketing, our patients responded best to more education on concentrates, new types of deals and bundles and the repackaging of existing products that made it significantly easier for patients to consume the same medicine in different ways. We expanded our product line without adding “new” products.

5. Keep striving: What did we learn? Within a week of implementing fixes, our flower started meeting our quality standards at our usual, higher-than-industry-standard rates. Our sales, bolstered by increased sales of all other product categories, did not dip from the lack of flower. And with flower starting to make its way back into the dispensary, our sales have climbed to a new plateau. We now use this method not only to fix problems but to re-evaluate and improve every department of the company.

With the process laid out in five simple steps, it may seem like the solutions came easily, but it was also two months of insanity, frustration, bad ideas, really bad ideas and sleepless nights. But our production facility, grow team, lab and brand are now stronger than ever as we gear up for reciprocity in Hawaii, which will open the tourist market to our small cannabis industry.

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