By Chris Zawacki & Rob Patton
A vertically integrated cannabis company doesn’t just benefit from fresh perspective—it depends on it. Agility fuels survival in this burgeoning industry, where maturity and dynamics vary wildly depending on location. And a growing number of colleagues are joining our prized sector, making innovation and focus a do-or-die differentiator wherever you may operate. As one of the newer operators in the state, and coming from outside of the cannabis industry, we have the benefit of a fresh perspective. In fact, we want to dispel the myth that organic and sustainable cultivation has to be more expensive, as a part of our larger mission to bring these cultivation and production practices to the Massachusetts market. Our mission is to create a better product and experience for consumers across the board, and one that is healthier for the environment, and the bottom line too.
Pioneering quality flower production is clearly a core differentiator, and in many markets, this involves not accepting the status quo for how things have always been done. The foresight and determination to do things differently, and hire industry experts who hold the same conviction, are critical. However, trailblazing business strategy can be just as important to winning the hearts and commitment of customers today and standing out in maturing markets.
Take our small-town, big-impact Massachusetts dispensary, for example, where we’ve already made waves in the state’s mature cannabis industry, from attracting celebrity licensing deals to bringing our own sustainable cannabis to market—all in less than a year in operation.
Much of this momentum can be credited to the spirit of entrepreneurship embedded in our leadership team. As CEO and CMO, we did not come from a cannabis background, a fact we attribute to being one of the secrets of success. Instead, with a tradition of entrepreneurial initiatives in our family, we felt the freedom to try novel ideas without being entrenched in the traditional way of doing things. And of greatest import is our fierce focus on two missions: a ‘return to nature’ product line for the Massachusetts marketplace grown organically; we believe in its purity and healthful contribution to the body and environment. Secondly, our mission to serve those who have served us: our honored veterans.
Four ways to innovate in cannabis management
There is no one-size-fits-all way to manage a vertically integrated cannabis company—which is only fitting considering today’s wide array of markets, customers, and organizational values. Yet some foundational principles can spark innovation in any brand.
Following are management practices that have served us well, and are universal to all of us operating in our industry:
Be a good corporate citizen. Cannabis leaders can strengthen the communities where they operate by bringing integrity, quality and responsibility to the production and sale of cannabis, as well as by creating good jobs and hiring to reflect the diversity of the local populations they serve.At Green Meadows, for instance, we purposefully sought to align our success with the reinvigoration of Southbridge, our industrial home-base in Massachusetts. Employees are treated like family members whose rewards and experiences matter, as evidenced in many ways including above-market pay and benefits. The majority of our staff comprises underrepresented communities, with 38% women, 27.9% racial minorities, 12.9% veterans, and 9.3% disabilities. We’re especially proud that 39.3% of our management team comes from minority communities while 7.1% identify as LGBTQIA+.
Mindful discount programs also bring corporate citizenship goals to life. For example as a family-owned business with generations of military dedication, we proudly offer the most competitive veteran discounts in the state.
Live your values. Doing what’s right—even if it’s more expensive—results in superior and differentiated products and in turn supports business. For Green Meadows, that’s an investment in cultivating organic and sustainable products, from the fertilizer and farming methods we use to ensure healthy, “living soil,” to full spectrum LED lighting to maximize terpene richness.Such practices promote the triple bottom line by advancing people, profit and planet goals alike. After all, richer soil begets richer flavor and aroma profiles, deepened distinction between strains, and ultimately deeper flavor that persists even at the bottom of the bowl. Many customers appreciate cannabis they can feel good about consuming that results in a better experience, too.
Outflank your bigger, multistate competitors. Being “first” is important, especially in local markets where a more tailored approach can attract consumers away from multistate brands.Here for instance, our focus was on vertical integration from the get-go, and we’ve been differentiating ourselves in the market since inception. We’re actively leveraging wholesale partnerships and recently launched cannabis clones sales—a relatively new concept in Massachusetts.By bringing new offerings to market, independent cannabis companies can meet local demand for top quality cannabis in a way that other, larger players cannot.
Lean in to your non-cannabis experience. Leveraging past entrepreneurial experience can illuminate unexpected growth pathways. The two of us, for example, had no formal cannabis experience until we launched the Green Meadows Cannabis Family, but together brought multiple decades of operational and business development in tech, and digital and traditional marketing.The lessons learned in developing and running a prosperous business in any industry are transferable and then some—for us, these skills directly enabled us to craft an effective business plan that continues to evolve and propel organizational value. Just be sure to know what you don’t know, and surround yourself with cannabis experts who align with your business culture and can bring insider insight to licensing, permitting, operations, and other industry-specific complexities.
Advancing equitable access to quality cannabis, together
Unlike any other industry, cannabis attracts a spirit of camaraderie in competition. Together, we are expanding access to healthy, empowering products for consumers who need and enjoy it.
By bringing fresh thinking to administrative and organizational strategy, you can ensure your company and community benefits from the evolving cannabis industry—and ultimately shapes it for the better, too.
About the Authors
Before taking a full-time role as Green Meadows’ CEO, Chris Zawacki was a Principal at Netology, delivering advanced managed technology services and support for businesses. Chris was also a Vice President at TEKConn and a founding partner of Greenhouse IT, growing and eventually selling the highly-successful business five years after launch.
As co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Green Meadows, Rob leads all sales and marketing activities, dispensary efforts that generate in-store revenue, community engagement and wholesale activities. Prior to founding Green Meadows with his family, Rob held senior leadership positions at several digital and traditional marketing firms, most recently serving as the Vice President of Strategy for Data Axle, a leading data-centric marketing company.