13 minute read

The Cannabis Operations

Greenhouse Northbrook, IL

Design. Build. Repeat.

Inside CFC’s strategy to help build the growing cannabis construction market

In its partnership approach to building successful, sustainable cannabis operations, Cannabis Facility Construction (CFC) has a specific set of shared values, ethics and action points. They include doing it the right way, building relationships, communicating the story, anticipating needs and closing the loop. Achieve these tenets and you can help contribute to a positive, healthy environment. Delivering shared values and ethics, the CFC team, led by principals Andy Poticha, Ira Singer and Mike Frazin, continues to make its mark in the cannabis construction landscape. A division of Mosaic Construction, the group has either built or is in the process of building 30 cultivation facilities, processing centers and dispensary projects in 10 states since 2015. By treating each project as if it were its own, CFC’s commitment to building and maintaining customer relationships is critical. To help get a feel for building in today’s growing cannabis landscape, we sat down with Poticha, who also is the construction partner for 4Front Ventures in multiple states, including its most recent project for Mission Dispensaries in Calumet City, Illinois.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MAIN TRENDS IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF CANNABIS FACILITIES? Creating a client experience is central to the design and development of cannabis facilities. With limited supplier options and narrow price differential, dispensaries cannot compete on unique products or lower prices. They have to offer an experience to set themselves apart from the facility further down the road. Whether their customers know exactly what products they want or need to spend time in consultation with a budtender, the space must accommodate those preferences and have enough flexibility to evolve as consumer habits and regulations change. We’re seeing renovations happening in states that adopted medical use first and have since expanded to recreational use. The regulations are different, and the customer demands are different, as well. To compete, the space has to follow suit.

WHAT ARE CONSUMERS LOOKING FOR IN THE DESIGN OF RETAIL STORES? Consumers want convenience and a comfortable atmosphere where they can consult with the staff. The experience of a dispensary should feel familiar, like going to any other retail establishment from a clothing store to a coffee shop. We take cues from the surrounding area to match the aesthetic of the region, whether that’s slick, high-end showrooms in destination cities or a more casual, natural space in a small town. While getting the customer experience right is essential, cannabis facilities also have to adhere to safety and security regulations. You can’t have products out in the open the way you can in a clothing store, for example. The challenge is to marry the safety and security measures that keep clients, staff and product safe, while also creating a welcoming space where people want to spend time.

HOW DOES THE OVERALL DESIGN OF THE SHOPS CATER TO THESE NEEDS? We’re seeing more facilities adopt an open concept design, where consumers can walk around, browse and ask questions. It’s much more aligned with the image of general retail than older facilities. We’re also seeing design choices that mark the dispensary as a destination. Embracing design features, like natural light, and adding elements like living plant walls help put dispensaries on equal footing with other retail destinations.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST ISSUES TODAY RELATED TO THE CONSTRUCTION SIDE OF THE BUSINESS? Timing is everything in cannabis construction. Our clients are in “grow or die” mode. To stay competitive, they have to expand their operations and that means opening new facilities, from dispensaries and processing to cultivation. COVID-19 complicates that reality. Even though construction was deemed an essential business in many states, the effects of disrupted supply chains and fewer people allowed on a work site due to social distancing regulations could have been disastrous. We have been able to maintain momentum by staying flexible. We’ve moved much of our pre-construction process to video conferences. We have staggered shifts to keep worker count on-site low, while still making significant progress. As a design-build firm, we are having conversations early about budgets, constructability, time frames and design choices from day one. When there are issues that come up on the project, we’re already in problem solving mode, with streamlined communications in place. TAKE US THROUGH YOUR CONSTRUCTION AND DESIGN STRATEGY. We are facilitators, converting ideas into functional, sustainable and beautiful spaces. To do that, we have to first get into our client’s head and understand their unique vision and goals. We call on our significant cannabis industry experience to ask the right questions and offer our perspective from years of work in this space. Because we are a design-build firm, we are bringing together the design and construction teams at the outset of the project. That means greater collaboration, problem-solving and anticipation of needs. We set realistic budget and schedule parameters at the start

of the project and monitor those expectations throughout, which means fewer surprises. As with any construction project, there will always be things that don’t work in the real world exactly as we planned for them. We are constantly monitoring for those divergences and keeping the lines of communication open with our clients to assess how any changes might affect the overall budget or timeline.

Greenhouse Northbrook, IL

While getting the customer experience right is essential, cannabis facilities also have to adhere to safety and security regulations.

WHAT AREAS ARE THE MOST IN DEMAND IN NEW BUILDS? Flexibility is really the key in retail projects. As regulations change and consumer demand evolves, facilities need to be able to adapt and evolve.

Two areas that we focus on, which can be extremely costly if overlooked in the initial design phase, are security and facility access. While there are a number of security regulations for cannabis facilities we have to design for, we also need to understand local community and police expectations beyond what is required by law. It is a key component to ensuring facility design and construction will be approved for operational use. Thinking about how people and products come in and out of the building is also essential. The right loading areas and entrances have to be thought through in the early stages of the project or reworked at greater cost later, potentially rendering a highly strategic site unworkable. IS THERE A FACILITY YOU’VE BUILT THAT STANDS OUT? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT MAKE IT UNIQUE? One of our recent projects was a renovation for Mission Dispensary in Calumet City, Illinois. What made this retail store conversion unique was its prime location across from a busy shopping mall, with lots of parking, in a location that serves both Illinois and those across the border in Indiana. One of the most unique projects we’ve completed is for the Greenhouse Dispensary in Morris, Illinois. That project involved converting a freestanding restaurant into a dispensary. The property itself posed many challenges, from mixed materials used throughout several additions, to general wear and tear of a high-traffic retail space. The most successful part of that project was rehabbing a 150-year-old, oak and brass bar that had travelled the state several times in its history before landing at the former restaurant. Preserving the 30-foot-long structure and making it the functional centerpiece of the new dispensary was a considerable effort, but it’s now the backbone of the space and a point of pride for the dispensary staff and clients.

TALK ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY. WHAT ARE RETAILERS LOOKING FOR? Whether you’re talking about retail, processing or cultivation facilities, clients want to build energy efficient, environmentally friendly buildings that meet current code requirements. There’s also a strong and growing desire for durable materials that will stand the test of time and hold up without having to be replaced. For example, we’re doing more polished concrete floors which are more durable than vinyl or porcelain tile and retain their aesthetic appeal over the long-term.

Greenhouse Northbrook, IL We can create the most beautiful space in the world, but if the staff is overworked or unavailable, or if the wait time is significant and the product is unavailable, the space won’t be much of a draw.

Greenhouse Northbrook, IL

We are Pioneers in the Industry… 22 years and counting!

When The Townson Company opened for business in 1999, the concept of outsourced project management was in its infancy. Since then we have become the industry’s premier resource.

We are Owner’s Representatives

For more than 22 years The Townson Company has successfully served as owner’s representatives for retailers, restaurants, office, commercial and service companies nationwide. We manage your projects as a member of your in-house team.

We are Experienced

Our project managers are seasoned experts. All of our team members have a minimum of 25 years of experience in construction project management from the owner’s perspective.

We are Proactive

We provide an all-encompassing matrix of services and resources that ensure the success of your projects. Our experience allows us to have a proactive approach to managing the job, so that your projects open on time and on budget.

Expertise, Longevity, and Integrity have been the cornerstones to our 22 years of success!

The Townson Company is THE source for your outsourced project management needs!

CIRCLE NO. 53

The Townson Company 7157 Colleyville Boulevard, Suite 101 Colleyville, TX 76034 817-421-1177 • www.townsoncompany.com

WHAT TYPE OF OPPORTUNITIES DO YOU SEE MOVING AHEAD? We foresee every state eventually legalizing both medical and recreational cannabis use, which will increase the opportunities, but also the competition in the industry. Speedto-market in construction will be essential to maintaining a competitive edge. Supply chains, for example, are dramatically impacted by the uptick in work but we’re able to raise issues early on in the process and advise clients on how any changes will affect their opening date. We are fortunate to have a six-year head start on anyone entering the cannabis facility construction space and the experience we’ve gained in that time is invaluable. We understand our clients’ goals across operations, security, technology and customer experience. We know where the challenges lie and how to navigate them.

WHAT TRENDS ARE YOU SEEING/EXPECTING? Many cannabis companies are attempting to cater to two different customer groups— existing clients who know what products they like and want a quick and efficient experience, as well as new consumers who want a retail destination and a space to learn and explore. Over time, these two groups will converge. We see a future where consumers care less about the dispensary as a retail destination and will instead prioritize a quality facility that carries their preferred product. Just as sit-down restaurants gave way to fast food drive-thrus, the cannabis experience will begin to envelop quick pickup and deliveries as the market matures and consumers prioritize convenience.

WHAT IS THE SECRET TO CREATING A “MUST VISIT” LOCATION IN TODAY’S COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE? A great location is as much about the operation as it is design. We can create the most beautiful space in the world, but if the staff is overworked or unavailable, or if the wait time is significant and the product is unavailable, the space won’t be much of a draw. Just like you wouldn’t return to a beautiful restaurant with lackluster food, dispensaries that don’t deliver on their customer promise won’t realize the opportunities the industry is offering.

Mission Dispensaries, Calumet City, IL HOW HAS THE LAST YEAR CHANGED THE GAME ON THE DESIGN/BUILD SIDE? There has been a confluence of many factors that make a solid design-build partner more essential than ever. We

Mission Dispensaries, Calumet City, IL Mission Dispensaries, Calumet City, IL

know we can’t be all things to all parties, but our experience has helped us navigate some of the challenges COVID-19 presented and we are more prepared than ever to guide our clients through the construction process. There has been an undeniable impact on schedules, and we are seeing clients want to speed up the turnaround time of their projects to counteract those delays. At the same time, building material availability is not guaranteed. Prices are going up and suppliers are playing catch up to meet orders that were placed but never fulfilled. There are some opportunities, too, with new suppliers coming online and driving competition, but understanding how different options compare is critical. We’re more committed than ever to problem-solving and collaborating with our clients and focusing on the things we can control.

Mission Dispensaries, Calumet City, IL

WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING TO SEE IN THE MARKETPLACE IN 2021? As more licenses become available in different states, we expect to see more design-build construction and renovations projects. Our clients are sophisticated operators and MSOs who know firsthand the importance of working with a design-build partner. They value our experience and expertise, particularly on the processing and cultivation side, and we think newcomers to the market will see that value, too.

ONE-ON-ONE WITH...

Andy Poticha, Principal, Cannabis Facility Construction

Describe a typical day.

“Man plans and good laughs.” There is no typical day for us. We plan to accomplish certain tasks during our 12-hour workday, but by the time we get into the office, it’s more than likely that several different things have conspired to derail that plan. We’ve learned to pivot and manage what we can to deal with the unexpected.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

We take a lot of pride in having a client say, “Thank you, you’ve done a great job.” We take every job personally and treat it as if it were our own home, so having our clients’ appreciation and admiration for our team makes all our hard work worthwhile.

What was the best advice you ever received?

Someone once told me, “Nothing is ever as good as it seems, and nothing is ever as bad as it seems.” I try to hold onto that perspective. When challenging issues come up, I’m able to look at the next steps, focus on the job at hand and stay even keeled.

What’s the biggest thing on your to-do list right now?

I’m working on getting three proposals finished and delivered before I leave town next week.

What’s the best thing a client ever said to you?

One of our longtime clients was able to grow their business into a national company that was eventually acquired by a publicly traded company. They told us they wouldn’t have achieved that goal without our team helping them along the way. It was incredible recognition and validation.

How do you like to spend your down time?

When I have downtime, I like spending it with my family, working out or playing guitar. I also spend a lot of time personally volunteering on three different boards, two of which are philanthropic. We have many meetings and decisions to make, and although it takes time, it’s incredibly rewarding on many levels.

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