The Missouri marijuana industry has a whole new VIBE
VIBE Cannabis, a Missouri-owned and operated company, located in the booming cannabis hub of downtown St. Louis, has been the talk of the town since its launch.
From the packaging to the flower, the hats to the Green Ticket promotion – everyone is saying something about VIBE Cannabis.
Greenway recently spoke with VIBE’s CEO, Jonathan Milo, to find out how the company exploded onto the scene by keeping its focus on patients, budtenders, and team.
Milo’s passion for cannabis and people is part of what has propelled the company forward at a breakneck pace. While many companies have talked about the importance of creating a culture, Milo and the team at VIBE put a heavy emphasis on the quality of cannabis and people, both in and outside the doors of the facility.
“We have grown from two employees in February 2022 to over 70 employees, who are passionate about learning and contributing to producing the highest quality cannabis while accelerating their careers in the industry,” Milo said. “Generally, everyone that we hire is interviewed after being selected from 200-350 applicants after assessing cultural fit, knowledge, passion, and/or willingness to learn. To have a chance to produce the highest quality cannabis, you must assemble a high-caliber, unified team and provide them with the proper training, infrastructure, equipment, genetics, and growth opportunities.”
That team, and the culture that it has grown from, have led to stellar results for the company, both in terms of branding and reception.
“In its simplest form, VIBE represents diversity,” Milo explained. “We commonly say ‘there isn’t just one VIBE’ which is us saying ‘do your thing, we support you.’ A VIBE is any emotion a person feels comfortable in whether it’s happy, chill, confident, relaxed, arrogant, or euphoric. Our employees bring different VIBEs with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and personalities. Our cannabis strains evoke different VIBEs with various feelings, flavors, and effects. Our headwear expresses different VIBEs in a variety of styles since not everyone wants the same look. We want everyone to do their own VIBE; we love it and we support it.
What can you tell me about the VIBE facility and how you selected the location?
We’re located in the heart of an economic development zone in downtown St. Louis. The location was selected based on community development need, access to a diverse workforce, and proximity to dispensary locations. Our team operates in a 100,000 SF best-in-class indoor cultivation and manufacturing facility that utilizes energy-efficient design, infrastructure, and technology. Since we were required to build such a large facility, we focused on industrial equipment, energy efficiency, and equipment longevity.
VIBE seems to have exploded, almost out of nowhere, over the last few months, can you talk about that growth and what it means for your community?
We joke that we were Missouri’s best-kept secret, on purpose. We chose not to promote VIBE until we knew we could introduce high-quality cannabis to the Missouri medical market. Our brand means nothing if we cannot offer that. In Missouri’s current medical environment, there are so many brands and products, patients haven’t been happy with quality and price, many budtenders have their own parent cultivation sales quotas, and partnerships have already been formed. We knew that if we didn’t offer high-quality medicine that patients would seek out, we’d be at risk of becoming immediately irrelevant. Nonetheless, we’re still aware that this is a never-ending process, so we’re focused on new genetics, innovative products, competitive prices, and supportive partnerships. For our local community, our business has quickly provided a large volume of jobs, professional training with exceptional leaders, and local tax revenues. As we continue to grow, we’ll be able to magnify those benefits as well as invest further into a Missouri community that arguably needs it the most.
What are the long-term growth plans for VIBE?
Our growth plan is focused on growing the Missouri market. If we are able to do that, VIBE’s growth is just a function of that success. Not many people realize that 45% of Missouri’s patients do not actively purchase cannabis products from Missouri dispensaries. This is not common in a medical market and it means that nearly one-half of Missouri’s patients are signaling to licensees that they want better cannabis products, more affordable prices, and reliable brands. If these three areas are not properly addressed, this divide will continue whether we’re in a medical market or an adult-use market, and consumers will continue to obtain their cannabis from home grows or the traditional market. This defeats the purpose of our licensed program which offers access to safe products and significant economic development.
What is the VIBE brand about?
VIBE’s products are about high-quality. VIBE’s brand is about fashion. Our view is if we have the privilege of our apparel being worn on someone’s body, make it high quality that people want to wear, not because we asked them to wear it. We want patients to feel good, look good, and feel good about looking good.
What differentiates VIBE from some of the competitors in the market?
I don’t view my industry peers as our competitors, rather I view them as our partners since many of us are trying to achieve the common goal of supporting Missouri’s patients while developing our state. There are two areas that we have tried to augment that I think may help our industry. The first area has been our attention to detail including our cleanliness, our cultivation practices, our cure techniques, and our packaging solutions. We know these details matter to patients which is why these details matter to us. An example of this can be illustrated in our labels which go beyond just printing standard potency results. We also chose to include our full COA lab results, complete terpene profiles, strain type, and strain lineage.
The second area is genuine care for patients and budtenders, which is why we launched with our Green Ticket promotion. Our authenticity can be experienced through interaction with our cultivation employees, who also host pop-up events on the weekends. Although I lead VIBE as its CEO, I still travel to meet patients face-to-face to talk about medicinal cannabis. I regularly stay up all night personally responding to patients’ emails, feedback, Instagram posts, direct messages, or returning phone calls. When a patient finds a Green Ticket, it lists my personal phone number to call because I want to be the first to congratulate them after I thank them for trying VIBE. Patients and budtenders matter too much to us and we value that connection on an individual level.
What went into the design and execution of your packaging and presentation?
The most important attributes that became the foundation of our packaging choices were maintaining freshness, ability to view the product before purchase, and pre-use and post-use sustainability. My team saw that I never let packaging cost be a factor. My philosophy is that for the cost and time that it takes us to properly grow, harvest, dry, trim, and cure, combined with the budtender and patient experience, whatever packaging we selected, the minor incremental cost for those features was going to be worth it. Thus, we spent a lot of time as a team analyzing the different types of features of packaging available on the market. In one early instance, I brought boxes and boxes of cannabis packaging samples to a coffee shop and I laid them out on the huge table. I met with someone that I had only met over the phone just a few days earlier. His name was Amar and he was a former dispensary general manager and current wholesale sales rep. I told him “Your feedback matters the most to me on this because you’ve had a chance to connect with the most patients in Missouri. This isn’t about what we want, it is about what they want”. So we sat for hours and hours picking apart the different packaging types, features, and details we liked or hated from a patient’s perspective. The coffee shop was packed full of people looking at us like “What are the hell are these weirdos doing?”. Ha ha. Before we left, I thanked Amar for coming out on a Saturday to look at all this stuff with me. He instead thanked me saying, “I am leaving thrilled you invited me here. I have never seen a CEO do this or ask for advice on something like this.” After our interaction, I knew that he cared, and he knew that I cared. Shortly thereafter, he joined us as our first Sales Leader and he’s been a major part of VIBE ever since.
You’ve spoken about the quality standards and the thought behind the packaging – what can you tell us about the methods and processes used at VIBE and how you view the process of cultivating medical marijuana?
VIBE’s approach to cultivating and processing cannabis is heavily influenced by the idea of biodynamics, which promotes a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to producing our products. Our design utilizes energy-efficient systems like LED lights and water-cooled HVAC units that are capable of reclaiming our condensate water. We source renewable and sustainable grow media like coco coir and we sanitize our facility with an ozone-water-based sterilization process to reduce the use of harmful chemicals. In addition, we harness the power of nature through the use of biological control agents like predatory mites and beneficial microbes that replace standard pesticides. Lastly, the packaging of our products is made of sustainable and recyclable materials, reducing the amount of plastic waste our industry is becoming known for.
Many of the detail-oriented choices that are being made seem to be designed to benefit the end user, how does that impact the company’s bottom line?
Easy, it costs us more. Ha ha. In seriousness, we view these benefits to the patient as the cost of having product that patients will value and a brand that they will believe in. This is what it takes; there aren’t any shortcuts. If we took shortcuts with our facility, our people, our plants, our packaging, or our brand, odds are we would eventually pay for it in a different form.
VIBE launched first with flower and pre-rolls, what went into selecting the cultivars and deciding how to make your introduction to Missouri patients?
Our flower strains that have gained immediate popularity have been our Chem Reserve, Gelato, Gelatti, Baker’s Dozen, Cake Mix, MAC Stomper, Ice Cream Social, Animal Cookies, and Mimosa. Our focus was first to get to some high-quality strains, which then made our joints, live resin, and live rosin a little easier to craft. By mid-December, we will have some new genetics that we anticipate everyone will want. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but the strain names alone have everyone excited.
What else should patients and businesses know about VIBE?
Every patient, budtender, partner, and team member who has been a part of our journey, we sincerely appreciate you.