FlowerHire's David Belsky on the Challenges in Cannabis Retail and Recruitment
David Belsky is a recruiting industry veteran and the founder and CEO of FlowerHire, an executive talent firm founded out of L.A. that has become a core building block of the cannabis industry.
FlowerHire has grown to become the leading bridge-building and talent advisory firm, seeding industry leaders into the companies that are actively shaping the cannabis industry, with over 700 placements in 14 states with an average candidate salary of $140,000.
Dave graduated from Cornell University with a degree in industrial relations. We spoke with him for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Dave, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Austin, Texas, and currently live in Los Angeles.
Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.
I am the founder and CEO of FlowerHire, the leading search and talent firm serving the regulated cannabis industry. We are headquartered in California and New York and are currently operating in 14 medical and adult-use markets across the country.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
Cannabis is what introduced me to my wife. The first thing I asked her is if she smoked weed, and now we've been together for over 13 years and have four beautiful kids. So that connection to cannabis gave me an in to talking to someone who would become my future wife.
A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.
My favorite flower right now is Red Congolese or Red Congo. It's a North African sativa that gives you lots of energy and creativity. It is a more challenging plant to grow than some of the hybrids, but if you look hard you can find it in California. I am also really into microdose beverages and edibles; there's so much innovation in the space right now and I love the products like HiFi Hops, Cann, Gem+Jane and Green Monké. Also, Pantry's edible Passion Fruit Guava bites are delicious.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
There are lots of challenges faced by marketers in cannabis. Not being able to use the big online advertising platforms to target consumers and "growth market" is one of them. Another one is the lack of market maturity in certain states with limited access to retail. The last would be limited branding or marketing allowed in medical states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Retailers collect a ton of data about consumers because it's required to present a state-issued identification in order to enter the store. There is starting to be more traction segmenting customers and running promotions on the retail level. That being said, in states that are not mature yet, that consumer doesn't have much choice.
Every state market has different challenges. With cannabis, the challenge is lack of retail in a mature industry; even if you have an amazing product, getting it on shelves is often challenging, let alone selling it with a margin to make money. In emerging markets, there isn't a ton of differentiation by product, and consumers are still in the education curve of learning how to consume cannabis for a lifestyle play. On the flip side, the cannabis industry has probably presented the biggest exercise in trade marketing in our generation and there is beautiful packaging out there to try to catch the eye of the consumer as a result.
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
I am really excited to see more of these newer cannabis markets evolve their product offerings for the benefit of consumers. For example, states like Arizona, Michigan and Massachusetts are really starting to expand customers' choice in terms of quality and at the same time helping educate the community on the cannabis industry. These states are also making it more accessible for consumers to get their products, and it's exciting to witness this type of growth and evolution in real time.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
There are a lot of cannabis organizations that are doing great work right now. I really admire Cannabis Doing Good, which is a group based out of Colorado. They constantly highlight and bring awareness to several different organizations that are pushing the cannabis industry forward by fighting for cannabis incarceration reform and providing support for BIPOC entrepreneurs. FlowerHire is currently partnered with them for our own internal development and hope to build an anti-racist framework for recruitment in cannabis over the next one to two years.
A project you worked on recently that you're proud of.
I am proud of my company as a whole. The FlowerHire team has grown from seven to nearly 30 employees in the last 18 months and we are continuing to opportunistically add talented people to our team. I am extremely proud of the people we have hired; everyone brings such a unique perspective to the organization, and I truly appreciate their passion for the industry. I am proud to be a part of building a more conscious cannabis community one hire at a time. The idea of working in cannabis gives people hope. Hope is a powerful thing, and it is very motivating for my team to wake up plug in and grind as we try to work towards building a profitable yet diverse and equitable industry.
Someone else's project you admired recently.
I admire the work done by our partners at Engin Sciences Inc. They've built a software product to help businesses in the cannabis space hire hourly workers. The functionality of that product aids in solving one of the biggest problems in the cannabis industry from an HR perspective, which is hiring and retaining a talented workforce. Cannabis as a business needs to hire tens of thousands of workers every year without prior professional industry experience. Solving the match and fit proposition for recruitment across cannabis is a big problem to tackle, but I love the Engin Sciences team's vision for doing so.
Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.
There are several people who are moving the industry forward, but the first person who comes to mind is Whitney Beatty. After three years of dealing with the hardships of trying to get a dispensary up in L.A. through the social equity program, she was finally able to open her cannabis speakeasy, Josephine and Billie's, at the end of 2021. I really admire Whitney's perseverance and commitment to creating a safe, educational and creative space in the cannabis industry. Honestly, most of the executives and leaders running cannabis companies are some of the most amazing folks that come in every day with roadblocks and take challenges in stride while continuing to put their all into making the world a better place through access to plant-based medicine and safer alternatives in the pursuit of wellness.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
I'd definitely be a high school football coach.