Because a small business, as its name implies, does work on a much smaller scale, as a business owner, you have to be much more careful. It’s a scary time, and your small business could and will suffer if you don’t have the proper protective measures in place to protect you, your employees, and your customers. Kurt Badertscher is the Co-Owner of Otoké Horticulture. He joins Tony Frischknecht to talk about preventive and protective measures a small business should implement. If anything, as a business owner, you have to make sure that safety is your number one priority. Make sure you’re a part of the effort to stop the spread of disease.
Listen to the podcast here:
How To Keep Your Small Business Safe With Kurt Badertscher
I appreciate you joining me. It’s another beautiful day here in Colorado. I am itching so bad to get out. I am trying to find reasons to disappoint myself so I’m not as eager as I am to enjoy this weather. It’s a great time of the year here. I am trying to bring you some good information to help you and your businesses. Some trying times have been happening. Like any business that you have has its roadblocks and ups and downs. You have to change when change comes upon you. When I speak of this, it’s the COVID-19 stuff. Some of the stuff that I want to bring to you is a good all-around business sense. It’s not subject to the virus that we have going on and the issues that are in the world.
I’ve been thinking about trying to get you some great information. I reached out to a couple of friends of mine. This next gentleman I have coming up that I’m going to introduce you to, I met when I was in a tough situation. We were in our first large warehouse grow and he and his wife were doing horticulture consulting and we were experiencing some crazy insect issues. When I say crazy insect issues, it’s at the time when you have a small grow, it’s a lot easier to manage. Once you start going into large indoor and outdoor spaces, your problems get magnified by the thousands on every square foot or every extra plant you pick up. I was fortunate to run across this couple. They have done some amazing things in the industry. They wrote a book together called Cannabis for Capitalists a technical cultivation guide. They’ve also written several articles for Cannabis Business Times.
They also have created some more information to share with you that I know I’m excited to talk about. He’s got COVID-19 screening and safety processes for small business owners. Before I introduce you, these are processes that you can put in place for everything in the future that you do. We don’t always have to start from scratch when we build plans and standard operating procedures. I would say that this person and his wife are extremely good at creating standard operating procedures. They do this constantly. They got off of a year doing a lot of these for the European market. I can’t wait to introduce you. I have Kurt Badertscher with me. Kurt, how are you doing?
Tony, thanks for having me on. I’m doing great. You’re in Colorado and I’m in Hawaii.
It’s a fantastic time there. Kurt used to live here in Colorado so he knows the weather and he decided to move to an even more beautiful place. Kurt, you have written gobs of information at this point. What made you decide to launch something like this for COVID-19 now for the small business owner?
I’ve been watching all the various news, the officials, the press and everybody like that. Being a process guy in the first place, what I kept missing was, “You’re telling people that they’ve got to do things, but they’re not telling anybody what they need to be doing beyond gloves and masks?”
That seems confusing though.
There’s nothing there. The new joke is the old joke of where’s the beef? That’s the whole point of this. We didn’t see anybody talking about what was involved in doing it so we said, “We’re not going to make masks or anything like that, but maybe we can offer something to the business community in general, the cannabis community in particular about some thoughts on how to go about understanding what does safe look like.”Using protective equipment should be nothing new to anybody. Click To Tweet
That’s quite a steep mountain to crawl across.
It is. It’s like they said the journey starts with a step so the first thing you have to do is to talk about it and think about it. Right off the top here, I’ll give you a simple exercise that any business owner can do in about two minutes and that is, “I’ve got to run to the post office. What do I need to do to keep myself safe?” It turns out that it’s maddening in that it means maybe driving by the gas station because you’ve only got one pair of gloves or you can’t pick up the package. If there’s a package at the post office, you’ve got enough time and safety equipment to be able to pick up your mail. It’s a question of understanding how detailed and intense the process that you have to implement. From there, it becomes a question of matching what you have available to you and the circumstances of your business to the challenges of keeping you, your employees, and your customers safe. That’s the challenge and it’s easily done.
It sounds like you’re bringing a lot of clarity to the situations.
We’re hoping to get people thinking. The clarity comes later because we slapped this together in a week’s time but a lot of it, interestingly enough, came from a lot of the writings that we had in the cannabis industry because protective equipment is nothing new to anybody. In fact, we know that there are lots of operations, indoor operations in particular around the world, where everybody’s already dressed in full PPE every day. You look to those kinds of realities and processes to understand, “I do need to be able to keep my people safe and clean. How do I do that?” Walk through what they’re doing every day, coming into work, checking in, and going about their business. You analyze every one of those little instances in time and ask yourself, “What do I have to do to keep those people safe?”
That might include showers, locker rooms, and we can allow people to come in and change and get into non-street clothes every day as an example. It’s a fairly simple thing. The average retail shop is not going to have a shower and locker room for their employees so they’ve got to do something different but you have to address the issue of what it is that I’m trying to do. I’m trying not to bring stuff in from the outdoors on my clothes. That’s the problem. How do you do that? That’s the thing that we’re going through here.
You’re bringing more of an awareness to the situation to the start of this and you’ve created this document to help guide them through. Am I correct in saying that?
That’s right. It basically talks about what are some of the basics that I need to understand. For instance, I’m not sure that the average person out there, and this is through no fault of their own, truly understands how infectious this disease is. Part of this is getting your head wrapped around the fact that you’re dealing with life or death situations and that’s what we’re dealing with here. You have to be cognizant of the fact that it’s probably not a lick and promise prospect here. You’ve got to go deep in some of these processes to the point where I would have to unfortunately say, “Unless you’ve got an ability to screen your staff with testing, I don’t see how you can guarantee anything to anybody.”
You can do an awful lot of work, later on, to try to minimize the risk but if you don’t have a way to absolutely shut the door on COVID walking in your service entrance, it’s tough. People are going to have to make that decision themselves. Part of it, while I can take it to the max in terms of the process, everybody’s got to be able to figure it out. When do they feel comfortable? That’s the question. What does safe look like? How do you recognize it? It works both ways. For small business owners, they want to do what they can but also for your customers, you need to convince them that you’re doing the right stuff. That gets into being transparent about what you’re doing. The other big message is we see problems with the meat packer processing plants and stuff. We don’t know what their processes look like. We’ve been told but they failed. Whatever they were, they weren’t working and that’s the other key here.
What’s happening is we’ve got all these issues and now we’ve got to revamp our standard operating procedures. If we did have them before and still are missing something, we’ve got to add to them. We didn’t have any of them now but we have to understand that this is going to become mainstream for every business. What would you say out there to the business owner that’s like, “I have enough stuff to do. I can do some hand wipes and some sanitized bottles. What do you want me to do now?”
That is the challenge because the average small business is not a manufacturing business. It’s a retail shop or restaurant. They have huge challenges of protecting themselves and protecting their customers as a result of that. This is exactly the point as to why we tried to jump into this. Start thinking about it and say, “I do not want to be responsible for one of my customers getting sick.” That’s where it begins. You’re thinking about this and you’re asking the same question about your employees. You’re asking the same question about yourself. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more that goes into that decision than the technical aspects of stuff. Everybody’s got bills to pay and that is a weight that you can’t underestimate. It’s pressing down on everybody and driving everybody but that makes it all the more important. If you’re going to do that, be aware of what you’re stepping into here, even to the point of asking your lawyer, “Am I liable if one of my employees gets sick?”
This is where it comes to where you’ve got to ask yourself some hard questions as a business owner. Where are my margins? Where are my liabilities? Is this going to fall on me? Also, I want to transcend past this COVID-19 stuff because there’s going to be other stuff that comes along the way. More so looking at the bigger picture is keeping everybody safe even after the next year goes by. Also, understanding that this is a process that is going to be maintained for it could be the rest of our lives as we add on to it to keep people safe.
I’m terrible at crystal balls so I won’t say much of anything about where this is going to go. I’m like everybody else. I’m staring and looking at the charts and I don’t see the rates of infection or death changing yet. To me, that’s the hill that we’re all climbing. In cases like this, all you can do is to redouble your efforts and that’s why the first thing we say is, “Make sure you have a realistic view of what it is you’re facing here.” It can be spread through a cough or a touch. I don’t know anybody that’s doubting that now but for those that are, I have nothing to say to them other than, “Good luck.” This is like radioactivity.
To simplify it and break it down, a lot of your experience has been in the cannabis world for the last few years. I know for a fact because we worked together on some stuff, but you have processes in place to prevent diseasing other crops and other areas in the facility.
We put together an awful lot of this thing by drawing on our ratings that we’ve already got in place. If there’s a technology that we suggest that you don’t have, you don’t have it. I’m not suggesting that you go out and do it unless you think it’s the key to your business. There is any number of things that people can do but it is limited by the realities of what they’ve got.
Let’s talk about that for a bit. Besides somebody going through your COVID screening manual, what are the top things that they need to do right away as they’re either reopening or thinking about opening?
The one thing given that they can’t do the testing of their staff, necessarily. I understand some companies might be able to, but that’s bigger ones. That means you put the focus on protecting your customers in the back end. That’s where you have to put all your effort because if you can’t guarantee you’re clean on your house side or the business side, you’ve got to do your best to make sure that your customers are going to be protected, whatever that is, whether that’s distancing.Most of the measures you can take aren't too difficult to implement. Click To Tweet
I’ll give you an example, “We’re not going to accept cash payments.” Maybe a business can do that. There are some businesses that have to go for cash because that’s what their clientele has but you have an option to say, “I’m going to go all cashless payments and credit card stuff.” That’s the decision that you have to make. That’s protecting your customers. It’s simple little things like this. Most of these things aren’t difficult to do. The problem is when you stand back and look at them all together, when you read through this document, you walk away from it thinking, “This is crazy. I can’t do all this. I have to hire five people to keep track of all this stuff.”
There’s some truth to that but the point of it is you look at your customers and say, “What do I need to do to make sure that they’re not going to be putting my company’s name in the newspaper two weeks from now because they caught it from me?” That’s what the goal is for owners. You can’t guarantee it but certainly depending on your circumstances, you can put your energies where they’re going to do the best. Protecting your customers, probably for the retail world it’s the end all be all.
From the people that are growing, if they don’t have some of these in place already, I can’t imagine. Let’s talk about new markets. Guys who are coming from the basement up into the grow world. These guys are not used to wiping their feet off as they come in to grow. It’s not that simple. How do you get someone that is set in their ways to change their frame of mind?
That’s a challenge anywhere. Ask people who have tried to change my mind. It’s a near-impossible task but it amounts to the business. Any business needs to convince its employees it’s safe to come back. That’s fundamental as opposed to forcing them to come back under pain of the loss or their unemployment or something like that. Most operators in the small business world out there want to be able to attract employees. They have to be able to attract employees and now I don’t know how you do that without being able to demonstrate a high level of attention to their safety.
That becomes an important aspect of all this stuff. You’ve got to have some transparency. Here’s my process and why I’m doing what I’m doing. You’ve got to get everybody on the same page and basically, you have to let them understand that this is life or death. This isn’t messing around. If we get a powdery mildew outbreak, the world doesn’t come to an end. Somebody’s job might come to an end because they let that happen but the entire staff isn’t going to go off to the hospital. You’ve got to dial it up but you’ve got to be realistic about it.
When you say it, you’ve got to take care of the employee. As a business owner, that is who’s helping you grow your business, so these are vital people. You’re either maintaining or building something larger.
The mind, generally speaking, you’ve got to protect the people that are running your business for you. If you don’t, they’re going to walk away. In that respect, the cannabis industry is like any other manufacturing process. It’s like a meatpacking plant. There’s a high probability of exposure so the question is, how do you get that down to a reasonable level? That becomes the biggest challenge for folks.
Have you started working with some individuals on some of these SOPs moving forward? Are you still in the process of finalizing the product?
The product is a thought provoker because I recognize you can’t build a generic SOP for people because you use what you have. If you can take advantage of something you should and if you don’t have that, you do what you can. It does come down to you making a hard assessment as to whether or not it’s safe for me to open my business. In the cannabis world, I would have to say that we’re not as worried about the customer’s desire to come back. It’s a lot like the liquor market now. There are lines of people standing outside. I don’t think you’re going to have too much of a problem of convincing your customers that it’s safe to come back. They want to come back. Employees, cannabis workers are people that are looking at going back to a meatpacking plant. “What’s the business doing to protect me?” If they don’t feel comfortable, who knows what’s the result?
I’m not sure about this too, but one thing that came to mind is there has been some talk about people making more money being unemployed than they are working in some of these companies. If that’s the case, if they can stay unemployed that’s not good either because now we don’t have the help that is required to run either a meatpacking plant or cannabis grow facility.
The issue with unemployment is it’s better for those people to stay out but there is the catch of, “You’ve got to go take a job if it’s out there.” This is the catch-22. This is the reality of it. You can’t be comfortable with that because you’ve got to get back to work. That becomes a real stress point and this is why if you want your employees to come back without hesitation and want to avoid that headache, I’d say tell them everything you’re doing. I would even involve them in getting feedback from your staff because if you’re not doing that, you’re not talking to the people that have the worries.
That’s a good point. I want to praise you for bringing that up because as business owners, we tend to get stuck in our little world sometimes. We forget to ask those simple questions. If they’re closed down now, it could start with text messages or emails saying, “We’re looking at opening up. These are some of the standards. Is there something that we’re missing? Is there something that we could be adding to this? Is there something for the future?”
For employers and business owners, the standard that’s been set for them is at a federal level, the OSHA and Workplace Guidelines, there have been some tweaks done. Testing is not part of that. It’s not like, “Here are these other guidelines.” It’s that hoop that they have to jump through is not what I would call all that big. There are a few key missing things that they probably have to do that are leaving holes in their exposure protection process. You need to tighten those up. It starts with masks, gloves, hand washing, and social distancing but it gets down to other questions.
Wouldn’t it be a good idea if we kept data on everybody that checked in and what their temperature was or whatever they’re allowed to collect because there are some privacy issues there? It’s a question of, “What do I need to do at a minimum?” That’s what everybody’s got to come down to and it might be following the guidelines of the government and that will protect you from liability, “I did what the government told me,” but I encourage people not to lean on that. Go the extra mile and think hard about it and say, “If I wanted to prevent this, how crazy would it get?” The answer is it gets crazy fast if you don’t have that testing upfront but that’s the world we’re living in. To your point, we might be living in it for a while or we might not. There are no crystal balls here. I can only react to what I see.
The guys that I’ve always seen do well in only not cannabis, but business in general, they set the standards. They go out and they say, “This is the bare minimum. What can we do to set ourselves apart from our competition?” You have dealt with several hundreds of different operations at this point and you’ve seen the full gamut. How people set each other apart a lot of the time is by the price which nobody wins.
That’s a negative inducement if suddenly, you’ve got the $55 route special. That’s going to bring a lot of people back, I guarantee it but I can’t account for the general public because what we know the general public is going to do what they’re going to do and you have no control over that. You accept the fact that that’s what’s going to happen and don’t try to worry about that. For you, I’ve gone far in what the document as talking about, “Keep data and publish it.” Put it on the window of your establishment. “This is what we do and we’ve been tracking it. We’ve been doing it. We missed a day where we didn’t do it 100%.” You’re telling the truth and people from the outside see that. Sometimes there are people out there that appreciate that and they also may think, “You’re lying to us,” but you can’t help that. Don’t worry about that.Do what the government says, but don't just lean on that. Click To Tweet
If you’re being transparent enough when you say you have the information on your front doors as people are walking in or you even have a binder set out to the right on a table there saying, “If you’re interested in it, please ask more. We have more information.” You’re able to provide that transparency. Customers sometimes don’t even need to read it. They only need to know that you’re taking this seriously. That makes them feel better. Other people are more analytical and they’ll want to dive in and check you out. If you’re being open and honest, and you’re doing the best you can, I’m not sure what else you can do as a business owner.
I would agree, given that we don’t have a silver bullet here that we can fire at this thing, you’re right. Do the best you can and we’ll all get judged. There’s a good scorecard for small businesses and that’s, “How long does your open sign stay up?” That’s going to be the metric here. If we go into a reopening and 50% of the businesses that opened or closed within 1.5 months, that’s not a good sign. That will inform us the next time we want to reopen because what will happen is we’ll say, “Remember when we did this the first time? It wasn’t good enough.”
To some degree, this will be self-correcting and I hate to say this, because it’s at the cost of lives that the corrections are made. To me, that’s the bottom line. In reality, it’s the fact that we’re dealing with human life and life and death situations and not just your employees. It’s their family and friends. This is where the personal responsibility that everybody talks about comes out. We’re going to live or die based on whether or not in many respects, on top of whatever support and help we get from businesses and government, it’s how people act that’s going to make a big difference here.
You said it best when there’s not a silver bullet. Kurt has experienced a lot of different scenarios in the grow world and I’ll be out front. Is there ever a silver bullet for the situation?
There usually is. That’s the reason why the industry has done well. Everybody has figured out how to get on top of their various and sundry problems and that’s a credit to the ingenuity of the people in the industry over the last years. My hat’s off to them. They now have another challenge that’s going to require all their ingenuity to figure it out right because the first time that there’s a report of an outbreak from ABC dispensary, that’s not going to be good.
This is some great information. When you finalize this document, because I know you were working on it before, I’d like to see if you would allow me to post it with my blog site so people can go and pull it up. As well as where they can find you and contact you if they have more questions about this or any consultation questions about growing. When I’m telling you about big operations, Kurt and his wife have done large indoor grow facilities. What’s the largest one you have done?
A 33-acre indoor and a 10-acre outdoor greenhouse.
They’re well-versed in these processes and I work hard to try to help you, the audience out there, understand that these people that I’m bringing to you and vouching for have the experience that it takes to be successful in the cannabis industry. They’ve helped several hundred companies navigate through times like this and situations where they are under duress and they’re stressed out financially. I can’t tell you what it is to have somebody on the other end and say, “We’ve got a process for that. We’ve got an answer for that.”
I would say there is a lot of the industry that talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. That’s why I value that you had the time to spend with us and share some of your thoughts because this isn’t all about COVID-19 stuff. This is about tying into the quality people that can help excel your business to the next level. Also, if you’re looking at trying to do consulting like this, it takes not only knowledge, but it takes experience. I’ve seen a lot of people in the last couple of years that have called themselves consultants.
We’ve done it for a long time, Tony.
I know I keep going on and on but I feel that this is something that is not discussed as much as it should be because there’s a lot of wasted money out there. I don’t know about you but I hate wasting money on people that sell me loads of goods and don’t get me anywhere. When you guys are trying to find that next person that helps you in trying to figure out how to make a better grow or cultivate better customers or customer service, it’s smart to take a step back and look and see who you’re connected with. Some of these people that have been around for a while have connections that they’ve made along the way along the last decades. These people are still around and I hope that you reach for those people. It’s guys like Kurt that have the experience to help you navigate this up and down crazy industry. Kurt, I want to thank you. How can people reach out to you if they are interested in contacting you?
Everyone, I would like to pose a question to you. What’s the simple thing that you can do for your company to raise the bar against your competition? What can you do? Think about what you can do to help yourself and also motivate you to become a better business owner or to become a better company. I would ask you that. Kurt, it’s great having you on.
Tony, thank you for having me on.
I do this for you. I believe in bringing you the best information I possibly can. I’m going to continue to bring bigger and bigger stuff. I want to thank you for reading. It’s been great. I keep expanding and finding more stuff. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do for anyone out there. I can connect with you guys. I’m totally open to that too. You can contact me at PlantProblem.com and I look forward to sharing another episode with you.
- Cannabis for Capitalists
- Kurt Badertscher
About Kurt Badertscher
Otoke is a cultivation consultant company with backgrounds and experience in business, technology, plant science and nursing. They have worked with organizations in Europe, Canada and New Zealand who are growing plants for pharmaceutical products. Along with there years of experience, Kurt and Kerrie Badertscher are authors of the book Cannabis for Capitalists and have written dozens of Articles for Cannabis Business Times. The two of them have decades of plant knowledge and project management under there belt.