Erin Phillips | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Erin Phillips

Background:  

The Strainwise Inc. brand is behind nine medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries. The Lakewood, Colorado-based firm also is a full-service, seed-to-sale consulting firm.

The Mistake:

I neglected my brand.

When I first got into this industry, I was coming from real estate, so I had no experience in cannabis at all. I started with one small store. For the first 12 months or so, I treated it as a fix-and-flip; the plan was to build up the business, then turn around and sell it. After a few failed sales, I realized that we weren’t going to get anywhere in this industry with just the one store and no brand. It had no identity.

Not having a brand limited our exposure to the consumer and, as a result, it limited our profitability

This was all around 2012, before recreational marijuana was legalized.

That realization started a process that ended with the birth of the Strainwise brand. We came up with the concept and decided that we were going to expand as well. We went from one dispensary to now licensing nine that are both medical and recreational.

I had been working for a company that my husband owns. That’s the company that owns the dispensary licenses. When we figured out the concept, we split the two. He remains the owner of all the dispensary licenses, and I own the brand, the consulting arm and everything that’s moved forward since then.

We were one of the first companies in the marijuana space to create a brand. I just wish we had done it sooner.

We decided that we didn’t want to be like the Wal-Mart of marijuana, and now every location has its own identity.

The Lesson:

I don’t think people give enough credit to the value of a brand in this industry. You really have to have an identity.

There’s more to creating a brand than coming up with a name and a logo. We wanted to create an experience in the dispensary. We decided that we didn’t want to be like the Wal-Mart of marijuana, and now every location has its own identity, or sub-brand, because they serve different demographics. They have their own color identifier and their own unique name, like The Sanctuary or The Retreat.

Strainwise is now a nationally recognized brand, and we promote that through the different arms of our company. We have Strainwise, the brand, which is on the dispensaries in Colorado. We are also licensing that brand in other states and use it for merchandising. Some people are also now recognizing our logo without anyone having to say the word Strainwise.

The other important thing for me in terms of branding was to protect my four children. People in the industry all know Strainwise, but people outside generally don’t. I didn’t want my children to have to drive down the street and see a pot leaf with a green cross and think, “Oh, that’s what mom created.” So we needed to be somewhat nondescript without being boring.

You can follow Strainwise on Twitter at @Strainwise.

Photo courtesy of Strainwise.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email cberman@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Denver.