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In this interview, Michael Salaman, co-founder and president of GrowGeneration, talks about the trends in cannabis during the COVID-19 pandemic and more.
Hydroponic and organic growing are gaining popularity in the cannabis industry for cultivation. Michael Salaman, co-founder and president of GrowGeneration, discusses these two methods and also the changing trends in cannabis during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Can you tell us about GrowGeneration? How did the company get started? What is the role you play in the cannabis industry? How many locations do you have?
Michael Salaman: GrowGeneration is the nation's largest chain of specialty hydroponic and organic garden centers, with 55 retail locations throughout the United States. Our primary focus is on cannabis cultivation, where we serve everybody from the nation’s largest multi-state operators (MSOs) to hobbyists growing in their own homes. Roughly 70% of our business is commercial, selling licensed cannabis operators the equipment and products they need to grow their cannabis.
For a novice to cannabis cultivation, can you explain the difference between hydroponic and organic growing? What are the benefits of one compared to the other?
Salaman: The USDA actually has certifications for organic hydroponic growing – it can be both simultaneously. Because consumers and the market are maturing and want more organic options, we take pride in offering organic solutions for hydroponic and in-soil growing. So, when we refer to hydroponic and organic growing, what we are saying is that we carry everything from the latest high-tech hydroponic equipment to grow without soil to the simplest pots and planters to grow in soil right in your backyard.
Overall, we are focused on providing the highest quality and most sustainable products to our customers, regardless of how they intend to grow.
What is the most popular equipment and technology being used in cannabis cultivation right now?
Salaman: One of the things we are most excited about, as evidenced by our recent acquisition of Char Coir (4), is coco coir growing mediums. Rockwool has been the go-to medium for a long time, but as the industry focuses more on sustainability in its cultivation practices, coco coir, made from the highest-grade coconut fiber available, is becoming increasingly popular within the space. It is 100% biodegradable and compostable and provides cultivators with a much more eco-friendly medium to grow their plants.
How do you keep track of the latest equipment and technology in the cultivation industry?
Salaman: One way that we keep track of new equipment and technology is by attending various trade shows and conferences around the country. We attend all the major industry events, along with various digital conferences. Our team is always keeping an eye out for new products and any innovation in the industry to stay current or ahead of the trends.
Have you noticed any changing trends in what your customers are purchasing?
Salaman: The biggest change we’re seeing is that people are buying a lot more of everything. As the licensed cannabis marketplace continues to open up and demand for cannabis products have spiked due to increased consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic, cultivators are scrambling to keep pace. For example, we had a 62% increase in same store sales from 2019 to 2020 alone due to the increase in demand. We’re also seeing cultivators invest more in cleaning supplies and equipment than ever before due to the pandemic.
Additionally, we are seeing a noticeable trend towards eco-friendly purchasing. This includes more efficient LED lights as well as biodegradable coconut fiber-based planting mediums.
For beginner cultivators, what do you feel is most important for them to know? How does your company help them start their cultivation journey?
Salaman: GrowGen has the expert level knowledge to help the customer get started, no matter how big or small. The most important thing that we want to tell first-time growers is not to get discouraged; growing is a science and an art, and that it will take time to perfect it. The staff at GrowGen is very educated on all different types of growing methods and we are available to help everyone.
What are your future plans for the company?
Salaman: We will continue to be aggressive in acquiring best-in-class businesses in mature cannabis markets. Additionally, you will see a more concerted effort to open our own stores in newer markets, particularly in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi. These markets are newer or less developed, so there aren’t really businesses to acquire there. In these markets, we are figuring out where the growers will be based and are looking to build stores close to them.
Additionally, you will see us build out our private label business more. We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of this, but we feel it is a way to capture a lot more value for the company and give growers exactly what they want.