By Matt Walstatter
When my wife Meghan and I were preparing to open Pure Green, our dispensary in Portland, Oregon, we realized that we would need to create an organizational structure. That is, we needed to identify areas of responsibility and determine who would be responsible for each area.
We talked about what those areas of responsibility should be, and from those discussions we created several departments.
I use the term department very loosely. In most cases, a department consisted of either Meghan or myself. But over time, as our business has grown, the basic framework that we initially created has remained more or less intact.
If you are opening a dispensary, or if your existing dispensary could use a little organizing, take a look at the departments that we have created. You may want to tweak them a bit or combine certain areas, but they will at least provide a starting point.
A focus on professionalism
Before I list our departments and offer tips specific to each one, I want to point out two themes that will come up in almost every section: professionalism and accountability.
Professionalism is a large, amorphous category that can be particularly difficult to define. In fact, I devoted an entire earlier column to describing and identifying it.
Here I am primarily referencing a specific aspect of professionalism. We decided early on, that we would treat our dispensary as a business, not a cannabis business.
No textbooks exist on how to market a cannabis business, but volumes have been written on retail marketing. Study other businesses to learn what works and what doesn’t. Don’t pigeonhole yourself just because you happen to sell cannabis.
Accountability is also crucially important as you organize your company. For each area or department, you need to identify one person who will be ultimately responsible. This is fairly easy when your departments consist of one person, but no less important.
Here, in no particular order, is the list of departments that we created:
- Marketing Operations;
- Accounting and Bookkeeping; and,
- Human Resources.
Compliance refers to making certain that your business adheres to all relevant laws and rules. This means dealing mainly with state and local governments — if the Feds come knocking, you have bigger problems than compliance.
Compliance issues can be very serious. Failing to follow all relevant rules and laws can lead to sanctions, fines, loss of license, even prosecution. That’s why you need to designate someone to be in charge of all compliance related issues. Even if that person is delegating some duties, she remains responsible for assuring that all compliance obligations are met.
I recommend a proactive approach to compliance. Don’t just wait for the rules and then try to follow them.
Engage with lawmakers and regulators and find ways to offer input as the laws and rules are being decided. Reach out to your regulator and get to know your compliance inspector. That way, when you have a question you have someone to ask.
Engagement also helps if you are ever found to be in violation of any rules. If your regulators know you, and know that you are a good actor who takes compliance seriously, they will be less likely to come down hard or make an example of you.
Your security plan has two main goals — to keep you, your employees, your customers and your property as safe as possible and to satisfy all laws and rules related to security. Because of this strong connection between security and compliance, it may make sense to have the same person in charge of security and compliance. This is especially true in smaller companies where owners and managers wear many hats.
I recommend you work with experienced security professionals who specialize in the Cannabis Industry. Obviously you need your security people to understand security, but it is equally valuable for them to understand cannabis.
Security professionals who know how cannabis is grown, stored, handled and sold will be better able to custom tailor solutions to your specific needs. They will also be more likely to know the security rules specific to cannabis for your jurisdiction, allowing them to help you with the compliance component of security as well.
Marketing is an incredibly important, and frequently overlooked, aspect of any business, cannabis or otherwise. Many growers and purveyors of cannabis think that just having awesome products is enough. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Every dispensary has flower, concentrates and edibles. Many of them have really nice flower, concentrates and edibles. consider quality products a baseline or a starting point. It is your marketing and your branding that drive people to your store, even when it means passing three others on the way. Take this seriously.
I suggest adopting a focused, professional approach to marketing from the start. Hire marketing professionals, ideally with experience in the Cannabis Industry.
Be creative about your marketing, and don’t rule anything out just because you sell cannabis. For example, many cannabis firms shy away from publicity out of fear. At Pure Green, we take the opposite approach. Public Relations is a huge part of what we do. We send out press releases regularly and do everything we can to publicize our activities.
For example, we recently threw a party to celebrate our second anniversary. We sent out a press release which was picked up by a local television station. They filmed live at our party, giving us an opportunity to publicize the party and to announce that we would be reducing prices for recreational customers the following week.
We had at least 15 customers who came in that night because they saw us on the news. You really can’t buy that kind of exposure.
Next time, I will talk about Accounting and Bookkeeping, Operations, Inventory, and HR, offering some useful tips for how to approach these key departments.