Exclusive Interview with Columbia Care Co-Founder, CEO and Director Nicholas Vita
Columbia Care (NEO: CCHW) (CSE: CCHW) (OTCQX: CCHWF) is licensed in 18 U.S. states and has operations in Europe. In 2020, the company is gearing up to become profitable across its footprint. Co-Founder, CEO and Director Nicholas Vita spoke with New Cannabis Ventures about his company’s market strategy, leveraging technology and capital allocation. The audio of the entire conversation is available at the end of this written summary.
Columbia Care Leaders
Since last speaking with New Cannabis Ventures in the fall of 2019, the company has added Jesse Channon as Chief Growth Officer. Channon brings a wealth of experience in marketing and technology.
The Columbia Care team is largely in place now, according to Vita. As the company has grown, it has found leaders to promote from within the organization. A number of team members have stepped into expanded roles to oversee entire regions for the company.
Columbia Care is operating in 16 of the 18 markets in which it has licenses. The company spent last year developing its licenses and building out its infrastructure, laying the foundation for its 2020 goal: profitability in all of its markets.
Nearly half of the states in the company’s portfolio are expected to transition from medical to adult-use over the next 24 months. As those markets transition, Columbia Care products will still be on shelves, but the name was built for medical markets. The storefronts will likely have a new name in adult-use markets, reflecting the evolution of the company, according to Vita.
Looking to Massachusetts and Illinois as examples, the transition from medical to adult-use could translate into three to five times the revenue, according to Vita. Columbia Care is aiming to effectively leverage the infrastructure it has built to take advantage of those opportunities.
The company is based in New York, and it believes it has the number one position in the state. The state’s rigorous testing and quality standards have helped the company develop its dose-metered products, which are also a major benefit for its European operations. If the company can excel in a market with such strict regulations and demanding consumers, it has the ability to do the same across the country, according to Vita.
With millions of visitors and residents, Columbia Care recognized New York as a long-term opportunity. It has locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Riverhead and Rochester, and it can provide home delivery throughout the state. The opportunity in the state stands to grow significantly one adult-use legislation moves forward.
Columbia Care is one of five operators in Virginia, another important market. It expects to achieve the top position in this market as well. In addition to its core cultivation, manufacturing and dispensary operations, the company has the ability to open five additional dispensaries.
Vita is encouraged by the bipartisan support for the state’s program, which could herald positive movement for the industry across the entire southeastern region of the United States. The region has a close network of policymakers and thought leaders, according to Vita.
Last year, Columbia Care entered Colorado with the pending acquisition of The Green Solution (TSG). TSG has a strong portfolio and a leading position in the state, supporting the Columbia Care’s goal to dominate in its chosen markets.
The acquisition allows Columbia Care to combine its successful SOPs from other markets with that of TSG. It will use that combined experience to launch TSG products in its other markets. The TSG acquisition helps strengthen Columbia Care’s national portfolio.
While the U.S. remains Columbia Care’s primary focus, it does have operations in Europe. The company has made significant investments in the U.S. It is not planning on spending significant amounts of capital on personnel and infrastructure in Europe, which is still a relatively small market. Instead, the company is focusing on finding the right partners and leveraging IP.
The company’s dose-metered products are attractive in the European market, according to Vita. It is selling its products in the U.K. and Germany and exploring opportunities in additional markets.
Vita has experience with mergers and acquisitions and understands just how complex it is to integrate assets, particularly in the cannabis industry. He is confident in Columbia Care’s leaders and foundation, and the TSG transaction has resulted in a number of valuable lessons. The company will be considering M&A opportunities, but these deals will likely be tuck-ins and smaller in nature. Any acquisitions it does pursue will help drive cash flow and shareholder value, according to Vita.
Learning from the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an informative stress test for Columbia Care that has resulted in a more cohesive leadership team and a more streamlined organization. The company has found ways to make its products and services more accessible to consumers while maintaining the safety of its own team. Thus far, no Columbia Care employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Vita.
The pandemic has also brought more consumers to the marketplace. Being declared as an essential service by the majority of states has reduced some of the stigma felt due to federal illegality, and Vita has seen more newcomers to the market.
Columbia Care has launched new initiatives to support its business, including the Columbia National Credit (CNC) card and the Virtual.Care shopping platform.
The CNC card has had a positive impact on the company’s repeat business and basket size. Now, the company is rolling the card out to the rest of the industry. Allowing access to consumer credit further removes the stigma and makes cannabis a normal purchase like any other, according to Vita.
The CNC card and the Virtual.Care platform have been powerful tools during the pandemic. Consumers want as touchless of an experience as possible. A credit card eliminates the need for cash, and a virtual shopping platform enables people to buy products from anywhere. Channon and his team were able to create the virtual environment within about 10 days. Virtual.Care first rolled out in California and then nationally.
A Strong Balance Sheet
The Columbia Care board wants the company to have a minimum of $20 million in cash at any given time. The company is disciplined about maintaining cash on its balance sheet so it can always be opportunistic.
In the past, the company’s primary uses of cash have been capex to develop its infrastructure and working capital to build out its inventory. Today, the company’s infrastructure has been largely developed and its products are selling. Operations are starting to become profitable.
Going forward, the company will focus its use of capital on talent development and infrastructure development in states set to transition from medical to adult-use. People and resources in its existing markets will be the first priority. Opportunities in new markets will be the second priority for capital. Finally, the company will remain open to what Vita refers to as “the x factor,” such as new products or technology.
Columbia Care has executed sale-leaseback transactions in the past, and it anticipates announcing another sale-leaseback around $10 million soon. The company has also participated in the debt market. It received a lower cost of debt compared to many other operators, according to Vita. The company remains disciplined but opportunistic when it comes to funding options.
Last year, the company had approximately $80 million in top-line revenue, according to Vita. For fiscal year 2020, it is projecting $155 to $180 million in revenue. Most of its new facilities didn’t come online until the end of the fourth quarter, and most of its cultivation and manufacturing facilities didn’t begin to sell until the second quarter. That infrastructure the company spent building out last year is coming online.
The company’s portfolio is performing strongly with new productivity. For example, significant capacity is coming online in Florida; wholesale operations have started in California, Ohio and Illinois. The company has also stepped up its operations in Delaware and Pennsylvania. The company is confident in the range it has provided, according to Vita.
Driving cash flow is Columbia Care’s priority for 2020, and it is making progress. It has had sequential improvement in gross margin from Q4 to Q1, and Vita expects to see continued improvement in gross margin and operating margin. As the company achieves profitability, it will be demonstrating that the MSO model works, according to Vita.
As the year progresses, Columbia Care will be focused on maintaining or enhancing its position in every one of its markets. If the company is able to achieve that number one position in its markets, it will be number one on a national level, according to Vita.
To learn more, visit the Columbia Care website. Listen to the entire interview: