Octavia Wellness in California focuses solely on selling medical marijuana to the elderly, using large, easy-to-read labels on its products and offering home consultations and delivery
Inspired by their own elderly parents’ use of cannabis for their “senior ailments,” Octavia Wellness co-founders Carrie Tice and Adam Souzis saw a business opportunity in their home state of California. They recognized that the hippies of the 1960s were now in their sixties, and using cannabis differently than when they were younger — now for aches and pains as much as mood enhancement.
To reach this growing market, Tice created Octavia Wellness. She has 25 trained wellness consultants — salespeople who act as independent entrepreneurs compensated by commission — who go to senior living centers to talk about medical cannabis. The consultants help set up telemedicine appointments for potential patients, so doctors can talk to them and if appropriate, authorize them to purchase medical marijuana.
Older people aren’t necessarily comfortable going to a dispensary and interacting with a “twenty-something that doesn’t understand their needs,” Tice says. Instead, Octavia handles the entire interaction and designs the products specifically for seniors.
Senior citizens represent a new market for cannabis producers and retailers
By Brian Beckley
With more and more Baby Boomers moving into their golden years every day, the market for senior-based cannabis products continues to grow, both for medical and recreational purposes.
But after 70 years of federal illegality and misinformation about the drug, many seniors have questions about cannabis and its effects, especially about new products like edibles, vaporizer, tinctures and other forms that have been developed since many last tried marijuana in their youth.
Residents from one senior community outside Seattle had a recent opportunity to get their questions answered during a “Cannabis 101” event at Vela, a marijuana retail shop that also shares space with an indoor grow operation and an extraction lab.
“They had a lot of questions I couldn’t answer,” says Susan Pfundt, executive director of Sound Vista Village in Gig Harbor, Washington, an assisted living facility that is managed by Village Concepts.
Pfundt says that since legalization, her residents have begun asking more questions about the substance, particularly the medicinal properties and new forms associated with it. While smoking is not allowed at Vista Village, Pfundt says other cannabis use is treated like having a bottle of wine: residents are monitored for overindulgence, but it is otherwise allowed.
“Residents have a personal choice and as a resident of the state of Washington, that personal choice includes cannabis,” Pfundt says.
But at the same time, it is a new industry and many seniors simply do not understand what is available or what it could do for them, which is where Village Concepts University comes in. VCU programs are designed to engage seniors in the world around them to encourage lifelong learning.
According to Tracy Willis, director of corporate development at Village Concepts, legalization had residents looking at cannabis in a new way. After showing a video in which a Parkinson’s patient is treated with a CBD product, the questions increased. Many of the seniors knew people who used medical marijuana and they saw a therapeutic benefit in a product many had not considered since they were teens in the 1960s.
Erin Green, director of operations for Vela, says many seniors became familiar with marijuana in the 1960s, and were further influenced during the Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” era of the 1980s.
“That’s quite a whiplash,” Green says.
Green says seniors are a key demographic in the emerging market and one that is primed for growth. Vela has now done multiple meetings in which she and others from the shop answer questions and explain some of the new products available on the market as well as new laws and regulations surrounding usage.
“It’s a subject that has been so taboo and so stigmatized for so long,” Green says. “It can still be an intimidating conversation for people.”
Green says site visits, in which people can see the store, the Field Day indoor grow operation and the Suncliff laboratory are also “eye-opening experiences.”
“When they saw the facility, a lot of that taboo was lifted,” agrees Pfundt.
Green says seniors tend to ask questions about specific medical conditions, which by state law, can only be answered in broad terms, rather than with medical advice. But Green says they can explain the differences between THC and CBD and their effects, as well as the differences between indicas and sativas and the different ways each method of ingestion will make consumers feel.
For many seniors, their only familiarity with cannabis is the flower, which is smoked. But after tours and discussions, many of the seniors purchased topicals and tinctures, especially those high in CBD.
Willis says many people assume senior citizens to be conservative, old-fashioned or set-in-their-ways and that is just not the case for the current generation living out their retirements.
“Aging has a stigma too,” Willis says. “It’s a pretty cool thing when we watch seniors grow at 90.”
For both the seniors and the shop, the conversations have been overwhelmingly positive and Vela has plans to meet with more groups in the future.
“If we can be a comfortable resource for people to start their journey, we’re happy about it,” Green says.
Octavia trains consultants to focus on four common senior ailments: insomnia, everyday pain, anxiety and memory impairment. Octavia products feature easy-to-read labels with large text and simple directions. Some products contain the psychoactive ingredient THC and others have only CBD. Patients can choose from lozenges, creams and other forms of cannabis-infused products. Afterward, the consultant stays in touch with the patient to see how the medicine is working and offers advice on adjustments.
Doctors in California can give the go-ahead for medical cannabis use but can’t recommend a dosage regimen, a brand or a product to patients, so that is left to Octavia salespeople. These salespeople are not licensed in any way by the state and don’t need a medical degree, but this is completely legal in California.
The wellness consultants purchase an Octavia sample pack from the company to demonstrate to consumers, but do not directly sell or handle the products for sale. They refer interested customers to the website and a courier service delivers the cannabis. Octavia avoids the “pyramid scheme” label of direct sales by not requiring salespeople to purchase any product beyond the sample pack. However, wellness consultants that recruit other salespeople who are accepted into the 21-day training course do receive a portion of their commission.
Since the company’s founding in 2015, Tice has raised about $600,000 in outside investment and is now hiring more employees. Octavia has about 550 customers and plans to add 30 new salespeople each quarter. The company earned more than $100,000 last year in revenue.
To help jump-start the business venture, Tice took part in a cannabis business accelerator experience called Gateway in California that gave her “CEO lessons” on how to present the company’s ideas and raise money, along with connections to other investors, in exchange for a piece of the company.
Tice is trying to make sure Octavia grows slowly and deliberately, and she leans toward prospective consultants who are familiar with the wellness field, like massage therapists and retired nurses.
“We don’t want to grow too quickly and lose our quality,” Tice says. She also looks for applicants her customer base can relate to — someone who might be a bit older and more personally familiar with senior ailments.
While expanding to other states would mean more potential customers, it would also mean adhering to additional state laws regarding sales, marketing, packaging and delivery. So the Octavia founders plan to focus on the California market for now.
“There are 39 million people here and lots of planned living centers,” Tice says, “so the market is very large.”
Julie Weed is the author of “All I Really Need to Know in Business I Learned at Microsoft.” She has written about 100 articles for The New York Times, as well as stories for Inc., Entrepreneur, Fast Company and others, including a marijuana-focused blog for Forbes.com. And yes, Weed is her real last name.