There’s something to be said about a dispensary owner who currently oversees 100 different businesses across the United States. So it comes as no surprise that we were utterly blown away by the value and knowledge of Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care, in this interview.
If you’re in the cannabis industry and are not familiar with Nick, it’s undoubtedly time to get acquainted. Long before becoming a pioneer of the industry, Nick was a Vice President at Goldman Sachs for six years and had spent an additional decade investing in health care.
One day, at a social event, an acquaintance mentioned the potential of the cannabis industry and Nick jumped on this new business opportunity, opening his first dispensary in 2013 in Washington DC. Today, he owns 100 dispensaries across multiple states, from Massachusetts to Arizona and everywhere in between.
Needless to say, the man’s got a lot of wisdom to share with anyone currently already in—or looking to enter—the cannabis industry.
Here are our top 10 takeaways:
Keep reading to discover why each of these factors plays such a crucial role in running a successful dispensary.
The cannabis industry is new and rapidly growing, so it’s not necessarily as stable as other large industries out there. As such, you’ll quickly find when hiring a team that you attract different types of people who don’t have the same training and mentality as those you might find in a more institutionalized environment.
According to Nick, “To this day, human capital is at the heart of everything that we do, because having the right people is the main factor that makes or breaks any organization, in my opinion—but especially one that’s as high growth and capital intense as cannabis that is so highly regulated. You just can’t afford to have anything but the best people you can find.”
As we’re currently seeing today, a supply chain can easily make or break a business, but this is even more important in the cannabis industry. You always want to ensure a level of consistency in your products, to ensure your customers are satisfied every single time.
If there are weak links in your supply chain that are preventing you from consistently delivering quality products, it’s your duty as a dispensary owner to find them and replace them.
Although Nick initially entered into the cannabis industry as a dispensary owner in Washington DC, he was able to tap into a market despite the heavily regulated federal environment. Today, cannabis is more widely accepted across the country, but certain regions are still a bit behind on the trend.
As a dispensary owner, you need to keep your finger on the pulse of the different things happening in various states surrounding cannabis laws and keep that in mind for potential future business opportunities.
In an emerging industry, it’s essential to look for people with skill sets outside of the traditional hiring scope. Here’s what Nick avoids: “We’re not looking for people who have been in the same job at the same company for 35 years. We’re not looking for folks who have 25 years of experience at a big CPG group.”
Instead: “We need people who are innovators. We need people who are problem solvers. We need people who can do things and are willing to roll up their sleeves, and are not waiting around for someone else to make the decision. We need people who are high integrity, who are just as comfortable raising their hand to tell you something went wrong as they are telling you something went wrong and they have a solution.”
"We need people who are innovators.
We need people who are problem solvers.
We need people who can do things and are willing to roll up their sleeves, and are not waiting around for someone else to make the decision."
Being able to get licensed across so many different states as a dispensary owner is no simple task. Nick chalks it up to a number of things, including the basics like filling out paperwork well and staying within the boundaries given.
Above all, though, Nick believes what has helped him the most has been engaging locally, “You have to have credibility with local decision-makers. That means a lot of different things in each market. But if you just show up and if you’re kind of new to the environment, no one really wants to take a risk on you.”
When it comes to allocating capital, in addition to prioritizing your human capital you also need to pay attention to your products.
“You really have to understand the segment of the markets you want to pursue. You have to make sure you have the right products on your shelves, not just any products, and you have to make sure you have the right training for your people.”
The ultimate goal is to engage with consumers directly so that you can learn from them. As a dispensary owner, it can be easy to get inundated with the paperwork and logistics involved in running a business. Still, it’s always important to take the time to understand the community you are serving.
Here’s what Nick has to say about understanding his markets:
“If we’ve done one right thing, it’s that we were willing to sort of take the time to introduce ourselves, to talk a little bit about who we are and what we do and why we do the things we do. And I think that ultimately did pay off because it helped us understand the communities that we were hoping to serve.”
Operating across so many different markets allows Nick to be able to speak about the industry as a whole. While it can be challenging, especially more so in some areas more than others, the good news for anyone looking to become a dispensary owner is that there is no shortage of opportunities as the market continues to grow so quickly.
All businesses are challenging to run. But, what makes becoming a dispensary owner even more difficult is that people will inevitably judge you. While the cannabis industry has made strides in acceptance and understanding of its overall benefits to the community it serves, it still has a fair set of challenges.
People who aren’t familiar with the cannabis industry are quick to pass judgment, and you have to be ready for that. Don’t let it get to you. Instead, use it to motivate you to educate your community about the benefits of what your dispensary is currently doing.
Running any business requires having a thorough understanding of what your goals are. As a dispensary owner, this is just as crucial. Not only should you know what you want to be but you should also have a good idea of what you don’t want to be as well.
So, there you have it. You’ve heard it from the horse’s mouth. Nick continues to be wildly successful in the cannabis industry and wants to help anyone looking to do their best as well by providing his expert opinion on what sets excellent dispensaries apart from the rest.
If you’re looking to become a dispensary owner but not quite sure where to start, we recommend checking out our guide below!