The other day I had a long conversation with a friend who works in marketing for a well-known flower brand. The conversation centered on the opposing forces and beliefs that are common in this business. He pointed out that in many cases, the retail operations that sell marijuana and the growers who cultivate it are turning their backs on the very people who got them started.
His point was this: Many of the investors and owners of licenses in the early legal states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska) relied on “old-timers” who had been in the medical marijuana business to get their operations off the ground. Then, once the business was operational and the knowledge of the early pioneers was incorporated, those same owners “went corporate” and fired the old-timers, replacing them with lower priced people or mangers with specific skill sets.
We talked for an hour, and I can sympathize with his point of view. On the other hand, I can also understand why a business owner in a rapidly advancing — and highly competitive — industry would realize their business might need different skills and knowledge than somebody from the previously illegal/gray market industry in which there were high margins, no taxes, no mandated reporting, no leases and a relatively small capital investment — especially if the “old-timer” was reluctant to evolve.
In reality, this scenario happens in most businesses. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was famous for his early hiring of experienced managers with merchandising and buying experience, who were then replaced by less expensive 20-somethings once a particular product category was established within the company. It’s ruthless, but it’s also basic capitalism.
The legal marijuana business is evolving rapidly and will continue to do so for several years. What’s exciting to folks in new states like Michigan and Oklahoma is old hat to industry veterans in Washington and Colorado. That’s one of the reasons we launched the Retail and Dispensary (RAD) Expo in Portland, Oregon. Many retailers in the Northwest long ago stopped going to the MJ Biz conference because it lacked focus, was crowded with “lookie-loos” and cost far too much. The RAD Expo represents Marijuana 2.0. The show is focused on the retail side of the business, and past attendees and exhibitors have said they like the fact that they’re not competing with greenhouse manufacturers, nutrient companies and overwhelming crowds. The October 23-24 event is free for cannabis industry professionals who register in advance at www.TheRADExpo.com.
The grow side is also entering the Marijuana 2.0 phase. “Master growers” who won Cannabis Cups but lacked management skills or formal training in commercial greenhouse management had some initial value to cultivators. However, once the basics of cannabis cultivation were worked out (let’s not forget that cannabis is a relatively simple plant to grow), the value proposition on the cultivation side also quickly shifted, and commercial farms looked for employees who could focus on efficiency and supply chain management. Those types usually come from outside the marijuana world and have a degree in horticulture or previous experience working in agriculture.
It’s the natural way of how industries evolve. In other words, you can’t fight nature. Retailers who want to get better at what they do need to confer with experts who can take their operations well beyond what they will find in the pages of High Times or at most pot shows. The same is true of those in cultivation. Remember, if you’re not constantly evolving, you’re falling behind.