Cannabis Business Times regularly interviews cannabis cultivators to learn more about how they manage their growing operations, including top tips for success, tools and technologies they couldn’t live without, and how they deal with perennial challenges like burnout. In this installment, Anthony Romero, director of operations for Stratos in Pueblo West, Colo., explains what he learned moving from the pharmaceutical industry to managing commercial cannabis cultivation.

 

Name: Anthony Romero

Company: Stratos

Location: Pueblo West, Colo.

Title: Director of Operations

Indoor, outdoor, greenhouse or a combination?

Combination. We have two greenhouses and an annual outdoor farm.

 
Q: Can you share a bit of your background and how you and your company got to the present day?

A: I came from the pharmaceutical industry, just like our founding team [at Stratos], and I worked as the R&D technician of our current founder and CEO Jason Neely. I started with Stratos in 2015 and worked in production making our cannabis-infused tablets. As the company grew, my duties expanded to production supervisor and then into director of operations. As the director of operations, my focus is overseeing the MIP (Marijuana Infused Products facility) and cultivation.

Q: What tool or software in your cultivation space can you not live without?

A: We have a sophisticated ERP system that tracks material from seed to sale. A system like this is beneficial in regard to inventory control, cost analysis (cost per pound), efficiency assessments and regulatory compliance.

 

Q: What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your business in the past six months?

A: Well, I will say growing on a commercial scale does not offer a lot of opportunity for purchases that are $100 or less. However, we are very happy with our ever-improving breeding program, which required a small investment to start. For instance, the grow tents we first used were just a few hundred dollars.

Q: What cultivation technique are you most interested in right now, and what are you actively studying (the most)?

A: A cultivation technique that has served us well is creating a consistent process of maximizing air flow and canopy space. We have experimented with different styles of manicuring and topping and have found the lollipop pruning method to be very beneficial. By formalizing this process, we have seen an increase in quantity and quality.

Q: How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

A: At Stratos we understand mistakes happen. However, the goal is to always turn mistakes into a valuable learning opportunity. One of the biggest lessons learned while being immersed in cultivation was the value of listening to the team. I came from pharma with a background in small-scale grows, so there was a lot to learn. My biggest failure was thinking that growing on a commercial scale would be easy. Luckily, I am fortunate that throughout the years we have had great team members with vast backgrounds in large-scale cultivations. In turn, leaning on them and researching on my own afforded me the opportunity to immerse myself in cultivation and learn how to maximize overall quality and yield. I am happy to say that with the help of my team I learn more and more each day.

 

Q: What advice would you give to a smart, driven grower about to enter the legal, regulated industry? What advice should they ignore?

A: One piece of advice is to go in understanding that the price of weed ebbs and flows here in Colorado. Sometimes there is a surplus and sometimes not. Ensuring you have a creative plan in place that helps you stay profitable even when prices are down is key.

Something to ignore would be titles. The industry is full of “Master Growers.” When submitting resumes and interviewing, don’t worry about titles and focus more on the opportunity and growth trajectory within the team. If you started off growing at home, it just isn’t realistic to think you will be hired as a master grower right off the bat. Commercial grows are much different and it’s critical to learn the right processes and procedures if you want to progress within the company.

 

Q: How do you deal with burnout?

A: As you know, cannabis plants do not know business hours. So, burnout is common, as we are always working and thinking about the plants. Luckily, we have a great community and support system at Stratos and every employee pitches in when it comes time to harvest. This really helps to reduce stress and focus on team comradery. Outside of harvest, we strongly encourage our employees to take their PTO and take the time they need for rest and relaxation.

 

Q: How do you motivate your employees/team?

A: We try our best to make sure they know they are valued. We strongly believe our employees’ voices should be heard and that there is a lot we can learn from them. We let them know that they are [an] integral part of Stratos’ success.

 

Q: What keeps you awake at night?

A: Making sure employees are taken care of and the overall operation is in good standing. Each of our employees represent our successes and the precision and care that goes into each product we make.

 

Q: What helps you sleep at night?

A: Knowing that we are constantly improving our processes and continuing to produce the best quality products on the market today.

 

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