Since the earliest stages of the legalization movement, cannabis entrepreneurs have been apprehensive about the “big players” entering the market. But in light of the $4 billion Constellation Brands invested in Canopy Growth in August, it’s clear that the big players have already arrived and the explosive growth of the cannabis retail sector is a siren’s call for many investors.
As hundreds of businesses jockey for position in this emerging industry, it seems as if cannabis retail and dispensary chains like MedMen, Columbia Care, Rise and Harvest of Arizona have been built overnight. But that is far from true. Each company has followed a strategic path to expansion and raising capital to set them apart from the smaller players in the space.
Ultimately, only time will tell who will become the largest retailer in North America, but these four companies — plus LivWell International, an intriguing upstart with connections to one of Colorado’s largest chains — are early frontrunners in the race.
Green Thumb Industries (GTI)
Green Thumb Industries (GTI) has amassed an empire, an army and a small fortune since the company was founded in Chicago just four years ago. GTI’s retail chain, Rise, has eight manufacturing facilities and 13 dispensaries open, and the company is licensed to open another 59 stores across nine states in the near future.
“We don’t take anything for granted and appreciate each little and big win that helps us bring quality cannabis to new consumers as we strategically expand,” says Jennifer Dooley, GTI’s vice president of investor relations and corporate development. “Every new market we enter, every finished good we ship, every store we open and every new person introduced to cannabis for the first time is considered a milestone.”
Since going public on the Canadian Stock Exchange in June 2018, GTI has raised more than $128 million — in addition to several rounds of private placements with investors dating back to 2014.
“We believe access to low cost of capital is key to enabling the successful execution of our business plan, so it was the right time for us,” Dooley says of the company’s public launch. “One of the most important corporate tenets we have is that we exist thanks to our investors and shareholders.”
Dooley says being entrusted with private and public investments pushes the company to think critically about its spending decisions.
“The team understands we owe it to our investors to spend wisely and work diligently and we have a deep commitment to shareholder alignment and building long-term shareholder value,” Dooley says. “If we keep that in mind, treat people well and do what we say we’re going to do, we think that sets us up to win.”
On the Rise
GTI closed 2017 with more than $20 million in revenue. With operations in seven limited-supply states (Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida and Nevada) and plans to open up to seven more Rise retail locations before the end of 2018, GTI expects to exceed last year’s performance and continue its growth trajectory.
The vertically integrated retail chain Rise currently has four locations in Illinois, three in Maryland, three in Pennsylvania, two in Nevada and one in Massachusetts.
“Vertical integration is important in this nascent stage of the industry because it allows us to ensure repeatable and consistent experiences for the consumer,” Dooley says. “That’s all a brand is at the end of the day. It’s built on trust and that must be consistent.”
In a survey of 8,800 Chicago-area businesses, Crain’s Chicago Business recently named GTI as one of the city’s best places to work. The business-focused newspaper and website cited GTI’s tuition reimbursement and career development programs, 401(k) fund, low turnover rate and average annual exempt salary of $104,000 as praise-worthy reasons to include the company on the list.
Dooley says community involvement and philanthropy are woven into the company’s DNA. GTI co-founder Ben Kovler helped start Invest for Kids, which brings together analysts, portfolio managers and family offices for an annual event to share big investment ideas — the proceeds of which benefit Illinois children in need.
“It’s a fantastic event and in its first nine years, IFK generated more than $11 million to benefit 40 youth organizations that have helped 85,000 children,” Dooley says. “This year will the organization’s 10th anniversary.”
Dooley adds that the company regularly participates in volunteer work, community givebacks and supports organizations such as The Cara Program, which advocates for those affected by homelessness and poverty and matches them with quality jobs, and The Veterans Cannabis Project, which helps veterans find alternative medications for a better quality of life.
GTI has made more than $600,000 in charitable donations.
GTI’s board of directors is an amalgamation of professional expertise.
GTI founder and chairman Ben Kovler is also the chief investment officer for Kovpak II, LLC, a Chicago-based investment partnership that distributes capital into a wide array of public and private markets. CEO Pete Kadens previously built SoCore, one of the largest commercial solar companies in the country. Eugene Monroe, who played seven seasons in the National Football League, serves on the company’s board of doctors for cannabis regulations.
New additions Glen Senk, the former CEO of Urban Outfitters and a business scaling expert who has worked with brands such as Anthropology, Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn, and Wes Moore, a best-selling author and CEO of Robin Hood, the largest poverty-fighting organization in New York, have been brought in as independent directors to “deepen our bench and bring incredible vision and perspective to our team,” Dooley says.