4 Lessons Learned Working in the New Cannabis Industry


When I set out to open a medical cannabis dispensary in the Chicago area, I recognized that a move into the new cannabis industry would be riddled with challenges. I decided then and there that I would draw upon the years of skills I had amassed in the healthcare field. With that said, my experience in the cannabis industry has taught me several invaluable business lessons that have shifted my business practices and outlook.

Cannabis Industry Lessons Learned

Core Value Discipline Creates Differentiation in a Commoditized Market

Considering the commoditized nature of the cannabis industry and that most licensees are non-vertically integrated (having very little control over how the medication is produced), creative means for differentiation must be employed to retain patient loyalty.

By nurturing a company-wide value discipline that focuses on “patient intimacy,” you develop a deep understanding of your patients that fosters a close and long-term relationship. This requires looking insightfully at the customer journey to better understand the patient’s experience, ongoing interactions with the plant, and motivations for commitment to a cannabis regiment.

For example, upon intake, each of our patients is now presented with (and encouraged to maintain) a customized cannabis treatment plan that maximizes relief while meeting their lifestyle needs. Many of our company’s staff members are medical cannabis patients themselves, so product recommendations are often made based on personal feedback.

In today’s hurried business world, quality time taken with each customer to ensure an extraordinary level of service, expertise and guidance – goes a long way.

Persistent Challenges Breed Resilience

The expansive and ever-growing number of cannabis industry obstacles includes:

  • lack of access to banking;
  • an inventory procurement process that is time consuming, non-standardized, and requires careful attention to detail;
  • management of a cash intensive business;
  • and inconsistencies between state and federal laws which manifest themselves on multiple levels.

As a result, a decision to invest in the new cannabis industry means that you’re forced to dig deep and develop strong resilience. Although these difficulties at times seem insurmountable, a team that works hard to seek creative solutions is key to success.

For example, we leverage our collective experience in healthcare, retail operations, finance, strategic thinking and pharmacy management to initiate the best course of action. By preserving an optimistic outlook, embracing one another and supporting other industry businesses, it is through this resilience that our company has been successfully able to adapt to disruptions while scaling the business.

Industry Alliances are Necessary for Navigating Regulatory Framework

Operating in a nascent industry within a highly regulated framework requires allies. When cannabis business licensees share feedback that illuminates state guidelines and simplifies the everyday practice of running a cannabis business, exchanges ideas for cost-savings, develops ongoing vendor relationships, and integrates new technologies and product innovations – these alliances become critical to success.  I have come to regard many of these co-business owners as friends.

By working together cooperatively to drive the industry forward, impart legislative change and pivot public perception around medical cannabis – we are all supporting this new cannabis industry together.

Business Practices Must be Flexible in an Evolving Market

New products are constantly coming to market. Program changes can go in to effect at any time. To survive in business, one must be flexible enough to adapt.

To flourish, you must anticipate changes and formulate your strategy. By keeping your finger on the pulse of the industry – watching trends, listening to legislators, participating in medical research, engaging in studies, interacting with customers and monitoring social media – you are better able to anticipate changes and restructure your strategy accordingly.

A flat organizational structure that empowers your team members to make their own decisions works best. Open communication and collaboration should be the cornerstones of your corporate culture. Everyone at our dispensary has an equal voice in submitting new ideas. By continuously looking to improve upon your business practices, your are able to progressively raise your standards of excellence.

I recently came across this quote by self-help writer and speaker Robin Sharma, “Doing the difficult things that you’ve never done awakens the talents you never knew you had.” As a cannabis industry advocate and healthcare entrepreneur, I welcome these difficulties as new opportunities for professional and personal growth – and you should do the same in your business, too.

Plant Image via Shutterstock

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Nicole van Rensburg


Nicole van Rensburg Nicole is a partner and co-founder of Midwest Compassion Center (MCC), a dispensary in the Chicago suburbs that provides safe access to high-quality, affordable medical cannabis. Prior to MCC, she spent 15 years guiding strategy, marketing, and procurement for several family healthcare businesses in the mobile diagnostic testing industry.

3 Reactions

  1. Aira Bongco

    When I see Cannabis, I could not help but think about the resilience of the business owners. Selling this is tough with all its regulations but it can ultimately make a business owner grow.

  2. Martin Lindeskog

    I am for legalize it, but I wouldn’t use it. It is interesting to see how frank Gary Johnson is on this topic.

  3. If I had read this before knowing who wrote it, I would have guessed it was Nicole. She’s the “Compassion” in Midwest Compassion. Center. She combines a keen but thorough knowledge of running a business along with making sure her customers come first– no easy task when the business being run is under the microscope by bureaucrats, politicians, law enforcement and a skeptical medical profession not to mention the laws and regulations in place which would drive any business owner to run for the hills. Banks can’t be associated with dispensaries, landlords refuse to lease space to them, etc. And not to mention the fierce competition within the industry, which in my opinion will only grow in intensity as the medical cannabis program grows.

    Yet Nicole navigates the system with determination, optimism and a keen sense to keep learning. She approaches every day eager to help not only the clients who walk through MCC’s doors, but makes extraordinary efforts to attend events, talk to people individually and to groups all to educate and raise awareness. It could be a 5K Walk for Epilepsy or a major summit, Nicole makes the commitment.

    I’m not a business owner, but covering a lot of stories for WGN-TV News in Chicago and approaching everything with a healthy dose of skepticism, it doesn’t take a lot of investigating to spot the pros from the wannabes.. If there’s any doubt Nicole walks the walk then why do many of her clients go out of their way to get to the MCC when they could find one a lot closer?

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