24 Jun Rocky Road to Real Revenue: Wellness Connection of Maine
After a highly publicized and tumultuous beginning, Wellness Connection of Maine has righted its ship and has become one of the largest vertically integrated operations in the country under the direction of CEO Patricia Rosi (see CBE’s 100 Most Influential People). But it hasn’t been an easy road.
In the beginning, there was the oldest dispensary in the U.S. and their successful management team pursuing a license, with long-time and former Berkeley Patients Group (BPG) employee, Becky Dekeuster taking the lead in pursuing licenses to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana in Maine under the name of Northeast Patients Group (NPG d.b.a. Wellness Connection of Maine). Happily, the NPG team won not one but four (4) retail licenses to operate in the state.
In 2011, DeKeuster, now Executive Director and board member of NPG, signed a letter of intent with former-NBA player Cuttino Mobley to finance the building of a central grow and four dispensaries located in Portland, Thomaston, Hallowell (now Gardiner), and Brewer.
In 2013, Wellness Connection of Maine with their central grow in Auburn and a smaller grow in Thomaston, was accused by employees to the state for violating the no pesticide rules of the Maine medical marijuana program.
CBE Press spoke to other operators in the state as well as a former director of the Division of Licensing and Regulation at Maine DHHS, and all indicated that the no pesticide rules were very vague and subject to interpretation, and, could have impacted any of the licensee holders equally at that time. This resulted in two major challenges for the mutual benefit non-profit corporation:
- They were fined and, to keep operating, the group had to sign a consent agreement with DHHS. According to the agreement, WCM had to stop using pesticides, including organics, provide weekly status updates to the state, More importantly they had to do damage control from the bad publicity and attacks from their primary competitors, caregivers, who by some estimates control 70 percent of the state’s medical marijuana market.
- WCM faced an unfair labor practices suit with the National Labor Relations Board. Wellness Connection of Maine settled the charges, stating: “Wellness Connection of Maine is pleased to announce that the framework for a settlement has been mutually agreed to between WCM and the National Labor Relations Board, concerning a remaining set of unfair labor practice charges raised by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). This follows the union’s withdrawal of several other charges originally filed with the Board in 2013. Wellness Connection of Maine looks forward to working together with its employees to continue providing the best patient care possible,”
In the middle of this, WCM’s board promoted board member Patricia Rosi to COO, and eventually CEO a year later, to right the floundering ship. Along with her husband, WCM CFO Jacques Santucci, the two were able to stabilize the situation and moved quickly to rebuild the brand and credibility of WCM.
Rosi, who moved to Maine 16 years earlier, is a veteran advertising and marketing executive whose career had started many years ago in Paris where she worked with Proctor & Gamble and other large brands like Dannon Yogurt, an account she managed in over 13 countries. In 2000, she found herself looking for work — a big fish searching for a job in a small pond. She ended up in the offices of Pierce Promotions (now an Omnicon Company) interviewing for a job to work on an RFP for a Dannon project, and was soon on board as Chief Creative Officer. Over the next 11 years, she helped grow a 35-employee Maine agency into a 200-employee, multi-million dollar powerhouse, and refined the skills she would need to tackle the daunting task ahead in 2013 at WCM.
As she had done in previous jobs, Rosi told CBE that she dove into the trenches to train the team and implement best practices. From 2013 to 2014 she focused on the blocking and tackling with the team to meet the needs of WCM patients, and she devised a central strategy that focused on being proactive and market driven.
She also began putting together a strategic plan that included becoming more involved with the regulatory bodies in Maine to not only be compliant but to help devise rules that would benefit the patients and the new medical marijuana industry, and, with helping the cause to legalize responsible adult use of marijuana in Maine.
On the personnel and operations front, she focused on building a strong management team, hiring a Director of Production operations from Backyard Farms in Madison, Maine as well as a Human Resources Manager responsible for employee relations, workers compensation, safety, and compliance with employment laws and regulations, a controller who is a CPA and a new Dispensary Operations Manager from Starbucks.
To accommodate Rosi’s push-pull marketing strategy, Becky Dekeuster’s role has changed as well. She is now heading up community affairs and education for WCM, reaching out to the health care provider community (doctors, hospices, senior homes and others) to raise the level of awareness for medical cannabis and WCM among both their patient base and their providers. These efforts will be supplemented by their investment in an expanded portfolio of products which will include their own line of edible and infused products prepared in their new Gardiner, ME kitchen established in an old train station facility and their expanded wellness service offerings. WCM is also in the process of expanding its centralized grow in Auburn, Maine to serve the needs of its patient count.
It looks like Patricia Rosi’s efforts are paying off. WMC is now serving more than 9,000 patients in the state, and is on pace to exceed revenue forecast for 2015. Rosi and her team are on the same strategic path to serve their patients and improve the regulatory environment for the growing Maine Medical Marijuana industry. And, Patricia has again proven to be a very good operator and business builder. Can’t wait to see what’s next for Wellness Connection of Maine!
Company Name: Wellness Connection of Maine (Northeast Patients Group)
Year Founded: 2010, but launched in 2011
Ownership Structure: Mutual benefit non-profit corporation. There is no ownership but a commitment to reinvesting for the benefit of our patients and our community-at-large.
Management Team/CEO: Patricia Rossi, CEO; Jacques Santucci, CFO; Becky Dekeuster, Director of Community & Education
Headquarters: Portland, Maine
Industry Segment/Category: Producer and Medical Retailer
Current Markets/States Served: Maine
Current Number of employees: 60
Market Strategy/Goal: To provide qualified patients with the highest quality Maine-grown medical cannabis at reasonable cost to them, to support members’ full-spectrum wellness, and to foster education about medical cannabis throughout the state and beyond.
# of Potential Customers: Currently serving 9,000 Mainers
2014 Revenues: Estimated $10 million plus
Current Product Mix: Whole flowers, concentrates, medibles, topicals, accessories, educational books, etc.
Expansion Plans: To inspire the evolution of wellness and access to alternative medicines via education, excellence and compassion – one employee, one patient, and one community at a time. Specifically, doubling production capacity by 2015, increasing community and outreach support (currently 10 percent of revenues), and improving the employee’s experience
Financing strategy: From running a successful business operation with the support of strong financial partners since its inception.
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