How This Veteran's Military Experience Carried Over to a Successful Marijuana Business
From the battlefield to the cannabis fields, Chris Coulombe uses him operations experience to manage his distribution and sales company.
In this ongoing series, we share advice, tips, and insights from cannabis entrepreneurs out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I served 16 years in the military, starting as an enlisted and eventually receiving a full scholarship from the military. I was subsequently commissioned as an Infantry Officer for the US Army. During my time the military I had the privilege of being assigned to some phenomenal units. One of my last assignments was to the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, where I worked with senior security executives from countries around the Asia-Pacific. There we helped formulate solutions to transnational issues and create shared understanding of the region and its dynamics.
I'm now CEO of Pacific Expeditors, an award-winning, state-wide cannabis sales and distribution operation located in Santa Rosa, CA that leads the industry in fulfilling the cannabis demand network. We have a parallel lobbying, government relations, and business strategy firm that allows us, and our portfolio, to remain abreast or ahead of the ever-changing cannabis regulations of California. This firm works closely with regulators and legislators to ensure that, together, we create a safe and viable cannabis industry.
What exactly does Pacific Expeditors do?
At a basic level, we provide four critical services for our portfolio of brands: represent their products to the retail space; provide warehousing and inventory management of raw and finished cannabis goods, compliance review, and the facilitation of laboratory testing for products headed to retail; logistics between producers (i.e. cultivator to a manufacturer), and fulfillment to the retail space; and, the transportation of revenues from the retailers back through the value chain.
What inspired you to create the company?
I held several consulting contracts with major cannabis companies in the region. Through time and diligence on behalf of clients, I recognized the immense opportunity that existed in the space. It dawned on me that cannabis companies and the industry as a whole would be built from scratch come January 1, 2018.
From the organizational level, the real value to this was there were no organizational legacy considerations. No outdated tech systems, no foregone conclusions about how things operated, no best practices or bad habits that needed to be adjusted or countered. That this is truly a tabula rasa moment for the industry. At the regulatory level, the foundation was still being laid, and the opportunity to help create a viable operating environment before decades’ special interests and serious money created further barriers to entry.
How is Pacific Expeditors different from others like it?
Pacific Expeditors possesses several significant differentiators. One of the most significant is that we have a parallel lobbying and government relations firm. This allows us, and our portfolio, to remain highly responsive to regulatory change. Because we work closely with the legislators and regulators that make the law, we can see the changes coming, inform our portfolio, and make the changes to our operations as needed. All, largely before the regulations take effect. Further, due to the significant fluidity incumbent to a new industry, our proximity to decision makers allows us a better understanding of the intent of the law.
How has your military service impacted how you run the company?
As an Infantry Captain, I was responsible for the planning, execution, and refining of complex operations that required the simultaneous coordination of multiple distinct assets (transportation, air support, artillery, etc.) to achieve the desired outcome, all while understanding supply constraints and logistical considerations. So, getting the correct materiel to the correct location at the correct time to ensure continuous operations.
Distribution is very similar in the way that we are responsible for the planning, execution, and refinement of operations that require the simultaneous coordination of multiple distinct parties - supply side and demand side - to achieve the desired outcome. So, getting the correct products to the correct place at the correct time to ensure that the retail operation continues.
What's been one of the toughest challenges you've faced in your business and how did you overcome it?
Difficult question. The cannabis industry of California has no shortage of friction and fog. For all the opportunities that a new business in a new industry possesses, starting and growing a new company in a new and developing regulatory environment has its challenges. Our diligence and experience allowed us to operate with more agility than most but it was not without difficulty. To answer the question, the greatest challenge is working with others that do not have a solid understanding of or are misinformed about the regulations. There are many opinions and interpretations of the rules and as a distributor, we spend a great deal of time educating the other parties on cannabis regulations that we interact with. This slows commerce substantially. Imagine explaining alcohol beverage law 80 percent of the time you are trying to conduct a sale of your wine to a store.
What’s the best advice you can give to people just starting off in the cannabis industry?
Do your diligence on the regulatory environment of your state before you build your business plan. If your business plan anticipates a price per pound, cut it in half. There is a 99% you don’t have the best cannabis product out there. Having the “fire” or the best cannabis is not a business plan; even if you have the “fire” it doesn’t matter without a solid operation and strategy.
Is there a quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
Calvin Coolidge said: "Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
President Coolidge recognized that, regardless of your condition in life and the attributes of your competitors, the party that possesses and deploys more determination, wins. Success is a matter of choice, not chance.