Exclusive Interview with Green Thumb Industries Founder, CEO, and Chairman Ben Kovler
Instead of targeting growth all over the map, Green Thumb Industries (GTI) (CSE: GTII) (OTCQX: GTBIF) is focused on growing its presence in its current 12-state footprint. Founder, CEO, and Chairman Ben Kovler spoke with New Cannabis Ventures about the company’s approach to growth, recent acquisitions, philanthropic efforts and funding. The audio of the entire conversation is available at the end of this written summary.
Kovler grew up in Chicago and attended school in California, where he voted for the first medical marijuana bill in the country: Proposition 215. He then spent time in private equity for the food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods spaces. He also taught math for three years, exercising a love of problem-solving. In 2013, Kovler was in the public equity space in Chicago–the same year that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed the state’s medical program into law. He believed in the power of brands distributed at scale and started GTI.
The GTI Team
Today, GTI has a team of approximately 1,200 people. Kovler highlighted CFO Anthony Georgiadis and Chief Strategy Officer Jennifer Dooley. Georgiadis, a member of the GTI for a number of years, has a strong background in operations, managing people, and overseeing balance sheets. Dooley comes from a CPG background, providing insight into branding and innovation.
Market Presence and Growth Strategy
In its 12 states, GTI has 31 open stores and another 60 stores in development. Out of necessity, the company is vertically integrated in a number of these states, with large scale production facilities. As regulations evolve, Kovler sees the company’s true strengths emerging in manufacturing consumer branded products and in retail.
The company has established this footprint ahead of regulatory changes that will increase the size of several of its markets, according to Kovler. He sees major opportunities in states like Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
GTI has no immediate plans to enter additional states, but its team remains cognizant of developments in other markets.
The company has grown its footprint and brand portfolio in part through acquisition. In August, GTI closed the acquisition of Fiorello Pharmaceuticals in New York, which gives it operations in this limited-license market.
In June, GTI closed the acquisition of Integral Associates, which includes the Essence retail stores, Cannabiotix facility and Desert Grown Farms facility. GTI already has operations in northern Nevada, and this deal brings into the Las Vegas market as well. Integral Associates won eight Nevada licenses near the end of 2018, and it has three licenses in southern California. GTI will enter that market with retail locations in West Hollywood, Culver City, and Pasadena.
The company also entered the Connecticut market through the acquisition of Advanced Grow Labs.
In addition to these acquisitions, GTI has closed deals to augment its brand portfolio. The company has acquired Beboe and the company behind the incredibles brand. GTI looks for companies with teams that align well with its partnership goals. GTI’s relationship with incredibles is well-established; it has been co-manufacturing the company’s products for years.
The company also has brands including Rythm, Dogwalkers, The Feel Collection, and Dr. Solomon’s. GTI has an R&D facility in Maryland, which is hard at work looking at new product and form factor possibilities.
GTI is focused on developing products for “tomorrow’s cannabis consumer,” according to Kovler. This goal was a big part of what attracted the company to Beboe’s high-end products.
From its inception, GTI has made an effort to make philanthropy a part of its model. For example, the company’s Dogwalkers brand gives back to local animal shelters.
And, most recently, GTI launched the License Application Assistance Program (LEAP) in Illinois. The social equity program will help those impacted by the War on Drugs to navigate the complex licensing process as the state’s recreational market is on the verge of opening.
Having a strong cash balance is important to GTI, according to Kovler. The company has done two equity financings since going public last year, and it recently completed a $105 million debt financing. When it comes to capital allocation, the company’s team aims to look at everything from the shareholder perspective, trying to identify what uses of capital will result in the strongest return on investment.
Executing on Strategy
Given the complexity and unpredictability of the industry, GTI has elected not to offer guidance, according to Kovler. But, the company is confident in its ability to deliver. In the second quarter of this year, the company tripled its revenue and reported adjusted positive operating EBITDA. Kovler recommends investors look to the record of closing announced deals, store openings, spend, and revenue to measure the company’s success.
He sees the company’s biggest challenge and opportunity as one and the same: keeping up with demand. The GTI team will be keeping this in mind as the Illinois market transitions to adult-use in 2020.
To learn more, visit the GTI website. Listen to the entire interview: