5 Steps For Scaling Your Cannabis Grow Business
There comes a time in every successful cultivator’s life when they need to scale operations. We’ll help you get it done without damaging the quality of your flower or reputation.
In the fast-paced cannabis industry, it isn’t long before a business needs to scale its operations or risk taking a back seat to the competition. But, unfortunately, in a rush to get ahead, some companies sacrifice product quality. “Scaling too fast” is something spoken too often in this industry. And the results can be catastrophic.
If a cannabis business wants to scale their operations successfully, they have to do it in a way that maintains the integrity and consistency of their product. It’s that simple.
Here are some steps you can take to scale your cannabis business successfully:
1. Rely on Existing Staff
Nobody in your organization knows the processes that go into a quality product like your management team, especially if they’ve worked their way up the ladder from production.
“The biggest thing for us was not hiring outside leadership to help us scale,” says Kyle Neathery, Director of Operations/General Manager, High Life Farms, with facilities in Michigan and California. “Leadership has grown from the front line; for instance, if you look at our gummy and chocolate manufacturing, everyone on our team, from supervisors to team leaders, grew through the process, so you have managers and midlevel managers that know how the process works and all of the quality aspects that go into it better than many of the front line employees.”
2. Set Realistic Goals
In a rush to scale, you might be tempted to try the latest and greatest ideas shared in magazines and conferences. Instead, try to duplicate what is currently working and establish or maintain SOP’s, suggests Ryan Douglas, owner of cannabis consulting company Ryan Douglas Cultivation, LLC. He says this isn’t the time to experiment with new lights and brands and get caught up in R&D.
SOPs ensure you stick to what’s working to continue to grow a quality product even as you expand. So while developing these standards can be a chore itself, it will pay off in the long run as you continue to grow the quality product your consumer or retail customer has come to expect. The goal then with SOP’s is to limit the variables that may produce unintended results, particularly from the cultivation side of things.
“I think the quality gets a little wonky when you’re turning the screws a little too tightly on your staff,” says Neathery. “Understand what the appropriate level of scalability is, so you’re not sacrificing quality for high levels of output.”
3. Improve Yields and Efficiency
More cultivators are turning to vertical growing techniques to improve yields, some moving from one tier to up to six. One report found the number of cultivators using tiers in both the vegetative and flowering stages has increased during the past three years, with 38% of participants indicating they grow vertically in the flowering stage and 20% in veg.
A business can significantly increase yields and take advantage of otherwise empty space by building floor-to-ceiling shelving units and utilizing LED lighting. Canada-based GreenSeal Cannabis Co. nearly quadrupled their yields (from 400 kilos annually to 1500-1600 kilos) by adding six layers of shelving. However, most growing operations don’t stack that high. You must give attention to growing short, stocky plants that will produce a lot of buds.
A cannabis business heading upward can become more efficient by doing things like adding a lab for tissue culture propagation. When scaling up a business, it’s worth looking into the benefits of producing cannabis plants by tissue culture rather than cloning. According to one source, a cannabis cultivation operation can produce 2.4 million seedlings per year by micropropagation compared to 66,000 clones.
Assess the demand for cannabis in your market before investing in a tissue culture lab and hiring the skilled staff needed.
4. Lower Costs and Become More Sustainable
Besides keeping up with the competition, growers ultimately scale a business to lower costs and become more profitable. So, as you scale a business, keep an eye on the potential savings you can realize by adding automation and, as mentioned above, growing vertically to increase yields while paying, for instance, the same in heating that you would with a horizontal cultivation setup.
Growers in the cannabis space are aware of the demands for energy and water used in producing cannabis on a large scale. Becoming more sustainable means, in most cases, saving money as well, which gives growers an incentive to look for ways to reuse and recycle as much as possible.
For instance, large-scale cannabis operations spend tons of money on growing media. However, growers using quality coco coir, such as that produced by Riococo, can reuse this growing medium after it is tested and amended, if necessary, and save a ton of money and work toward becoming more sustainable.
5. Automate the Harvest
Automation is another consideration in scaling a business. You’ll need to make some difficult choices regarding the aspects of cultivation and harvesting that you should automate. For example, should you automate trimming and sorting? These are two processes that can be automated, with each having its pros and cons, but it’s up to you to make the correct determination.
Neathery says High Life Farms didn’t anticipate the success they would eventually achieve and, as a result, didn’t have as much space as they would have liked when they started to scale their business. Adding equipment like trimmers and sorters helped them achieve their goal of scaling up their business with their existing space.
Yes, you can scale your cannabis business successfully without sacrificing quality.
Scaling a business without sacrificing the quality of your product is achievable as long as you pay attention to the variables that produced a successful product in the first place. Trust in your staff, improve efficiencies, automate where necessary, and continue to deliver the quality product your customers have come to expect.