A 5-Star Experience

Florida MMJ company concentrates on personalized service, cultivating doctor relationships to stay on top

by Bart Schaneman

For Florida-based Trulieve, a simple strategy offered a path to initial success: Get there first.

After winning a license under the state’s CBD-focused program in 2015, the company racked up an impressive list of “firsts” once Florida approved a broad medical cannabis program last year.

Trulieve claims it was the first to:

  • Get the green light to process full-strength medical cannabis.
  • Receive authorization to dispense MMJ.
  • Open a dispensary (in Tallahassee) in July 2016.
  • Make a home delivery.
  • Transact an in-store sale.

But creating a sustainable medical marijuana business that can achieve success in the long run requires more than just being first.

To that end, the vertically integrated MMJ company has focused on building its customer base through personalized service, which involves holding patients’ hands every step of the way in the enrollment process and beyond. Trulieve also nurtures relationships with the doctors who recommend medical marijuana.

“Our strategy is pretty straightforward,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers.

The strategy seems to be paying off.

The company now operates nine dispensaries across Florida and accounts for about a sixth of the state’s medical marijuana market, serving roughly 5,000 patients out of a total pool of 31,000 as of late August. Trulieve plans to open another 16 dispensaries by the end of 2018 – this in a state where annual dispensary sales are forecast to be $600 million-$800 million in the next three to five years, according to Marijuana Business Daily estimates.

The company also employs approximately 225, including greenhouse staffers, cannabis growers, scientists, a toxicologist, a nuclear engineer, a physician, a nurse and a lawyer, as well as managers and consultants at each dispensary.

Holding Patients’ Hands

Rivers characterized the Florida system as “somewhat challenging” for patients to navigate, so her team works to create what she calls a five-star experience.

To deliver that service, Trulieve management ensures the company’s patient consultants undergo a rigorous training process, “making sure the patient feels cared for and connected.”

When voters passed Amendment 2 last year legalizing MMJ, the measure required the Florida Department of Health to develop an ID card program for patients to receive medical marijuana recommendations.

To help patients comply, Trulieve notified them of the requirement and then provided educational materials on its website detailing the necessary steps to obtain cards, such as the required paperwork and where to send it.

Trulieve also set up kiosks in its dispensaries so patients could take passport-style photos. The company then mailed the photos with the applications into the DOH for patients. Additionally, Trulieve rolled out a program where patients who spent $150 get back $75, which covers the full cost of the ID card.

“Even though it’s been somewhat of a burdensome process for patients to go through the ID card program in Florida,” Rivers said, “we wanted to make it as easy as possible for patients to become enrolled in the program or continue to be enrolled in the program.”

Now that the MMJ program is up and running, Trulieve uses social media and an email list to notify patients of any changes. And it provides information. For example, the company posted a link on its Facebook page that directs visitors to videos hosted on its website that answer common questions from patients.

Focusing on Doctors

As an important step in building the patient pool, the company strives to ensure doctors know how to recommend MMJ.

Rivers said Trulieve has been very focused on building relationships with registered physicians in the state. Her company functions as a resource for doctors looking for information on the MMJ program by providing education, communication and ongoing support.

Trulieve offers free physician training in both individual and group formats for doctors entering the industry. The training includes information on how to navigate the compassionate use registry and other paperwork associated with the program, including compliance materials. The company also offers a dedicated website for physicians that includes information on products, dosing guides, educational materials and condition-specific resources.

“The Florida laws have been in a constant state of evolution,” Rivers said. “So being that trusted resource for physicians has been key for us and for physicians feeling comfortable with our products and with our program in Florida in general.”

Capturing the Market

Building up the patient pool and number of doctors willing to recommend medical cannabis is part of the larger company ethos to succeed.

“We’re absolutely not afraid to go full force 100% of the time,” Rivers said.

How?

“I would say one of our biggest attributes is we’re very, very responsive to our customers,” Rivers said. “We make ourselves available to our patients and physicians pretty much 24/7. Stores and call centers are open seven days a week, pretty much around the clock.”

Rivers said the company plans to open all 25 dispensaries it’s allowed to under the new state law.

“The starting point has always been we feel a responsibility to be able to serve all of the patients in the state of Florida,” she said.

For that to happen, the company needs a robust logistics plan.

Each week Trulieve convenes planning meetings to analyze trends, patient counts and how many physicians are active in the state’s program.

Recently, for example, staffers discussed the time it takes for patients to obtain ID cards – and steps the company can take to assist in expediting that process. Staff members also strategize regarding new products to develop based on patient segment growth and patient demand and feedback.

“We do goal set often,” Rivers said.

One of the company’s goals, for example, was to be first to market.

“That’s something we were focused on really before we were even awarded the license,” she added.

Management carves out time dedicated to working on the business rather than working in the business. At these meetings, executives discuss both nationwide and statewide trends. They also discuss market positioning and areas of opportunity. That ensures goals continue to be set and the company’s mission implemented.

Smart Growth

While Trulieve aims to establish a presence in the Florida market, it’s not necessarily the goal to simply become the largest in the state.

“We’re focused on quality and quantity,” Rivers said.

For the company’s executives, it’s important to remember that growth happens one patient at a time. That means the patients’ experience is paramount to the company’s success.

Patients are asked to write reviews on the company’s website and via comment cards. Then upper management reviews feedback at a weekly meeting.

For example, if the company produced 1,000 units of a vaporizer cartridge, executives want to know how many comments came back, how many cartridges were returned and why, and whether specific feedback issues need to be addressed.

Recently, patients reported they wanted a cartridge with a stronger pull. Trulieve heard that comment and released a new version.

“Of course, we have folks who liked the old style,” Rivers said. “Now we continue to offer both styles.”

For Rivers, it’s important for a growing company in a high-growth industry to pivot in response to customer demand.

“It’s about being able to balance,” Rivers said. “You’re not going to have patient satisfaction if the quality of your product suffers.”