Wine, Window Treatments and Cannabis: Q&A with CULTA COO Allison Siegel
Many might expect that the wine industry shares similarities with the cannabis market, from the strict regulations to brand development strategies, but few might think to compare cannabis with window treatments.
However, according to Allison Siegel, the former president of Next Day Blinds and a former information technology and marketing executive for Total Wine & More, both roles provided valuable experience and expertise that will serve her well in her new position as chief operating officer for CULTA, a Maryland-based, vertically integrated cannabis operator.
At Next Day Blinds, Siegel grew accustomed to owning the customer experience from manufacturing to sale to installation, which is not unlike overseeing the cultivation, manufacturing and sale of medical cannabis products. And, she adds, the cannabis industry is growing rapidly like the wine industry once was, which makes Siegel excited to lend her talents to another quickly evolving market.
Here, Siegel shares more about her professional background, how her experience guides her perspective of the cannabis market and her overall goals for CULTA as the company continues to grow in Maryland.
Melissa Schiller: Can you describe your background and previous experience with Next Day Blinds? What did your previous role entail?
Allison Siegel: Most recently, I was president of Next Day Blinds, a Maryland-based, vertically integrated, direct-to-consumer business with 400-plus employees. I ran the day-to-day business until I led the company through a strategic sale to a national competitor. Prior to president, I was chief revenue officer, responsible for sales and marketing. While at Next Day Blinds, my team significantly improved top- and bottom-line financial results and we had a fun time doing it! We implemented a full technology replacement, upgrading our systems while enabling a thorough omni-channel experience for our customer. We also increased our gross margin through our manufacturing plant while increasing customer satisfaction. We did all of this while improving employee engagement scores, too.
Prior to Next Day Blinds, I worked for Total Wine & More for 10 years. I built and ran the IT Applications & Business Process teams for Total Wine for many years, and then spent my final three years there building a [customer relationship management] (CRM ) system, a loyalty program and a consumer insights group within the marketing team.
I also worked for a number of years at Anderson Consulting (now Accenture), mainly focusing on strategy and technology implementation of product-based companies.
I studied industrial and operations engineering at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Go Blue!
MS: How will your background and previous experience benefit you in your new role as CULTA’s COO?
AS: My experience at Next Day Blinds running the day-to-day operations will help me both understand and implement the process, people and technology needs to effectively run the operations at CULTA. Even though the product is very different, Next Day Blinds was a vertically integrated company, owning the customer experience from sale to manufacturing to installation. That experience will help me here at CULTA as we are a seed-to-sale vertically integrated operator.
The focus of customer experience at Next Day Blinds is also something that mirrors the CULTA business. We at CULTA believe the customer experience always needs to come first, focusing on a quality product and always being transparent with our customer. In addition, my years of experience in retail will help me support our growing dispensary business.
Wine has a lot of similarities to cannabis, especially around the intense regulation, taxing and brand development areas. In addition, the extreme growth I was part of at Total Wine & More closely mirrors CULTA’s growth. Managing and keeping up in a growth culture isn’t for the faint of heart. I have already experienced it and loved it at Total Wine & More. I am excited that I get to be part this similar explosive trajectory at CULTA.
MS: What attracted you to the cannabis space, and to CULTA specifically?
AS: My path into this space was not a traditional one. While exploring what I wanted to take on after the sale of Next Day Blinds, I met one of the members of our board of directors. We met (in his backyard due to COVID restrictions) and spoke a lot about the challenges that go along with the excitement of operating growing businesses, as well as the lack of business (non-government) leaders in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area. At some point in the conversation, he asked me if I would be interested in consulting for a cannabis company in the area. After speaking with Mackie Barch, CEO of CULTA, as well as one of the other directors on our board, they quickly won me over with CULTA’s story, growth and vision. I agreed to consult with them for a few months.
Once I was consulting, I got a tour of the CULTA Cambridge campus and realized, this is a real business. What made me decide to come on board full time was three-fold:
1. I have never seen a company where the employees are so proud, happy and fulfilled. If you walk into any space occupied by CULTA employees, you can feel them living and breathing the CULTA culture. They have a sense that they not only are part of the culture, but that they were part of defining and building it. And they take the role of preserving that culture very seriously.
2. I am inspired by people who are the best at what they do. People who you always feel are at the top of their game and, even then, they continue to evolve, learn and grow. This is one of the things that drew me to CULTA. We have the best people, those that are true experts in their field, and they are open to new ideas and always ready to learn.
3. I can help. My expertise, background and passion are areas where there was an obvious hole that was created as the company went from start-up to growth mode.
MS: What is exciting to you about Maryland’s medical cannabis market in particular, and CULTA’s operations in the state?
AS: There is so much exciting about the U.S. cannabis industry, and Maryland is just a microcosm of that excitement. It’s an incredible opportunity for me to drive growth at CULTA, while also help to normalize cannabis, both medicinally and politically.
I am a Maryland girl at heart. I grew up in Baltimore and currently live in Rockville, Md. It is exciting for me to be part of the change in Maryland around [the] acceptance of cannabis as a mainstream medical treatment. The community here has made huge strides from where we were just a few years ago.
CULTA has had a positive impact on Cambridge, Md., where we are located. Our operation has brought new jobs to Cambridge and we are so happy to be able to make a difference in this community.
Our dispensary business is continuing to evolve, as well. While we already have a loyal following, we are continuing to invest in the dispensary business and the team. We will continue to ensure we are able to service our patients with the best products, most knowledgeable budtenders, and a clean and enjoyable dispensary experience.
MS: CULTA seems to be in the middle of a growth spurt, with a new headquarters and additional new hires, such as Vice President of Retail Sales Jonathan Lassiter. How do you plan to help support this growth in your new role, and where do you see the company headed over the course of this year?
AS: A growth spurt would be putting it lightly. This company is still in its infancy, yet it is growing leaps and bounds month over month. This company went from start-up to growth mode over an 18-month period. The board of directors and the current management team have recognized that in order to continue [the] amazing growth, additional talent is needed to complement the current players.
In my role, I am going to help drive the growth using more mature methods than are used during a company’s start-up phase. Over the course of this year, we will embark on a number of projects that will take this company to the next level. Through CULTA’s growth in 2020, the current team proved that CULTA was able to keep the products’ quality high while increasing supply. We now need to continue to dial in our production while implementing our plan for continued growth.
When you are in a growing, immature market, everything looks like blue waters. We need to ensure we have a strong plan for our growth, focus on the blue waters that we can own at CULTA and be able to pivot when we try something and fail. I am here to help support and drive those efforts and ensure our team members all feel engaged and fulfilled.
MS: What are some of your other shorter- and longer-term goals in your new role with CULTA?
AS: Short term, I need to spend a lot of time learning about the cannabis space—both what we are doing at CULTA and what the rest of the country is doing, especially in the more mature markets. I am also very cognizant that I need to be a steward of our culture. We need to keep the quality of our culture and our product at the forefront of all of our decisions, even as we grow. While the bottom line of a business is important, we can’t let short-term financial goals erode the long term, which would happen if we don’t ensure our culture and quality stay No. 1. I also have a short-term goal to start to understand the political and social landscape as it pertains to cannabis. This goes hand in hand with this industry and I need to educate myself in these areas.
Longer term, my goal is to make this the best, most admired cannabis company in Maryland. At Next Day Blinds, I helped transform it into a top-tier brand in the Mid-Atlantic. I’m excited to contribute to CULTA’s similar growth. Luckily, all of the foundation is already in place here—I just have to build on top of it.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for style, length and clarity.