As legal cannabis spreads across the U.S., there will be plenty of business opportunities for entrepreneurs who understand the market and the culture.
With cannabis now legal (in some form) in two-thirds of the United States, what started off as a niche industry is becoming big business. The U.S. cannabis market is expected to grow to $25 billion by 2025, up from $8.3 billion in 2017, according to New Frontier Data. Those kinds of numbers are going to attract entrepreneurs as well as established businesses looking to cash in on the green rush. But if you’re thinking about getting involved in the cannabis industry, there are steps you should take to separate yourself from the crowd.
When I started Kush Bottles in 2010, I didn’t really know what to expect from the industry. What I found was a tight-knit community where it was easy to get CEOs on the phone and people were happy to deal with each other one-on-one. Transparency is a key quality for anyone thinking about moving into the industry today. Why? It engenders trust, and trust is crucial in this new industry.
As little as 15 years ago, cannabis was still illegal in every state of the union– though of course plenty of adults were using marijuana. But any commerce around cannabis was, by necessity, opaque. Customers had no idea where the cannabis was coming from, what it might have been mixed with or whether the product was any good.
In order for legal cannabis to step out from that shadow, it’s important for companies to be open about their methods and their financing. As a publicly traded company, we’ve had to make our finances public and we’ve found that along the way, it’s helped build trust with our partners and our customers. We’ve also made a concerted effort to get our salespeople to meet face-to-face with companies that use our products (we provide packaging and supplies, custom branding solutions, gas, and now in-house labeling and printing that are highly specialized to the cannabis industry). As other industries move online, personal contact is key in the cannabis industry.
Be a team player
If you want to move into cannabis, it’s also important that you are willing to be supportive of other players. Cannabis is a small industry where everyone pretty much knows each other. We support each other. Of course, we each want to maximize our business, but we still share tips and tricks and meet regularly to socialize.
Be ready to be part of this community, or you’ll find yourself quickly on the outs. As members of an emerging industry, cannabis entrepreneurs are naturally distrustful of outsiders who might be looking to just cash in on the latest trend. Show that you understand the community and want to be a supportive player and you’ll have a much easier time doing business.
Cannabis is a fast-moving industry. You may go into business with one idea but find out quickly that there’s a more profitable path to walk down. When we started our company in 2010, 90 percent of our packaging was for dried flower because that was the bulk of the industry. With that mix changing to include concentrates, edibles, tinctures and prefilled cartridges for vaping, our business has evolved as well. Given that advertising is so restricted, branding is becoming even more important for businesses and that’s now a big part of what we do. Flower packaging now accounts for less than 50 percent of our business as other methods of consumption for consumers evolve and innovate.
The net-net here is, go into the industry with a strong, clear business plan but be prepared to pivot and adapt as the market evolves.
Cannabis is unique. Unlike other rushes (think gold rush, tech rush, etc.), the product here has the potential to really help millions of people. For that reason, it’s a people-driven industry. Relationships matter, whether that relationship is between a partnering business, a supplier and a client or between a sales associate and a customer. Understand that going in, and you’ll have a much better chance of success.