Cannabis remains federally illegal, yet cannabis businesses are deemed “essential”, so much so that many dispensaries were allowed to stay open even in the midst of a pandemic. Despite being named “essential” cannabis businesses are not afforded even the most basic privileges designed to protect other brands such as access to financial banking services.
Cannabis businesses may be deemed “essential” but brands are still out there fighting for their lives. To get a better sense of how brands are coping
I interviewed 11 cannabis CEOs to get their thoughts on how COVID 19 has affected their businesses.
The first issue at hand for all CEOs interviewed was safety.
“Public safety should be your number one priority as a business that tends to immunocompromised individuals,” says Narmin Jarrous, Executive Vice President of Business Development and Director of Social Equity at Exclusive Brands.
Indeed, many CEOs expressed concern as to how they could best protect their employees and customers. These concerns caused CEOs to take action quickly.
“We quickly made the switch to curbside service so that we could accommodate our guests while keeping them safe,” continues Jarrous.
“We instituted new policies on hygiene, social distancing, and training on properly using PPE to ensure both our employees and guests are safe. We screen our employees and do temperature checks upon entry to our buildings. Exclusive Brands has even gone as far as sending PPE to other stores so that budtenders all across the state are kept as safe and healthy as possible. Additionally, we pay our employees to stay home if they test positive for COVID.”
Implementing masks, PPE and social distancing were common actions undertaken by many CEOs to halt COVID. Some CEOs opted to eliminate that risk altogether.
“I was concerned about companies paying their bills and lacked clarity regarding what was happening, so we cut costs. We adjusted to being a remote workforce,” David Belsky, CEO and Founder of FlowerHire, a cannabis recruiting business. “We produced virtual webinars with various thought leaders from our network, and have received a lot of positive feedback and referrals since then.”
One surprising trend CEOs reported was rapid growth and higher levels of consumption by consumers.
“Our business is up, there is more consumption and overall we’re seeing a 17% increase in sales compared to the same timeframe last year,” says Anthony Franciosi, Founder and CEO of the Honest Marijuana Company.
“Even in the pandemic reality, we are experiencing month over month growth north of 20%,” says Coco Meers, CEO and co-founder of the CBD brand Equilibria.
“Covid has actually HELPED launch Alive & Kicking,” says Evan Kennedy, CEO and Co-Founder of the hemp brand Alive & Kicking.
“Due to the high demand for delivery, we were able to offer our product through a major statewide delivery service in California,” continues Kennedy. “This completely changed our internal process. We initially started selling dispensary to dispensary, but moving to a statewide solution now feels more like traditional e-commerce which streamlines so much.”
Indeed, many CEOs remarked that COVID seemed to drive a need for contactless technology. Some CEOs took this need to heart quite literally, as is the case of Harvest Connect CEO Kevin Quirk.
“We rigged up a pulley system where customers could pull into the back driveway and call us to order their products over the phone,” says Quirk, “Our Connectors would then pull the product off our shelves and deliver it right down to the car window via our Contactless Delivery Pulley System. This has become a local favorite for its innovation and novelty.”
Other businesses embraced the technological aspect of contactless user experiences in a more literal sense.
“This pandemic caused us to innovate at a faster pace,” begins Steven Brown, CEO of Nothing But Hemp, a hemp and CBD retailer. “All of a sudden we had to close our stores, yet there was still a demand for our products from our customers.”
Brown decided to take matters into his own hands.
“Nothing But Hemp went back to the drawing board and created Hempy Delivery. It provides same-day delivery to our customers. Now, they get nearly the same feeling of instant gratification from our online stores as our brick and mortar stores.”
Even with contactless technology available, businesses still needed to solve the logistical issue of how to best deliver products to their clients.
“We built a connection with local customers by increasing our delivery fleet to over 30 vehicles…and by implementing extensive safety measures during the pandemic,” begins David Farris, VP of Sales & Marketing at the dispensary Planet 13. “The result? Planet 13’s Q1 earnings Planet 13 accounted for 10% of all retail cannabis sales for the entire Nevada market.”
Once COVID hit, “…we immediately shifted our focus to ecommerce and delivery,” says Marc Matulich, Founder and CEO of Airfield Supply Co., a CA based dispensary. “We’ve added eight Teslas to our fleet of electric delivery vehicles and instituted a touchless prepay system that allows both our employees and customers to avoid touching cash.”
Implementing delivery systems and finding ways to put contactless systems in place seemed to be a given for many cannabis business owners. A massive new influx of customers, however, requires creative solutions.
“We have amped up our customer service team to specifically deal with questions related to the stresses people encounter during this time,” says Tara Wells, Co-founder of Ganja Goddess.
With new online delivery systems and e-commerce shops thriving, the need to handle customers’ requests for more information grew more pressing.
“On the support front, the pandemic has really shown us the importance of virtual support, continues Meers. “We’ve been growing our Dosage Specialist teams and expanding hours of coverage to be able to meet the needs of the community for more appointments.”
It seems like businesses who are able to pivot quickly will survive for now, though that sense of safety is only transient.
“I would hope that since our industry was deemed ‘essential’ that we will be further assessed for federal legality. That would make sense, right?,” concludes Rachel King, Founder & Culinary Director at Kaneh Co, a CA based bakery specializing in legal cannabis products.