Between strict regulations and steep competition, cannabis entrepreneurs face a lot of challenges when bringing products to market — platforms like Apex Trading, however, offer unique solutions for growing and maintaining professional relationships between members of the cannabis industry.
In this Q&A, John discusses his 2014 entry into the business of cannabis wholesale, the founding and goals of Apex Trading, and the company’s “Plant First” ethos — which prioritizes the responsible representation of the cannabis industry. Scroll down to read the full interview and learn about how Apex Trading helps cannabis growers, manufacturers, and retailers buy and sell their products, manage sales data, maintain regulatory compliance, and more!
Ganjapreneur: How was Apex Trading founded? Did the founders have backgrounds in cannabis prior to creating a wholesale marketplace?
John Manlove: Our founding story is a pretty interesting one. The founding members of Apex Trading came from Tradiv, one of the industry’s first wholesale marketplaces and an alum of Canopy Boulder’s inaugural cohort. While Tradiv was a first mover, its history was marred with poor executive decisions, both within the company and external. The downfall of Tradiv ultimately led to the founding of Apex Trading. We leaned on years of technical and distribution experience to develop a new platform that addresses the issues the industry has with open marketplaces while also increasing efficiencies through a robust inventory and business management suite of features.
What’s more, Apex Trading was founded on the principle of “Plant First.” We recognize that we wouldn’t be here without the plant or the pioneers who risked everything to allow so many of us the opportunity today to work in this industry. Each decision we make is guided by this ethos and is evident in our product and team.
What are some examples of how the ‘Plant First’ ethos has been put into practice?
Apex Trading did not come out of Silicon Valley or New York City looking to cash in on the blood, sweat and tears of those who built cannabis. Our team is made up of super talented individuals who have cannabis backgrounds or have a strong passion for the industry. Our product is designed to help cannabis producers focus more on what they love – crafting cannabis – and less on the trappings of mainstream business operations. In fact, everyone on the team, including me, spends time “in the field” – going to grows, extraction facilities, edibles makers, etc. – to ensure we have the best understanding of their specific needs.
Monetarily, we’re supporting members of organizations such as the NCIA, OCA and ORCA. We also make one-off contributions and sponsor, attend and promote local cannabis community events. As our revenue continues to grow, we’re looking for more ways to proportionally support organizations such as the Last Prisoner Project, Marijuana Policy Project, and Veterans Cannabis Project.
What’s more, when our cannabis community is in need, we step up and do what we can to help. With the challenging times of Covid or the recent wildfires that ravaged cultivations across the west, we’ve worked with some of our hard-hit clients to create deferred payments or discounted pricing.
Finally, we ensure that we present cannabis and the cannabis industry in the best possible light at all times. That means, we show up prepared, pay our bills on time, meet our deadlines with external companies, respectfully refer to the plant as “cannabis,” and we consume responsibly. The last thing we want is for mainstream business to view the cannabis industry as a bunch of stoner/slackers. This plant has given us so much and we just want to make sure we’re treating it with the respect it deserves.
Who is Apex Trading meant for, and how does the platform generate value for its users?
Apex Trading is designed for each business within the wholesale supply chain. This includes cultivators, extractors, product manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Each of these business types are able to manage every aspect of their wholesale operations within Apex Trading, from inventory and orders to sales and reporting. Through a robust set of industry tailored features, we are able to eliminate the manual processes teams go through while strengthening the relationship between the seller and their buyers.
What makes Apex Trading different from other wholesale platforms?
Our biggest differentiator is we’re not an open marketplace. While marketplaces are the norm, they don’t value the relationship between a seller and their buyers. A seller is consistently having to compete solely based on potency and price and unable to promote the other aspects of their products, which differentiate them from the competition. Additionally, in a marketplace, buyers are exposed to competing products and brands, which slowly disintegrates the brand equity of the seller. Early on, we realized just how important the relationship aspect is for the cannabis industry. Trust and communication between parties is the foundation on which legal cannabis was built and we carry that over into our tools today.
We have found that craft producers, established brands with sales teams, and states where demand exceeds supply need an alternative to an open marketplace and that’s our niche.
How do you continue to adapt to the rapidly evolving world of cannabis regulations?
This is a great question. Having been in the industry since 2014, I have experienced a ton of regulatory change. We’re lucky in that ancillary businesses aren’t typically as directly impacted by regulatory changes as license holders. That being said, we remain on top of federal, state and local regulatory changes and adjust our platform within a market to make sure our clients remain compliant. A basic example of this would be new testing regulations, such as microbials or pesticides. When these new testing mandates came into effect, we quickly added new document types and icons within the platform to allow sellers to easily provide buyers with these compliance docs both prior to and upon ordering.
Which markets does Apex Trading currently serve? Do you plan to expand to new territories in the coming year?
Apex Trading is available in all medical and adult use markets. Currently, the majority of our clients are within 7 states – Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and Michigan.
We’re rapidly expanding into new states and expect to have a strong presence in 20 by the end of 2021.
Given that Apex integrates with METRC, do you provide METRC customer support and/or troubleshooting?
Of course. We founded the company on the principle of responsiveness and providing clients with the best customer service possible. We offer free METRC implementation/training and constantly work with our clients to address METRC issues and provide them with solutions within Apex Trading. As a software company we are constantly evolving. A key aspect of our evolution is through enhancing our current integrations with systems like METRC and then ensuring our clients are taking advantage of the benefits.
What are some of the ways that your clients use the reporting and analytics features to grow their business?
Data is the driver of all decision making. From inventory and sales to team performance, we provide our clients with actionable data and insights they utilize to better manage their team and grow their business. We recognize that each business is different and what’s important to one client might differ from the other. To address this, we’ve built customizable reports where clients are able to decide what data they want to see and how it should be presented. Additionally, we are about to roll out a data partnership with a well-known retail analytics company to provide the market with actionable insights from both the retail and wholesale parts of the market.
From signing up to generating new leads, what is the onboarding experience like for Apex Trading users?
We try and make onboarding as simple as possible and recognize that new software can be daunting and change comes hard within the industry. When an account is created, users are taken through an onboard wizard, which simplifies the initial setup process. We’ve eliminated the data entry aspect through migration and upload tools, allowing new clients to get setup and go live within hours. During this process, our Client Success team schedules training sessions, which allows users to ask questions and familiarize themselves with the platform. What’s more. support doesn’t end after going live – we have online chat with tech support and our Success team is always available to assist clients.
What can you tell us about your wholesale hemp platform, Bushel 44? What facets of the hemp industry does Bushel 44 work with?
Bushel44 is very similar to Apex Trading, but designed specifically for the hemp industry. The hemp industry is flooded with marketplaces where Bushel44 is the only comprehensive hemp-specific inventory, order, sales and business management platform available. We work with the entire supply chain, with exception of B2C.
What do you think the next few years have in store for the cannabis and hemp industries?
I believe we will see federal cannabis decriminalization within the next few years. The House recently passed H.R. 3884, which if it gets passed by the Senate, will do just that. More states will continue to pass medical or adult use. However, if we reflect on previous comments made by President-Elect Biden and influential Republican Senators, I don’t think we should expect to see Federal Legislation or cross-state commerce anytime soon.
It will be interesting to see what happens within the hemp industry. There is substantial progress being made within the EU regarding CBD, and I believe this will continue resulting in substantial opportunity there. One somewhat neglected aspect of hemp are the industrial applications, which I find fascinating. Hemp has the potential to reduce dependence on plastic, provide more sustainable and durable building materials, and revolutionize the fabric and textile industries.
Thank you, John, for answering our questions! You can learn more about John Manlove and Apex Trading at ApexTrading.com.