A marijuana dispenser in Colorado is modelling his career after an unlikely business hero: TV dinner tycoon Clarence Birdseye, who practically invented the frozen food industry thanks to his dual interests in food preservation and inventing new technology.
Ryan Fox is hoping to do the same by innovating in both the distribution and retail ends of legal cannabis.
Fox is the founder and CEO of Kindman cannabis products and the Grass Station, the distribution arm of his business. He believes consumers might want the option of buying a pack of bud in the same way they’d buy a frozen meal; prepackaging his cannabis product instead of selling it bulk and letting distributors mete it out.
Since 2008, growers have also owned distribution centres, Fox said. The law states that if you’re selling medical marijuana, 70% of what you sell has to be product you grew. But rules governing recreational cannabis are more relaxed than those that control medical marijuana.
This represented an opportunity for Fox to come up with a branded product that other dispensaries would be much more willing to sell in much bigger numbers than before.
“As recreational came out, we looked at things differently and said, ‘OK, we have a chance to look at this more like a regular product that consumers buy,'” Fox told Tech Insider. “It doesn’t make sense to be vertically integrated — Coca-Cola doesn’t [exclusively sell its products in] Coca-Cola stores.”
Six years ago, when Fox was first starting out, he was growing and distributing medical marijuana. But this positioned him perfectly to acquire licenses to dispense recreational marijuana once full legalization in Colorado happened in 2014. Now, Fox’s Grass Station brand refers to a line of cannabis as well as a retail store, while his Kindman products are sold at a variety of retailers.
Like Birdseye did, Fox constantly innovates in his factories. An electrician since age 19, his wiring expertise is what led him to get into the cannabis business in 2008. At that time, the construction and real estate downturn was making it tougher to turn a profit as an electrician.
He started consulting for some cannabis cultivation facilities around then and realised there was a “huge demand for electrical in the indoor facilities,” he said. “So that was my first step into the business.”
He “immediately just saw mass inefficiencies in design,” he said, as well as issues with the production and operation fundamentals. He’s always been interested in streamlining things, so it made sense for him to apply those skills to this fledgling industry.
A longtime interest in commercial and residential real estate came in handy, too. Fox started buying up property in Denver to “take a swing at this myself,” he said.
“I attempted from the beginning to set up a company and an operation that was fundamentally as efficient as I could, or make sure that was a principal value in everything we do,” he said.
At his three massive warehouses totaling almost 100,000 square feet, he’s developed an irrigation system to keep costs down. He also uses technology developed for mixing soap at automatic car washes to mix fertiliser, he said.
Fox’s Kindman brand has 21 strains, which have now been on the recreational market for a year and a half, he said. Kindman is named after Colorado slang for marijuana — “kind bud” referred to any type of cannabis that came from a specific strain or variety. “I wanted the reputation of having kind bud, so I decided to be the Kindman,” Fox said.
But don’t let Fox’s expertise make you think he’s always been a hardcore hobbyist — he said he was more of a “curious onlooker” before entering the industry himself. His professional interests — electrical wiring, contracting, and commercial real estate — are really what opened the door for him to become a weed tycoon.
Now, Kindman products are sold in 25 dispensaries around the state, he said.
“What we tried to do was allow the consumer to identify the product with a brand, instead of, ‘I’m going down to the dispensary to get what they have today,'” Fox said. “We’ve been able to offer stable pricing, and the biggest part of that is that we’ve been able to package and individualize the product.”
Right now, Fox said, in Colorado, “there are more people trying to brand retail environments than prepackaged” cannabis. But putting more of an emphasis on prepackaged goods is, Fox believes, a much more economical way of doing things.
As far as Birdseye, “what’s interesting about that is that he just didn’t change what people ate or how they ate it,” Fox said. “He just changed how they got it.”
Fox has maintained the typical units of measurement for recreational marijuana smokers, who always bought their pot by the gram or the “eighth,” which is three and a half grams. In this way, he differs from typical medical marijuana companies, which sell in bulk, then give customers larger quantities of cannabis.
Kindman customers “don’t want seven grams or 28 grams of one thing,” Fox said. Instead, they want a variety of types.
Now, Kindman sells about 75 pounds of pre-packaged cannabis per week, Fox said.
“For the longest time,” he continued, “people got pot from a little plastic bag. We’re trying to change the way people get pot.”
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