Today, The Green Solution is one of Colorado's largest marijuana dispensary chains, and it's expanded into four other states so far, with big plans for future growth. But co-founder and CEO Kyle Speidell, who recently spoke to us about the launch of Blazin' Hit Radio , the ambitious new online home of former KS 107.5 favorites Larry and Kathie J, who are hosting a welcome-back party for listeners on Friday, September 22 (details below), notes that TGS is, at its heart, a family affair. Indeed, he and his three brothers have helped develop the operation over the past seven years into what seems poised to become a signature cannabis business from coast to coast.
"I have a twin brother, Eric, and we've worked together for the majority of our lives," says Kyle, who's originally from the Fort Wayne, Indiana, area but was raised in Northglenn from the age of five. "We owned a real estate company and started flipping houses and doing development pretty much right out of high school and into college."
The real estate biz was going well until "the bubble of ’08, ’09," Kyle continues, "and that's where Eric and I thought of pivoting. Eric went to the Marine Corps for a little while, and I kept doing real estate, and my other brothers, Brad and Nick, were doing their own things. Nick was in the Marines, too. He did three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Then 2010 rolled around and, Kyle says, "We started hearing a lot of rumblings about the cannabis industry. I've always been intrigued by cannabis, and I've partaken for the majority of my adult life, but the risks of getting into the business were heavy, just huge" thanks to the threat of a federal crackdown on the medical marijuana industry — concerns that have re-emerged following the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an anti-pot zealot. "But the one thing we had going for us is that it was actually riskier to be in the real estate market back then. We wondered, 'Is it worth playing the game and waiting it out — seeing if in five years we can make it through? Do we take the small amount of money we'd made in real estate up until that point [less than $100,000] and put it into an opportunity that could be very valuable?"
In the end, Kyle and Eric decided to go for it under the theory that "worst-case scenario, we could start over in real estate when the market picked up. We thought, what was there to lose?"
Fortunately, he goes on, "we started working with Northglenn, which was one of the more liberal cities in Colorado when it came to cannabis — one of the few at that time that had marijuana laws on their books. We fought hard for a store there, went through a bunch of zoning hearings, and ended up getting awarded one of the two licenses at that time and started our journey. We bought a warehouse downtown; they were cheap then. I think we had only about a hundred lights in that first grow — but we made it work."
They also tried to avoid spreading themselves too thin, Kyle stresses. "We stayed put in our Northglenn store for about two years and learned a lot. We learned about regulations when House Bill 1284 came to be, and that gave us some certainty. And as the cannabis industry gained more momentum around patients, we saw that there was a potential to make this a viable business."
Finally, in 2013, "we bought another two stores and another grow," Kyle says. "That gave us what we felt was a great presence in Colorado — and that's when we started understanding what our brand was and who we needed to be. It scared us from a business standpoint not knowing at the federal level what to do and how to accomplish it. But luckily, we had been very compliant in what we did with the City of Denver and our stores in all the other jurisdictions — and that allowed us to be some of the first stores in the world, I guess, to go recreational. We had two stores open up for recreational sales on January 1, 2014 — two out of the first nine or twelve. And our other two stores ended up becoming recreational a short time after that."
During this transitional period, Brad and Nick joined the team, too, "and we realized that we had to shift the culture of cannabis," Kyle recalls. "Now there was an opportunity to be a part of everyday life, like your liquor store or grocery store or local mall. You can visit it frequently, and you can have a brand and have people believe in your brand. So we started promoting our accolades to land more licenses. We got licenses in Aurora, we bought another grow in Denver, we won a lottery in Adams County where we had another store. We then purchased a few more stores and eventually got to where we are today, which is twelve stores with roughly five more opening in the next twelve months."
Kyle calls this sequence of events "absolutely amazing — and it was really done organically. We reinvested every dollar back into the business, unlike many other brands that we started out with — brands that had a lot of cash or capital to expand their operations swiftly. So we're kind of the hometown success story. We've been able to take something small and make something amazing out of it. And it's been a blessing to have my family come along on this journey. We've had the opportunity to grow together personally and professionally — and I think that comes down to trust. Our vision was aligned very early on, and because we haven't had shifts in ownership, and there haven't been shifts in regulation issues or setbacks that other companies have had, we've been able to stay true to our vision and mission along the way and haven't veered from it. I think that's the reason we're here today."
He's especially excited that marijuana has become a topic that no longer must be avoided in polite company. "Before 2010, you didn't even speak of what you did when you went to a pipe shop. You just bought your pipe and moved on. So to be able to openly discuss it has been such a change, and I'm proud that we've been pioneers in wanting the culture to thrive."
Specializing in a product people want has certainly helped. "Cannabis is better in every way from alcohol and tobacco and all these other drugs, like opioids," he allows. "I feel like they've made me a better person and allowed me to focus on the things I want to and need to — and I've had the opportunity to grow with it in my career."
The challenges facing the Green Solution have changed, too, with the company now fighting against the biases some customers have against chains.
TGS doesn't conform to the worst stereotypes of such businesses, Kyle insists. "When you think of fast-food chains, you think of low quality and high volume — and you think they're in it for just quick bucks and the bottom line. But to us, a chain means sustainability. It means more consistency and more quality. One thing you can't do being a mom-and-pop is deal with regulations the way we do. You can't improve your profits as you lower the price for consumers, you can't create better packaging that is more cost-effective while still growing the business. And we've been able to do that. Because we have multiple profit centers, we've been able to reinvest to maintain the quality and consistency that our brand is built off of."
Customers "may feel like, 'Oh, the prices aren't dropping the way they were and the quality isn't changing and the brand isn't getting better,'" he concedes. "But over time, you'll see that TGS is innovating, paving the way to allow the success of this industry — because without it, you're not able to grow the opportunity for others, not able to allow the consumer to have a better product. There's a reason we pay the prices we pay today for things — because they can be mass-produced. There's always going to be the mom-and-pop shop that's going to be higher priced or that want to home in on specific things. But we want to be a brand that really accomplishes quality and consistency and a presence the industry can be proud of."
Not that the Green Solution is ready to rest on its laurels. "Everybody has to understand that we're still fighting for this every day," Kyle says. "It's a right in Colorado, but I was recently in Florida, and you can't get cannabis there yet. You can't go to Maryland and get cannabis like you can in Colorado. And that means we have to make this sustainable. You have to make it regulated, and the only way you can do that is make it so we can test it better — have purer and better products all the time. Safer products and cheaper products for consumers so they can have a long-term relationship with it. And if we don't do that, this will fall by the wayside, just like anything else."
With that philosophy in mind, TGS is pushing beyond Colorado's borders via franchising agreements and more.
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"We currently have two stores open in Illinois and many other manufacturing facilities in Oregon, Nevada, Florida and Illinois, too," Kyle explains. "We have the only approved, FTC-compliant franchise in the country for cannabis, and we sell our franchises for that exact purpose — to expand the culture and adapt what we've learned to new states and cities. There's no reason a new market should start where we were in 2010 —absolutely no reason. They should start where Colorado is today, which is the most advanced market in the country. And that's what we're trying to do. We want to raise the bar again, and we want to continue raising the bar in any state we go to."
By year's end, he adds, "we're hoping to have about ten stores in Florida, and we hope to open up new stores in other states as well."
From little things, big things come.
The "They're Back" Party with Larry and Kathie J takes place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, September 22, at Tracks, 3500 Walnut Street. Admission is free for attendees age 21 and over, and those who show the doorman that they've downloaded the Blazin' Hit Radio app will receive a free shot. They'll also be able to register to win a $2,000 gift card to The Green Solution. Visit the Celebration Week page for more details.