Pep “Blackbeard” Tintari has owned the Propostion D-compliant, Pre-ICO Green Light Discount Pharmacy in Sylmar, California, for more than ten years and has seen it all. Here, he shares how he beat back the competition, dealt with a Mafia-esque city council, empowered his employees, and what he is doing to prep for the California vote in November.
You have been in business for almost nine years now and have seen dozens and dozens of legal, and illegal, rivals come and go. How have you stayed ahead of the competition?
It’s been difficult, to say the least. I just try and have the best product for the price. I advertise, but ultimately it’s about product, price, and a few cute girls. It’s hard, though. Pop-ups are constant and inevitable and are always undercutting my prices because their overheads are considerably lower. I just have to have the best for the price and friendly budtenders. However, I have been greatly affected by the illegal competition.
Who is your dedicated customer?
Old men, middle-aged men, and young men. I’d say 50-percent white, 35-percent Hispanic, and 15-percent other. My typical patient likes the high-end and the bargains, but not a lot in between.
What have been your go-to best sellers?
I sell predominantly flower. Secondly, edibles. However, now wax/shatter/crumble are steadily moving way up. Glass and the pre-roll market are consistent but they are more like a plus 1 market. They are coming for the other things but a good budtender can add those plus ones to pad the donations. They usually do not come in specifically for those items, though.
What brands move the quickest?
Emerald Farms, Korova, Kushy Punch, Cheeba Chews, Moonrocks, Cavi Cones, Kaboom, Prime, Bhang, and Moxie.
What products have the best margins?
I try to keep the profit margins pretty consistent across the board, but that being said, edibles are most consistent. Everyone knows what to expect, and I always know what to charge.
What are the most important things you’ve learned about owning a dispensary?
First, not all business are treated equally. I really thought when I got into this venture that a whole new world of legitimacy was going to open up, but sometimes I get treated like a second-class citizen. I’ve never tried so hard to follow the rules, but I’m still rejected or led astray. You can do everything right, and sometimes it still doesn’t matter. Groups of people will still do everything they can to keep you from succeeding.
You think that coming from the underground, you’ve dealt with and seen everything. You have never dealt with anything like dealing with the city. The tactics that they use are straight out of the Mafia handbook. Literally, things I had heard the Mafia do are the same things the city has done to me. And you just smile and take it. If they did this to any other business, people would flip out, but because we are in the weed industry, everyone thinks we deserve this treatment. Sadly, to defeat the monster you have to become a monster, and the irony is the reason you went into the business was not to be that monster.
Second, hire people you trust. Nothing hurts this type of business more than untrustworthy employees. To make the place run well, you have to have trust. There are so many things constantly going on in the shop, and for it to go smoothly, trust is paramount. I know guys who run their shops with an iron fist, but that really isn’t my style. Like in any business, I prefer to empower my employees to make decisions quickly and efficiently without me looking over their shoulders. If you don’t have trust, this does not work. You are only as strong as the team you have constructed.
Third, everything is negotiable. Everyone starts high, from rent to price on flower to how they will accept payment. Never take the first offer. There is a fine line, and you have to learn it. It’s smart to negotiate but it’s bad business to break balls, and there is a huge difference. Learn to walk the line, and you can maximize profitability and be respected by your peers.
Do you have an exit strategy?
The exit strategy has always been ride this train until it flies off the tracks—and it will fly off the tracks. The future looks competitive—scary competitive. My hope is that like wine, there will always be boutiques, and that’s how the little guy will survive. Bars, or some form of them, are probably the future for these mom-and-pop dispensaries, especially if they can provide something special and unique, like maybe the weed version of gastropubs and [India pale ale brewers].
What’s your philosophy when hiring budtenders?
Budtenders should be knowledgeable, trustworthy, personable and, sadly, easy on the eyes. It’s just the sad truth of things, but if anyone tells you different in the Los Angeles market, they are full of shit. I have a manager; I’ve known him for 15 years and I would trust him with my life. Those are the only kind of people that work, in my experience. Anything less than that is potential trouble. I don’t want to micromanage or look over my manager’s shoulder.
Parting words of advice
Build a strong team. Empower your players. Care about your employees and make sure they know that. You are as strong as your team. Let them know that every day. Let them know you are concerned about them, and ultimately they will feel like it is their place. That is the most you can ever hope for.