Greenway Best of the Industry: Brooke Foster, Executive of the Year, Woman of the Year
Brooke Foster serves as Chief Executive Officer of Show Me Alternatives (SMA), the parent company to COCO – A Cannabis Only Company. With Foster at the helm, both COCO’s retail and manufacturing arms have flourished. In 2021, COCO pushed the Missouri market forward, providing the state with the first available FECO and some of the state’s first available concentrates while operationalizing three dispensaries. At the beginning of 2022, COCO secured its cultivation license and joins the ranks of fully integrated verticals in the state.
In recognition of her leadership and the success of COCO, Foster was chosen by her peers and Greenway readers as not only Woman of the Year but also Executive of the Year for 2022.
Can you tell readers about 2021 for your company?
2021 was a fabulous year for COCO Dispensaries and COCO Labs. Was it a roller coaster? Of course! We learned a lot, made some mistakes, fixed those mistakes and carried on. Our team truly pulled together and we were able to open all three dispensaries locations and our manufacturing facility. It was no small task, but because COCO is blessed with solid, hard working individuals, we were able to be one of the early entries into the MO medical marijuana market. To say we are grateful is an understatement.
What can you tell us about your leadership style?
Somedays I am a great leader and some days not so much. That’s the truth.
When I have “off days” I have an excellent team beside me who never fails to step up to the plate and lend a helping hand or listening ear. I always believe in managing people by working side by side. At COCO, we all have our niche, but we all help, no matter how big or small the task may be. I honestly give a lot of leeway and allow people to try new ideas, etc. If the idea fails, we try again, but I am a firm believer in “you never know unless you try!”
I do demand top-notch customer service at both the manufacturing and dispensary levels. There is no other option when it comes to taking care of our patients, but our entire company shares that same attitude and it shows. Patients deserve the best and COCO strives daily to provide the best customer service we can!
What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced as a woman in the cannabis industry?
Hmmm…that is a very interesting question. I’m not sure that I have faced anything directly that I felt was a challenge simply because I was a woman. I don’t feel that my gender has held me back or made cannabis any more difficult for me than other industry leaders, male or female.
However, I say that as my personal experience, but I fully understand that women and minorities are not equally represented in the cannabis industry. Women are the fastest-growing consumer group of legal cannabis so it makes total sense that more and more women would be in leadership positions. We need talented women and talented minority leaders to speak to those demographics. It is our responsibility to make sure those positive changes continue to take place in the cannabis industry.
In my opinion, still one of the biggest obstacles is the stigma that remains around the plant. Although the culture is positively shifting, it is still a challenge for all involved. There is so much opportunity in cannabis, throughout the country and in Missouri, and we need brilliant, creative, determined folks to keep the arrow pointed in the right direction. This plant has a wealth of “good” that comes from it including physical health, mental well-being, happiness, and especially the positive impact on women’s health. This is our opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past and incorporate all genders and races as cannabis benefits us all, not just one sector of the population.
My biggest personal obstacle is that I still have a daughter in high school and this is a demanding industry, especially this start-up phase. I’ve worked lots of hours and had much time away from home these past couple of years. Like many women out there, you just try your best to utilize every waking hour and be the best you can be both at home and work.
What were some of the biggest obstacles your company has faced over the last two years, and how has that changed things for you?
The obvious challenge was building a start-up from scratch and navigating this new industry and the regulations that come along with it. For me, personally, I had to learn a completely new way of doing business and realize cannabis is very different than other industries. I needed to be flexible and make changes.
The access to biomass has been a challenge since we were not a full vertical operation in 2021, but we were able to develop some key partnerships with some amazing cultivators in the state of Missouri and that has been a Godsend.
Testing costs and regulations have definitely been two areas in which our team learned from our mistakes. The testing costs and the amount of samples required is a giant expense to our company and we had to learn how to build batches to maximize the cost of the test and the sample sizes. Honestly, we sometimes still make mistakes in those avenues but we are getting better.
Can you tell Greenway readers about some of your milestones and successes?
COCO was lucky to team with KC Cannabis Company and bring FECO, affordably, to the Missouri market. This was all the idea of KC Cannabis and we were on board completely. Many companies followed suit after us, but this was the love child of KCC and COCO and we couldn’t be prouder to be the first to provide this medicine to Missouri.
As I stated earlier, we were successful in opening all three of our dispensary locations and all three have already celebrated their one-year anniversaries. COCO Labs made its first deliveries the week of 4/20/2021 and although chaotic, we made it happen and delivered some of the first concentrates to Missouri. We are the first to admit that our technique and products have improved tremendously since those first deliveries.
COCO is also incredibly grateful to GreenLight and Jessica Squires, who took a chance on our lab and allowed us to use GreenLight biomass and get concentrates quickly out to the market. COCO has had many milestones and successes thus far, but all came with the help of many.
What makes your COCO special?
This is my favorite question! COCO is special and I believe that deep in my soul. Our company is comprised of unique, hard-working, wildly talented individuals that are here to excel and stand out in their crafts. Everything COCO does is done with the mindset to be the best.
Do we make mistakes? Of course we do, but as I tell everyone every day, “never be afraid to make the mistake, but be afraid to not correct it.”
We stand by all of our products, we stand by all of our people and we stand up for all our patients. Our management has set high standards and we expect the best from anyone that works within the company. If COCO says “we will do it.”, trust me, you can count on COCO to keep their word. Every single day.
At COCO, we are a family….literally! I am lucky that I get to work with my son, Ethan Foster, who along with Dylan Tampow, who is like a son to me, runs our lab. I also work with Skyler Thomas, my nephew, our sales director, Amy Thomas, my sister, works in office administration, Craig Smith. who is also like a son and grew up with Ethan and Skyler, works in data and analytics and serves as facility manager, Jamie Dennis, who is like my sister, is our district supervisor, and many others who aren’t related by blood, but are definitely family to me now. We stand by each other, fight for each other and help each other. Seriously, how lucky am I?
What plans are on the horizon for COCO?
In January 2022, we received our cultivation license. Although exciting, we are right back into the build-out, planning, and start-up phase of business. COCO Labs has some exciting new products in development that will be on the market soon. Our dispensaries will continue to provide a comfortable, friendly place to shop for patients. Those are our number one priorities in 2022.
I didn’t think it could be any crazier for COCO than it was in 2021, but 2022 looks to beat that by a landslide. We look forward to the challenge.
What advice would you give to other women in the cannabis industry, or anywhere in business?
My best advice always, to anyone, is to exercise humility. I am the first to admit that many, many folks have considerably more knowledge in cannabis than I do and I, personally, have learned a great deal from those folks. A good leader recognizes and strengthens the gifts of others. You can NOT do it all alone and it, honestly, is conceited to think you can. To give a personal example; my husband and I managed grocery stores together for many years. Many would have thought this was relationship suicide, but in our case, it worked well. We both had our strengths and we utilized them daily. It was a great partnership. On a lighter note, I always thought he was best at unloading trucks at 5 am.
I was one of three girls in my family. My father believed in us 100%. He gave me praise and criticism to build me into the person I am. He was always kind, but you knew that anything less than giving it your all, simply wasn’t an option. Working in the grocery industry under my father for many years, was a true gift. He was supportive and a mentor to me, never letting me believe in a glass ceiling for myself. That industry is also dominated by males, but that is changing more and more as well. And why wouldn’t it? Women are 50 % of the population and statistically do 70% of the grocery shopping. I believe my past experience in the grocery industry has been incredibly helpful in this transition to cannabis and how to speak directly to our patients of all demographics.
Women are special, no doubt, and I convey that message to my two daughters every day. Women possess the intelligence, creativity and compassion that aligns them to be fabulous leaders in any industry, but especially medical cannabis, where compassion is essential.
COCO believes in teamwork and that will always be my unsolicited advice. My favorite quote, which is painted on the wall of our lab, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit”, should sum up my advice to anyone. Work as a team, believe in yourself, live up to your word, fix your mistakes and work hard…the rest will take care of itself, I promise.