Shannon Vetto took on the role of CEO of Evergreen Market at the end of 2019, just in time to guide the Washington-based cannabis retail chain through the social upheaval and global pandemic that disrupted the world throughout 2020.
Vetto had already managed a business through the global financial crisis of 2008, where, as an executive in the finance industry, she learned skills and strategies that would carry over into the uncertainty of dealing with COVID.
“You work through a crisis and the business applications are the same whether it’s a market tanking or there is a global pandemic,” she says.
Cannabis retailers across the country scrambled to balance a sudden burst in sales with new safety protocols and state regulations — including social distancing, sanitation procedures and curbside pickup.
But COVID was just the beginning of the tumultuous rollercoaster of operating an essential retail business.
In June 2020, four of Evergreen Market’s five stores were vandalized in the wake of George Floyd being murdered. The store’s roll-up doors were a crucial factor for safety, allowing the businesses to close quickly for the day. The Bellevue location was able to lock up “within minutes of looters coming up our driveway,” Vetto says.
“We actually had customers in the store,” Vetto says, “But we were lucky that it was just broken windows and property damage. Just as we were getting used to how essential businesses were supposed to operate, then the looting hit. We were again caught between finding how to balance between safety and our business — of course, safety mattered more.”
Washington’s cannabis industry was already moving at a breakneck speed when Vetto joined the industry, first working in finance for ancillary businesses, then joining Evergreen Market in October 2017. As Evergreen’s chief strategy officer, she was tasked with growing the chain of two retail stores into five locations in Washington (the maximum allowed under state law) and then expanding the business into new territories.
“It feels like it has been 10 years,” Vetto says. “It’s probably one of the most aggressive, capital-intensive industries I have seen, and I think that people have a misconstrued view that people are making money hand-over-fist. It’s hard work.”
She says the owners/operators who built and self-funded the chain had already laid some of the groundwork for the Washington expansion and were essentially looking for someone who understood finance and capital markets to execute the rest of their plan and take the brand out of Washington.
Upon expanding the chain to five locations and securing a retail license in California’s Central Valley, Vetto took the position as the company’s CEO in December 2019.
“The three owners that opened this business have put together a pretty amazing vision as a foundation,” she says. “They built it, delivered it and we were ready to go into California, but as we were embarking on that endeavor COVID hit.”
After a whirlwind four years with Evergreen Market, Vetto says she feels lucky to lead a cannabis company toward what will undoubtedly be the industry’s watershed moment — the eventual federal legalization of cannabis.
“I think this is an industry that deserves to be applauded for where it’s been and in spite of its headwinds,” Vetto says. “It’s very rare to be able to be part of something that is so new, despite the fact that the consumption of marijuana has been around forever.”