Sally Nichols, the President of Sales and Distribution at the prominent one-for-one cannabis company Bloom Farms, is a vibrant, compassionate, and keyed-in entrepreneur. She spoke to Honey Pot about the personal challenges she has faced, as well as her commitment to social responsibility, women, and her team.
NEHA MULAY: You often say that your career is focused on creating things from scratch. You’ve done this with early Internet tech companies, with K-Swiss, and now in the cannabis space. Where do you start when you’re creating a brand? What have been the biggest challenges so far in your experience of brand-building within cannabis?
SALLY NICHOLS: The difference between a product company and a brand is the level of passion, the message, and what you are hoping to convey through the company and the product. There are close to 1500 cannabis product companies in the space, but very few of them have articulated a brand proposition, a commitment to the consumer, or to the community around them. They are not necessarily pulling people into a belief system around a life or around the product. Whenever I look to start something from scratch, there is usually a belief system or a call to action associated with it that defines the difference between a brand and a product, and it is why people take Bloom Farms off the shelves.
NM: Bloom was one of the brands invited to be part of this fall’s landmark Luxury Meets Cannabis Conference. Do you see Bloom as a luxury brand, and what is your opinion on the evolution of the luxury category in cannabis? What would you like to see as the next phase of Bloom products?
SN: I definitely consider Bloom a luxury brand at an accessible price. Cannabis is still a price-sensitive market. As long as the illicit market exists, we are still very much tied to price. I believe we are firmly a luxury brand…because we have always had a commitment to style and grace and packaging, we have always treated our consumer with the utmost respect and delivered them with the highest quality product that we could. Our hardware is beautiful…I think we are the only cannabis brand that has been highlighted in Architectural Digest as an “exquisite product!”
NM: What advice would you give to cannabis consumers who are confused by the legalities and health scares surrounding the industry?
SN: Buy from legal retailers, ask to see their licenses and know what you are buying. That remains the biggest barrier for the industry growing and it also remains the biggest barrier to the consumer. I think the consumer has to push the state to enforce regulations. In California, voters went to the polls and they voted to create a legal market. Consumers should be pushing their politicians to enforce the legal market. The second thing they should do is just vote with their dollars, right down to retail.
NM: Can you elaborate on these programs and some of the other measures you’re taking for Bloom to have a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) impact? What results are you seeing in the local community?
SN: I think there is something fundamentally different about Bloom Farms. It is one thing to create a program, it is quite another to live change as an ethos and as a company. At least half of our employees are women and at the director level, almost all of them are women. Many at the director level have been brought into the company at entry level and we matured them into director level positions. There is a deeper level of authenticity in that kind of glass ceiling approach because we are not going out and bringing people in. We are rewarding the women that have been there, delivering consistently for years and we are giving them a shot at growth.
Back in 2015, we picked Culver City and we honed down on that area as a small community where we could change people’s mind about cannabis, and we could bring economy to the area. Every single thing that we bought and used to build that facility was coming from a mom and pop shop in Culver City. We were taking the money that we were making from cannabis and we were pouring it back into the local community. Finding jurisdictions that would let us operate as a cannabis company was hard enough, pouring money back into those economies was even harder.
NM: You have talked about the challenges of working in a largely unregulated and rapidly shifting industry. How does your business model keep up with this perpetual evolution?
SN: Ultimately there are two pieces to it, it is the people that you hire and it’s the processes that you implement. I think we have done a pretty solid job of hiring people who are comfortable working in rapidly changing environments— individuals that are nimble, have grit, and are comfortable working with change.
Second thing is tied to our infrastructure and our processes. The very first thing that I did when I came into Bloom Farms is build a digital distribution infrastructure where all of our inventory was individually catalogued, scanned, and stored in a database. Having a tremendous amount of data on our products enables a nimble business.
The third thing is that we have really devoured the regulations, torn them apart and started answering and complying with all of those mandates well in advance.
NM: Bloom as a company has committed to promoting women in leadership, and throughout your career you have been a true champion of women leading businesses across all sectors. You’ve co-founded GirlVentures, which backs four women-led startups and promotes inclusion at high levels of business. What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs and leaders?
SN: I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. I’m dyslexic and I was raised at a time when people didn’t understand what dyslexia was. As a young kid with dyslexia and very little awareness of what that means, you develop all these new ways of getting from A to Z and therefore you wire your brain to be an out of the box thinker that can solve classic problems in a non-traditional way.
My advice to women would be to learn the language of money. Learn how money makes money. Ultimately, if you are a businessperson, you are taking an investor’s money and it is your job to “magically” turn it into more money. It will change the way they sell, the way they pitch, even the way that they think about their own business idea.
NM: How, in general, do you think women can best support each other in career strategies, goals, and professional networking? Where do we need to improve?
SN: Recently, I was invited to join this organization called Chief. It is a YPO for women only and the goal is to sit down in a cross-disciplinary fashion and to help women problem solve issues. I would suggest that women create more of those organizations on a local level. Leverage your friends and be comfortable being vulnerable and be open to criticism. Sometimes women are each other’s worst enemies out of jealousy, out of fear. Always be open to evolving and rethinking your idea. Make a commitment to shed any jealousy, fear, and worry that you have around supporting other women.