Landscaping and Horticulture are What Make the Minerva Canna Group Inc. Tick
By Rob Meagher for Cannabis Business Executive
Erik Briones entrepreneurial career started at a young age, and you could say it prepared him for the challenge of launching a vertically integrated operation like Minerva Canna Group back in 2011.
While still in high school, he started a landscaping business that helped cover the cost of his degree in horticulture. After graduating, Erik went into teaching, where he taught vocational horticulture, which supplemented his income while he continued with his landscaping business. Eventually he left the world of academia and devoted his efforts to building a landscape and design business which, at its peak, was employing 130 people.
In 1993, he started a nursery as well and eventually sold the landscape and design business, and he went on to operate the nursery for the next 13 years. It eventually grew to over 90 employees and two locations, one in Albuquerque and the other in Rio Rancho, New Mexico until 2008-09 when the effects of the recession finally took hold.
Not one to sit still, this lifelong entrepreneur decided to take his 35 plus years of experience building and running successful businesses into the scramble to play in New Mexico’s developing medical marijuana field, and he successfully entered the space in 2011.
Erik liked the idea of getting involved in patient care and education, and it married nicely with his horticultural background. Today his company is one of the largest — if not THE largest — producer, processor and retailers in the state.
And, his vision for the business is reflected in the company’s crystal clear mission statement:
“To deliver the best medicinal experience to our Members, we make the following promise”
- Using pesticides and growth hormones might be better for the grower, but not for our patients. So because we’re here to provide our patients with the best medical cannabis possible we never touch the stuff, and neither will you.
- Although the legal growth of medical cannabis is new to New Mexico, our founder has been growing plants for over 32 years. As an owner of two garden nurseries staffed with horticulture professionals, we have decades of growing experience on our side, and now so do our patients.
- We’re in this business to make a difference in the quality of the medicine we grow so we use innovative packaging that means our patients will get a product that is fresh from the growing facility, and will stay that way
- We will lead the charge to ensure that the medical Cannabis Industry in New Mexico will thrive and patients will have access to the best medicine when they need it. Beyond growing, we support the cause and our patients through advocacy, education, understanding and patient-to-patient communication.
The execution of their mission since Day One has helped Minerva experience growth every month since its launch, even with the restrictive plant limitations that have caused product shortages in New Mexico since the beginning.
Erik tells me that his background came in handy during the lean supply year’s that New Mexico suffered (2013-2014) when Minerva was able to maximize yields but never ran out of the 10-15 strains that they make available to patients, and, the trim for their edible and extract lines. The plant limitations did slow Minerva’s growth trajectory, but best practices have continued to move the business forward.
With 38 employees (and more coming), Minerva has a unique compensation program that encourages dedication, loyalty and a commitment to the company’s goals and mission statement. They have a generous Sep IRA program in place for employees that have worked with them for two or more years which allows team members to earn an additional 25 percent invested in the retirement program. Additionally, they look for employees with strong a work ethic and family values, traits that transfer wonderfully in the cash business of medical cannabis.
To deal with the IRS 280E issues all operators in the Cannabis Industry face, Minerva was innovative in setting up the retail mall concept that houses the Albuquerque flagship location. Erik told CBE that adding a heavy retail component provides patients with a more convenient experience while also helping him with his annual tax bill. Plus, it also helps him position the business for the potential addition of legal recreational cannabis in the state.
Minerva has focused on creating a brand and a patient experience that is expressed in every detail of the operation — from the highly trained patient advocates, a wellness curriculum through packaging and quality product control. And like many of the other successful ventures CBE has written about, the menu that Minerva serves is diverse and well-balanced.
On the challenges-faced front, Erik indicated that the biggest learning curve that Minerva has experienced to date had to do with creating their bakery and edible lines, two areas where his background experience was lacking.
With 2016 shaping up to be a banner year with the plant increase issued by the state, Erik and his team are expanding operations to take advantage of the new yield. With about 75 percent of New Mexico’s patients registered with Minerva, Erik and his team have opened a second retail location, Minerva Los Lunas, and are looking towards the day when recreational comes to the state.
Their goal is to have a location in each of the major markets in state and an operation that has scaled to serve them. With that in mind, they are looking to launch a third location this year as well as expanding Minerva’s indoor grow and warehouse capability.
Minerva has also won a cultivation license in Nevada and is eying Arizona, so Erik is working to expand his proven model if the right opportunity presents itself. And we are sure that it will, as sure as the consistency in the growth that this well-oiled operation has experienced in its first five years.
Company Name: Minerva Canna Group, INC
Year Founded: 2011
Ownership structure/operating entities: Non-profit and S corp.
Owner/CEO: Erik Briones
Management Team: Six (6) division managers: Grow, production, two dispensary managers, bakery, office
Headquarters: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Industry Segment/Category: Producer, Processor, Retailer
Current Markets/States Served: New Mexico
Current Number of employees: 38
Market Strategy/Goal: To provide an exceptional cannabis experience; meeting the objectives of our medical patients; providing quality cannabis and supporting merchandise in safe and attractive venues.
2014 Revenues: $2.6 million
2015 Projected Year-end Revenues $4.3 Million
Product Mix: Cannabis flower, pre-rolls, wax, oils, 50 plus bakery items, drinks, salves, tinctures, massage oils, Life Style store: glass, vaporizers, hemp clothing, Grow Shop: all growing supplies, lights, fans etc. Wellness Center: message, body adjustments, doctor consultations.
Expansion Plans: Open third dispensary, expand grow facility to include greenhouses and 3,000 sq. ft. additional indoor grow.
Financing strategy: Self financing