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This week, Brandon Barksdale, CEO of Dalwhinnie Farms, discusses his transition from accounting to leading a premium cannabis company focused on growing the cleanest product in the market.
Brandon Barksdale wants to increase operational excellence and maturity in the cannabis industry.
The new CEO of Dalwhinnie Farms spent his career improving operations across numerous markets, from retail to manufacturing and technology, and he wants to bring the best practices from each into the cannabis industry.
Although elements of methodologies like Kaizen and lean manufacturing have made their way into the industry, Barksdale says the sector still has room for improvement. Barksdale has experience creating controls and processes that align with the complexities of operations as companies look to expand from startups into multi-state operators.
The industry is still looking for the best way to do things practically, but companies are often taking small steps despite many practices being tried-and-true in other sectors. Although these are not new concepts — but rather old ones brought to a new industry — Barksdale says young industry talent wants to see them proved out: when companies make operational changes, it seems like a lot of work. In the bigger picture, it's important to identify trends that show where a company is over- or underperforming. It's about creating a continuous cycle of improvement: even when you're great, you could be better, Barksdale says.
Today, when you hear the term "efficiencies," you may think of cutting labor, but Barksdale says it's all about keeping in-house talent happy and motivated. Employees can get bogged down in day-to-day activities that don't provide any value. He looks to repurpose talent to be more effective.
Barksdale is a proponent of automation, but only where appropriate: he sees opportunities to use it, as long as it doesn't impede quality. It's a balancing act, and not every company is the same. For example, Dalwhinnie cares about the practices that go into cultivation and making sure customers get the best, cleanest product they can grow. In some cases, that means more hands-on labor, but automation can reduce costs and human error in areas like feeding and irrigation. Typically, companies will use more automation for commodity products and less for the craft side of the business.
Dalwhinnie Enterprises is based in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. The company's proprietary strains are meticulously grown at a cultivation facility that shares its grounds with a 210-acre working equestrian ranch outside Telluride. The company's estate line, the Dalwhinnie Farms brand, is tied to a high-end dispensary in Aspen, Colorado, while Shift Genuine Cannabis, the company's custom-bred line, has a significant footprint in Denver and the surrounding area. Finally, the company operates Ridgeway Hemp Company, which specializes in CBD products. Barksdale adds that the company has a few new brands currently under development.
The retail location in Aspen receives a mix of transient and local traffic, but travelers have helped create new market opportunities as people become more familiar with the brand. As a single-state operator, Dalwhinnie is working to increase its footprint in Colorado while keeping an eye on new and existing markets that could present expansion opportunities.
The company operates a manufacturing plant outside Denver that makes concentrates and waxes. Barksdale's plan is to consistently deliver quality and expand at the right pace without impacting the consumer experience. He sees room for organic growth in Dalwhinnie's current structure.
Barksdale also strives to create the highest quality product in the cleanest possible way with the lightest possible footprint. As a result, the company is constantly upgrading equipment to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
As Dalwhinnie continues to expand, Barksdale emphasizes cultivating a company culture that prioritizes wellness and fun. It may be challenging as new markets emerge, but Barksdale remains steadfast that company culture and mission are critical to Dalwhinnie's success.
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