The CEO of Gage Growth Corp., a Michigan-based operator, talks expansion and social equity, partnering with Cookies, a passion for flower and more on the Honeysuckle podcast.
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Did you know Michigan was one of the nation’s hottest markets for premium flower? Well, you do now, thanks to Fabian Monaco. The CEO of Gage Growth Corp., a leading Michigan-based cannabis operator, recently appeared on the Honeysuckle podcast to discuss the company’s plans in the state and social equity opportunities, as well as its longstanding partnership with globally-renowned brand Cookies. And yes, there was mention of many delectable strains from the Gage cultivation artists.
“You’ve got to remember Michigan has a refined consumer,” Monaco said of Gage’s rollout strategy in the state. “They’ve been going to a dispensary now for over a decade before the new state-run program came into place.”
Michigan legalized medical cannabis in 2008, and by 2013, approximately 100 dispensaries were operating in the area within a legal gray zone. By the time state licensing caught up to the demand and adult-use cannabis was allowed for retail (starting in December 2019), most of the population already had highly specific tastes.
Gage, which currently has 15 locations in Michigan and is seeking to open more before the year’s end, understands the hometown consumer exceptionally well. The brand’s dispensaries are known for their loud, poppy street aesthetic, but also for providing a warm and safe environment. As Monaco explained, the focus remains on quality, local innovation, and helping Michiganders improve their lives.
“To be honest, we’re constantly on the hunt to… find top-notch quality flower,” he noted. “Flower’s so key in Michigan [that] we are constantly trying to find even dedicated wholesale partners. So, you know, we’ll go out there to a specific Michigan grower that’s really cultivated his own kind of flavors of flower, and try to showcase those and partner with that individual to have a new Gage strain… We are not sitting on our hands when it comes to flower variety. [In] our first quarter, we had about 10 to 12 flavors in the mix. Now we have close to 30.”
One advantage Gage has is its partnership with Cookies, the now-iconic brand established by rapper Berner. Monaco recalled that he first approached the Cookies team to bring the brand to Michigan, and that Gage has the exclusive rights to all cultivation, processing and retail under the name within the state. Thus far, the collaboration has worked so well that earlier this summer, Gage announced its intention to expand the Cookies footprint into Canada for the very first time.
“We’re probably one of their bigger partners in North America today,” Monaco commented. “We were the first partner outside of California for them… [A] little bit of a chance that we took on them, but it’s been paid back in spades in the sense that we got to learn so much from basically the best. They’re the Red Bull of the space… the Grey Goose vodka of the space, the Nike of the space, right? And so, when you get to partner with the best, not only do you get to learn so much, but [it] helps elevate your brand.”
Also like Cookies, which works actively to promote social equity in the cannabis industry, Gage has built a strong reputation on its initiatives for the public good. The company has pledged twenty $50,000 social equity grants to entrepreneurs from disenfranchised communities, awarding their third such honor to Margeaux Bruner of sustainable hemp brand Holi Smokables just last week. (Bruner is the first female innovator to receive the grant; Gage’s other two honorees to date are Ryan Basore of Redemption Cannabis and Diop Shumake of Runner’s High 5K.) Anyone can apply for the program, and Monaco encouraged all interested parties to consider doing so.
“It’s one thing to just say here, go ahead, take this amount of money; and it’s another thing to actually spend the time and effort into helping somebody out,” he stated. Recalling how Basore used the Gage grant to grow Redemption Cannabis into a multimillion-dollar brand, Monaco asserted that the opportunity for being showcased in Gage dispensaries is invaluable. “We’re blessed to be part of the Cookies network and Berner and Rick Ross and their following, and Snoop [Dogg] and Wiz [Khalifa] as well… So that’s what we try to do when we partner with individuals on the social equity side of things. It’s not just about ‘Hey, here’s some money to go start your brand.’ [It’s] ‘Here’s some capital to get you started and then more importantly, let us help you introduced you to our network so that you get the advantages…’ You get to already have that access, and [wherever] we can help out from an operational standpoint, we’re there. We’re happy to help.”
From cultivating the most phenotypically perfect cannabis strains to accelerating BIPOC innovators, to ensuring brightly-lit dispensaries are the places Michiganders want to be, it seems Gage is at the top of its game in the Great Lakes State. Monaco certainly believes the best is yet to come, and it will be from embracing the wider cannabis community – in worldwide and local partnerships, in understanding the consumer – that success will blossom. That’s what we’d call the most premium flowering of all.
Want to find out Fabian Monaco’s favorite Gage strain? Listen to this episode and more Honeysuckle podcasts here!