A Vested Interest: A Recipe for Success in Cannabis ConsultingEllis Smith with American Cannabis Company discusses a new, more hands-on approach to cannabis consulting.
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In traditional models, hiring a consulting firm to help improve your cannabis operation meant signing a contract and paying a fee for advice specific to your operation. The process often starts with bringing in experts who evaluate the existing processes and equipment, design the best recipe for the facility to flourish, and then they walk away, leaving it up to the grower to follow the plan.
But, as Ellis Smith, Owner and Chief Development Officer for American Cannabis Consulting, or ACC, explained during an interview, “Cannabis is like baking. We can give the business the recipe for how to make the cake, but then someone decides they want to add more baking soda because they saw it on YouTube.”
Growing weary of providing the recipe and not getting to sample the cake, American Cannabis Company has set out to change the conventional cannabis consulting model. On March 11, 2021, the company announced it would be taking a different approach by investing in the controlling share of Medihemp, LLC, and its wholly-owned subsidiary SLAM Enterprises, LLC, and Medical Cannabis Caregivers, Inc., which are doing business as Naturaleaf™, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Managing the Big Turnaround
Acquiring the business, American Cannabis gained three medical cannabis dispensaries, a 10,000 square foot cultivation facility, and a non-volatile extraction operation. Smith explained that the Naturaleaf™ facilities were built out in 2009-2010 with very few upgrades implemented over the past decade.
“I like to reference this facility as a big, fat, greasy pig, and I’ve got her on the best diet known to man,” Smith joked. In his role, managing cultivation and infrastructure, Smith immediately recognized multiple opportunities to upgrade the processes and the equipment to provide higher yields and more consistent cannabis.
“The place was rampant with powdery mildew and all types of pests,” Smith lamented. Additionally, he noted the facility had exposed wood, which provides the perfect environment for molds, mildew, and pathogens. So, the project began by deconstructing everything inside the facility, fixing the basic infrastructure, and covering and sealing wood surfaces.
Once the building itself was secure and ready for upgrades, Smith’s team quickly went to work contracting with the company’s preferred vendors.
Quality Cannabis Starts with Quality Suppliers
As a well-established consulting firm, American Cannabis saw the opportunity to utilize its existing partnerships, suppliers, and service providers to begin to improve the conditions at the dilapidated operation. From high-tech SaaS systems to basic building supplies, the upgrades have been consistently rolling in over the last several weeks.
During the interview, Smith elaborated on some of the changes, equipment, and systems they’ve implemented thus far:
Basic Infrastructure Upgrades
E3 Service Group – Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing
After discovering that the HVAC system they ordered wouldn’t work for this facility, Smith called E3 Service Group. “They came in, walked us through the mistake that happened, spoke with the vendor who made the mistake, and then helped us get a refund,” Smith recalled gratefully.
He continued, “When they got the problem resolved with the previous vendor, E3 then drew up a plan for a much better system at the same cost, so we didn’t miss a beat despite the mistake.”
Additionally, Smith explained that E3 Service Group helped American Cannabis Company finalize the design for the Bottoms Up Airflow system. “They took our system and helped us bring it to the finish line,” Smith concluded.
While listing every department store that the business purchases from might seem overkill, Smith explained that much of the initial rebuild started with materials purchased from the nearest Home Depot. From flooring to drywall to paint, all the materials necessary for the rebuild came from the well-known hardware store.
SaaS Solutions for Critical Processes
Long gone are the days of whiteboards and manual task assignments. Software solutions help growers maintain consistency, improve efficiency, and eliminate repetition.
Built for cannabis operations, Trym helps manage the cultivator’s workflows. The system allows cultivators to create structure and accountability regarding the tasks that need to be done.
Additionally, by integrating with the environmental sensors in the building, the system also provides remote visibility and mobile connectivity. “Trym’s task management platform has been a lifesaver,” Smith exclaimed.
Cultivation Upgrades and Supplies
Sohum Living Soils
Smith and his team at American Cannabis understand that quality cannabis starts with clean, organic living soils. Smith stated, "Our living soil is helping to turn around the plant yields, improve our plants' immune system and it allows us to be fully Clean Green Certified from our growing medium to our IPM. Sohum Soils have helped to reduce workflow and decrease instances of human error as well."
urban gro – Integrated Pest Management Program
Using urban gro’s IPM program, Smith was able to eradicate 95-98% of the pests in the facility in about 60 days, including powdery mildew and bugs. Speaking about working with urban gro, Smith stated, “Their process is great; they put together a prescription unique to your facility’s issues, then they revisit it every couple of weeks and make any necessary adjustments if you still see pest pressure.”
By eliminating the pest problem with urban gro, Smith boasts that they’ve seen an increase of about 22% of their yields compared to the last harvest. “We’re already seeing the plants’ health improve and an overall upward climb of improvement.”
Bios Lighting – LED Lighting
Slowly but surely, American Cannabis is switching the facility to LED lighting fixtures by Bios Lighting. “We’ve received about 25% of our order, and they’re bringing more in every two to three weeks,” Smith elaborated.
Starting in the room with the most heat issues, removing the old HPS lights, the LED has allowed Smith to maintain a proper environment despite not having their cooling system completely installed. He said, “We’ve already seen great benefits because it’s reduced our heat loading – we’ve dropped from 95 to 100-degree temperatures to holding around 80.”
AutoPot – Watering and Irrigation
Although American Cannabis hasn’t implemented the system yet, they intend to use AutoPots for their watering and irrigation system. The AutoPots watering system is gravity fed from a water tank and requires no power, timers, or water mains. The system can be left unattended, and the need for daily watering is entirely eliminated.
“We want to wait until all the infrastructure upgrades, and multi-tiered grow are complete before installing the AutoPots,” Smith advised. But, he admits that without the automatic watering system in place, he currently has three employees that are tasked with watering the plants. “We don’t need people who are walking around watering plants all day,” he said.
Hawthorne – Gardening Supplies
Smith stressed that on a commercial scale, a business must buy from wholesale vendors for their supplies. “You can’t run a successful business purchasing supplies at retail,” he stated. In fact, he estimates they’ve reduced their monthly expenses by over 40% by simply switching to Hawthorne, a gardening supplier out of Oregon.
A giant in the industry, Hawthorne offers valuable benefits to its clients.
“They have a great program, where you get a rebate at the end of every month and every year based on the amount that you spend. We love getting these checks every month,” Smith stated.
As a consulting company, revenue isn’t always consistent. Smith describes consulting as “a roller coaster ride – sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, and you always have to follow the new markets.” He’s confident that taking this vested approach to helping the cannabis industry succeed could help balance the ride.
“I want to show people the value of doing it right, and this is the proven process to bring Clean, Green-certified cannabis to the masses,” he concluded.