CHAPTER TWO : LEARNING TO THRIVE
Historically, anyone who came between you and your cannabis took an unreasonable-sized pinch from your sack, so it’s understandable that the role of “middleman” in the cannabis industry is a dubious one. But in a market as tumultuous as marijuana, having a dealmaker isn’t a necessary evil. It’s just necessary.
Like it or not, the cannabis industry is growing up. But even in today’s more sophisticated market, most growers don’t have the resources to create differentiated and successful brands. They also struggle to track their costs and manage their inventory, which makes it all but impossible to comply with regulations, manage supplies and work with vendors efficiently. Metrc, the state’s mandatory seed-to-sale tracking system, is complicated and difficult to navigate. Sales is a logistical nightmare, with retailers scattered across the state. Flower is perishable. From the moment it’s harvested, the clock starts ticking.
Like it or not, the cannabis industry is growing up.
Cannabis has largely been a buyer’s market since Oregon opened up to recreational sales, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy industry for buyers. Retailers are overtaxed and overly abundant, often operating on margins too thin or volatile to devote resources to an inventory management system or a refined purchasing strategy. They’re also overwhelmed with growers competing for attention and space, and individual buyers don’t have the time for due diligence about which brands will be professional and reliable partners. Vetting takes time buyers don’t have.
The Sweet Life promotes its brands in a suite of other carefully curated complementary products, a rising-tide-lifting-boats approach that wields the strength of that diversified offering to increase the success rate for individual brands. If a retailer needs net terms, The Sweet Life facilitates that negotiation. The company considers itself a partner to its vendors, with a deep level of responsibility for the success of its brands.
Every decision begins with a simple question: “Does this increase sales?” For everyone involved: the grower, the vendor, the retailer.
The Sweet Life might wind up talking a starry-eyed entrepreneur out of launching a brand. No one knows the market better than Joy and Marissa, which means the work often involves a reality check. “We’re the voice of reason,” Joy says about how much investment is required to launch a cannabis company and how much competition there is in the industry today. At the same time, she recognizes that every business starts from a different place. “We meet our clients where they are.”
This nimble, women-led endeavor understands exactly how the cannabis industry is changing.
The Sweet Life has also developed proprietary systems for data tracking, inventory management, reconciliation, and sales, which brings sanity to a market still rife with disorder and volatility. Regular audits of its products means the company can quickly spot and respond to trends, from looming over-supplies to shortages. A close relationship with state regulators means the company can push for accurate, updated data. The Sweet Life has spent years carefully building relationships in sales regions across the state, gradually expanding its market share and influence in each region. When growers need a place to sell large amounts of product quickly, The Sweet Life knows where to sell it, and how to land on a pricing structure that represents a “win” for all involved.
For the hundreds of buyers The Sweet Life works with across nine sales territories, the company takes the work out of the vetting process. Retailers can analyze 45 brands and hundreds of SKUs at once. They can negotiate package deals and favorable net terms, with The Sweet Life absorbing that liability. The company knows its retailers and knows their needs.
This nimble, women-led endeavor understands exactly how the cannabis industry is changing. Rampant consolidation makes it harder for independent and women- and minority-owned companies to thrive, but it also creates unprecedented growth opportunities. The Sweet Life looks to the future, which means lobbying state and federal legislators for export bills and regulations more friendly to the entire industry. The company’s ideal brands are top performers in at least one category, well-funded and with some infrastructure or a business plan in place.
The Sweet Life’s pursuit of efficiency is relentless. That’s good for producers and processors, and it’s good for buyers. It brings sanity to the Wild West of the cannabis industry, and safety to companies that face the shock of market tumult. In the prohibition era, all that mattered was not getting caught.
Now, cannabis companies need to grow up to survive.