Massachusetts was one of the first East Coast states to legalize cannabis for adult use and companies like Community Growth Partners are setting the industry standard as they grow alongside the developing industry. With Community Growth Partners’ first entry into the space, the Rebelle retailer located in the Berkshires, the company is carving out its own corner of the industry through its community-first, woman-focused philosophy.
In this Q&A with Founder & CEO Charlotte Hanna, we talk about her corporate background from before entering the space, how the company learns about and responds to consumer habits, plans for renovating historic Berkshires buildings for the cannabis industry, what the future looks like as they vertically integrate, and more!
Read the full interview below:
Ganjapreneur: After decades in finance, real estate, and philanthropy, why were you drawn to the developing cannabis space?
Charlotte Hanna: Well, there are a lot of reasons that make cannabis appealing — we’re helping shape a completely new industry here on the East Coast and helping change peoples’ hearts and minds about this plant. I see all of us in the cannabis industry as change-makers — and as a woman and a mother, I feel I have a special place in the public discourse about cannabis. We’ve used this plant as a weapon to hurt communities — I’ve seen it first hand in my decades working on homeless and hunger issues. So the prospect of being able to bring a significant focus on social equity and social justice to this emerging industry was a big part of what drew me to cannabis. Conscientious capitalism is our way of doing business — it’s hard work but we’re all dedicated to our social purpose and I’m so fortunate to have a great team all committed to our corporate values.
The Rebelle retail shop is in a renovated, 100-year old farmhouse on a scenic half acre. How did you find this property and what aspects of the space were attractive to carrying out the Rebelle mission?
The Berkshires and other neighboring communities like Litchfield County in Connecticut and the Upper Hudson Valley all make up a big growing region in the Northeast. It has always drawn artists, wellness seekers and more recently many entrepreneurs have started decamping to the area to set up or expand businesses. I wanted to be part of not only this new industry — cannabis — but also a broader growth story that I saw emerging in the region. For example, Miraval spa — which is based in Sedona, AZ — recently joined Canyon Ranch to open a luxury spa not far from our store. For all these reasons, I felt the area was a perfect location to put down roots and share the wellness attributes of this plant that has been celebrated by cultures around the world for centuries. We bought an old farmhouse — in need of some TLC — and transformed it into what I’m proud to call one of the most beautiful, warm, and inviting dispensaries in the Northeast. I love finding something that hasn’t had the proper attention paid to it and bringing it back to life and giving it a purpose. We’re doing the same thing with an old mill building we’ve renovated and are turning into our cultivation and manufacturing site too.
The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ is the inspiration point behind the interior design at the Rebelle retail shop. How have you leveraged a comfy, cozy interior design to influence consumer habits?
I’ve found that many dispensaries often have a sterile feel — probably vestiges of the original medical marijuana days. But as the times change and more consumers enter the market it’s important to present alternative types of design aesthetics to appeal to different types of consumers. I’ve always been attracted to the Danish concept of hygge which refers to finding comfort, pleasure, and warmth in simple, soothing things such as a cozy atmosphere or the feeling of friendship. This was the vibe I wanted to create in the store to further normalize cannabis and show what a welcoming part it can be to anyone’s life. I felt this would make us memorable. In addition, it really does influence the way people shop — being able to browse and interact with the products while feeling comfortable has resulted in customer loyalty. The overall feel and experience support our philosophy that we are not here just to transact, we are here to help, educate and serve. We are your friends in cannabis.
Does the retail store map consumer habits to improve the overall experience? What kind of changes have you made as a response to consumer feedback both in-store and online?
Our retail store is definitely consumer-driven, we try to let our customers speak to us and do our best to listen and put the feedback into action. For instance, we’ve remodeled our browsing station to reflect consumers preferences to both shop the shelves and a digital menu. We continually gauge reactions to interior displays and evolve with the customer. We believe the experience is just as important as the product, so we encourage customers to reach out through our digital platforms, our call center and of course by just stopping in and speaking with one of our experienced sales associates.
Community Growth Partners (CGP) plans to be a vertically integrated cannabis company. What kind of cultivation methods will you use to grow Rebelle flower?
We’re completing construction at our 28,000 square foot cultivation, manufacturing and delivery distribution facility in Northampton, MA which we expect to open this spring. We’ll be initially growing indoors since high quality exotic indoor strains command higher prices even when markets mature and prices decline. We’re also introducing some new form factors we’ve been developing with a partner in California. I’m most excited about new product development — and designing ways to consume that feel socially acceptable to newer consumers. More to come on this front this spring. Check back in with us online to learn more!
What inspires your community-driven philosophy as you grow Rebelle into a vertical operator?
I believe that by helping people as part of our growth initiatives and as a way of doing business, you not only help communities but also become part of a new way of doing business. We need to shatter the stigmas that have unjustly crippled so many. Our mission is to make social justice and equitable practices the new norm and to shift the perception of cannabis as a whole. To really understand this approach, we first need to examine the types of changes we want to see in the industry. By becoming ingrained in these communities that have been most affected by the unjust laws and helping to build back from the ground up, we will give people the skills and opportunity they will need to succeed and make a serious change. Our grow operation is closer to Springfield and many other areas of disproportionate impact and will give us the opportunity to provide more jobs, more opportunity to earn stock in the company and make our small contribution to improving the communities where we operate.
Has the Rebelle brand launched any cannabis products? What vertically integrated products are currently in development?
We currently have a team working on product development for a line of wellness products that we anticipate launching this spring. I’m not ready to reveal too many specifics about the product line just yet, but I will say that it will definitely help fill the current gap in the MA market for a thoughtful and expertly engineered wellness collection of cannabis products. I have always believed in the healing powers of this plant and am very excited to expand into this category.
Rebelle sells a line of accessories like ashtrays, rolling trays, and stash bags, how are these products designed and/or sourced?
Rebelle has a wide variety of accessories that we source from multiple vendors from all over the country. They include hand-made bongs, specialty pipes, custom branded rolling papers, and high-performance portable smoking accessories. In addition, we offer a limited edition collection of handmade bags designed by founder Charlotte Hanna. This collection is made right in the heart of New York City and sources the finest materials for the perfect odor-resistant carry case. Travel in style with your favorites ready at all times. It’s the ultimate accessory for an elevated cannabis lifestyle.
CGP identifies as a conscientious capitalist business model, a just capitalist enterprise. What does a just capitalist model look like in application, and why is this distinction essential to the brand mission?
The key differentiator between these two models is that ours aims to truly teach our employees how to generate personal wealth, and aims to make an impact in the community. This also means putting programs in place internally which support these goals. For instance one of our primary components of this is our employee stock program, where all employees can qualify to receive company stock regularly in addition to their paid compensation. Not only does this instill a more tightly knit and committed mentality among the company, but provides a real tangible asset to the workforce. One which they can leverage for their benefit across their entire time at the company.
How does CGP contribute to the surrounding Berkshire County, Massachusetts community?
We have a couple of interesting initiatives we participate in which are aimed at connecting and supporting the community. One of which was our charity donation and accompanying donation match program for our neighbors, Volunteers in Medicine who provide healthcare to those who normally would have limited or no access to it. Beyond our general charitable work and commitments, we also work with a nonprofit called Roca. They provide job placement, support services, and an access point to the industry for young people who have been negatively impacted by the war on drugs. We partner with them as an employer to help open up opportunities in the cannabis industry and aid in establishing career paths for those young people.
Why did CGP establish a partnership with the diversity and equity-driven organization Roca?
Apart from the fact that everything they are doing is everything we believe in, our team and the team over at Roca just meshed on a personal level. We really have values and objectives that are in sync. When you find a partner trying as hard as they are to do the right thing you partner with them, and quickly! I see Roca as an essential piece of the puzzle for us, if we didn’t partner with them or somebody like them we wouldn’t truly be doing our part.
Thank you, Charlotte, for answering all of our questions! To learn more about Charlotte and/or Community Growth Partners, visit CommunityGrowthPartners.com.