The focus of this Grower’s Spotlight is Veritas Cannabis, which recently doubled its grow operation. “We started as a white label company because Colorado’s market was saturated with generally low-quality cannabis. We knew we were doing something unique because our end results stood out. We initially occupied half of a 24,000-square-foot building. It had small rooms where we could employ our boutique style of growing. The modularity of multiple small rooms meant that we could scale it up by building out more rooms,” explained Mike Leibowitz, one of three partners at Veritas. “When you have a new room that you’ve never grown in, you don’t know if anything will work at first. In our case, we’ve occupied our new place for only a month and 75 percent of it contains plants.”
“We planned it out internally for months,” Leibowitz said of the expansion. “We knew exactly how we wanted to build, how we wanted to focus our efforts, how we wanted to scale up, and it was all very natural.”
A year ago Veritas signed a lease for the other half of its 24,000-square-foot building, completing renovation and construction in November 2016. Currently Veritas has 15 flowering rooms measuring roughly 600 square feet with approximately 24 lights. “In our new expansion, we decided to use a computer system to collect analytical data. Now we get alerts when an air conditioner or other equipment goes down,” offered Leibowitz.
Veritas switched from single-ended 1000W HPS bulbs to HID DE HPS bulbs, which allow more coverage. Additionally, each room also has its own growing atmosphere that has:
- a dedicated air conditioning unit,
- CO2 monitoring sensors, and
- an exhaust fan that runs during the night cycle to reduce humidity.
Ramping up to a full-scale environment requires a significant time investment. “You have a much tighter schedule. We had to maintain a rigorous schedule to not fall behind or let plants spoil and die,” said Leibowitz.
Finding personnel is also a challenge, especially in a relatively small industry like Colorado. Veritas generally finds new hires through word of mouth. “Anybody can cook an egg but it’s challenging to cook a perfect omelet. We feel the same way about cultivating marijuana. You can easily grow cheap weed and smoke it. But to grow great cannabis is a labor-intensive project. We look for passionate people, often younger, who know they’re going to do hard work for a long time because they love the challenge. They love taking a small plant and watching it grow,” explained Leibowitz.
Veritas hired an architect, electricians, HVAC companies, and a construction company to design and build its facility. The initial planning and legal work was all completed internally.
Leibowitz noted that agencies and regulations can hamper your growth because some agencies and departments have overlapping, contradictory rules. “For example, the MED (Marijuana Enforcement Division) may want locks that open a specific way, and the fire department wants the doors to open another way,” said Leibowitz. “You will also run into unexpected timing issues, which lead to increased costs and lost profits. For example, you’ll wait for a bunch of lights and when they get installed, you realize you need a power upgrade. Then you have to wait for the power company.”
Advice for Growers Seeking to Scale
The first piece of advice Leibowitz offers business owners is to curb their expectations. “You will need to explore the needs of growing and balance them against your budget. Expect delays. Expect price increases. Expect to spend more than you have budgeted,” he counseled.
Throughout the process, communication is critical. “Uncertainty and unpredictability have become the status quo in the industry,” said Leibowitz. “That’s why we conduct regular, biweekly meetings. We’re constantly making sure we’re growing properly and correcting mistakes.”
Planning is another critical step, according to Leibowitz. “You should start the scaling process by asking yourself some questions: What is your business model? Where are you located? Do you want quality cannabis or lots of cannabis? Budget and your preferences change how you grow your business.”
If you’ve never expanded before, take the time to learn how to build a grow. There will be a lot of trial and error so Leibowitz advises that if you don’t have the time or money to learn and make mistakes, then hire a consultant.