We speak with Phillip Norman about starting Mother Earth’s Farmacy in this week’s Spotlight.
Shop Talk is a new series showcasing shop owners from across the country. Learn more about the owners, what makes dispensaries tick, the kind of products they’re looking for, insider advice and more. Philip Norman owns Mother Earth’s Farmacy in Cathedral City, California and has been a cannabis advocate for more than 40 years.
How did you first get into the cannabis space?
Well, that goes way back. I’m a retired banker by trade. I first became a casual user in the 70s. Then I got a sports injury, my back, and discovered the [medicinal] benefits. I’ve always maintained a user position in the industry. Then, a few years ago, with my son pushing me. I started a co-op and entered the cultivation part of the business. He was and has been a big help in the cultivation part and now the dispensary part of the business.
What inspired you to open a dispensary?
A couple reasons. After visiting a few dispensaries, I just felt that we could do a better job. I felt that some of the budtenders I spoke with did not have much knowledge in their field. Second, selection of flower was not the highest quality that I felt it could be. CBD market was weak in our area.
When did you open your dispensary?
We’ve only been open for about two months now, going on three. It’s been almost a two-year project though. We bought our building so we could do what we wanted to. And of course, the licensing process is a process.
How have your first few months treated you?
It’s been going okay. The downside of where we live, the desert, is when it’s 120, people scatter fast, [but] we’ve been doing well. We’re adding patients every day. Moving in the right direction.
Which products are your best sellers?
Well, two things. Cartridges are flying off the shelf. And in Coachella Valley where we are, in Cathedral City, our aging population makes CBD products massive here. They’re very popular.
What is the most rewarding part of owning a dispensary? The most difficult?
The best thing so far is seeing how happy patients get when they see our dispensary. How clean and neat everything is. As well as the selection of products. It has also been humbling watching our staff come together under Sabrina’s direction. Our staff has a commitment regarding their own education on each and every product we sell. By far the biggest problem and most difficult part has been our software company, MJ Freeway.
I actually heard you had a hiccup with MJ Freeway. Can you tell me about that?
You can call it a hiccup. I’d call it a disaster [laughs]. I can tell you it’s been a nightmare. I can tell you we have a mandatory conference call with city planning and MJ Freeway. I know that they’ve changed the platforms… but we have not even been able to close out on a correct day. We can’t even log in sometimes. When we start in the morning, the date will be wrong. We have basic software issues. And I think the city is starting to feel that now because they’re in the same boat we’re in. They run inventory control and none of us can file electronically. So, we’re using paper because we can’t trust the data. And you need to inventory everything down to the dosage. It’s so time-consuming. I had to go into city planning and say “You know, they sounded good at the time but what you’d done is you’ve eliminated competition. We have no options… [MJ Freeway] knows they got us. We can’t go anywhere else.” Always give the business owner options. It keeps everybody honest.
So the city works exclusively with MJ Freeway at this time?
Correct. I think that’s why we’re having this conference with the city, MJ Freeway and all the dispensaries. I wouldn’t want to be the person who needs to represent them on that call!
What sets your shop apart?
Absolutely without a doubt, it’s our staff. If you looked at all our reviews from Weedmaps patients always mention our knowledgeable and friendly staff. We also pride ourselves on having a large selection of flower and edibles some of which you will only find at our dispensary.
What piece of advice would you give to new brands trying to get on shelves?
You need the right information on your packaging and look. I recall the old days when things were just wrapped in cellophane. Remember those days?
Yes! No more Sharpie markers.
[Laughs] Nope. No more markers. You really need to educate yourselves on your own products then compare with others. There are a lot of products out there. And of course, in 2018, the packaging is going to change for you, whether you like it or not. But investigate who you’re competing against. Buy and sample their products. People are visual.
What advice would you give to someone interested in opening their own shop?
Patience. You must be patient and understand regulations. No matter how frustrating they are, it’s the nature of what you’re getting into. If you’re not comfortable with staying on top of the regulations and don’t have patience, it’s probably not for you. It takes a lot of money to get into this business and stay. Just hiring the proper attorneys is expensive. You must get the right people to steer you. Because we know we have a small ocean of regulations coming in 2018… It’s daunting. So, patience. And like to read [laughs].
What new products are you most excited about carrying?
You know, that’s probably the neatest thing about this business. I’ve been in this since the 70s when everything was on the low end of quality. You had to smoke a lot or eat a lot. I’ve seen this evolution. Not only on the flower side. The level of sophistication, the extractions, the flavoring, it’s just incredible. It’s neat to watch companies’ commitment to turning out the best product, the cleanest product, the safest product. Which is what we want to see and distribute out of our place. That’s our goal.
Are you rolling out any new shop features or locations in the future?
We want to grow again. We’re always looking for properties. We’ve made a couple offers now. We want to be self-sufficient and represent our patients… [to say] this is all ours, the flower you buy come from us. We can tell you how it was grown. We’re going to have classrooms. We’re going to have classes on procedures and process and things like that. But they can look through the windows and see…this comes from here over to here. We want to turn our area into a campus-like setting with the grow and manufacturing because we now have all the proper zoning. We can do all our own extractions and grow our own flower and sell it out of our dispensary. So that’s our long-term goal. That’ll also be my son’s project. It’s his turn.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Mother Earth’s Farmacy is located at 36633 Cathedral Canyon Dr., Cathedral City, CA 92234. They’re open from 8:30 am – 9 pm Monday through Saturday and 10 am – 7 pm Sundays and can be reached at (760) 832-8348 or firstname.lastname@example.org