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Family, Friendship, & Fire at Northeast Alternatives

If we’re thinking in terms of action, empowered and ambitious people are the ones responsible for making big things happen...
By Lucie Hanes
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There’s no skipping the process when it comes to creating a sustainable, reliable, and respected business — especially in the cannabis industry. We’re past the early days when simply existing as a reliable grower or retailer was all it took to establish your footing. The market is much too crowded for that nowadays. We’re at the point where excellence determines who makes a statement and who gets drowned out. 

So instead of always looking ahead to the outcome, businesses need to set goals that depend on action rather than result. It’s what businesses do that sets them apart, not what happens to them. This puts the power back in human hands instead of leaving it up to fate. And if the rise of the cannabis industry so far has proven anything, it’s that there’s nothing more powerful than people on a mission to change the way of the world. 

The key word here is people. If we’re thinking in terms of action, empowered and ambitious people are the ones responsible for making big things happen. Turning any dream into reality means first breaking down your ideal outcome into actionable steps, and then looking to the people who can put those actions into motion. 

The fact of the matter is that businesses need people who fully buy into their goals. Nothing short of utter dedication to the mission leads to excellence, because excellence requires uncompromised effort and intention. If the doers aren’t fully invested or don’t believe in what they’re doing, that lack of presence will show up in their quality of work. To keep from coming up short, people need to feel like their work and their presence have value. Studies show a strong link between well-being and productivity, which then leads straight back to profitability. 

To that end, nothing matters more in business than the people who play a part in it. The primary goal of any business should rest in treating their community, both behind the scenes and in the audience, with kindness and esteem. The feeling of genuine recognition serves as the best fuel for dedication to the work and loyalty to the brand for as long as the tank remains full. 

No one in the industry proves this point better than Northeast Alternatives. This Massachusetts dispensary has won more awards than any other in the state, including Best Dispensary of the South Coast two years in a row (and gunning for a third). In total, their winnings add up to over 50 different awards touching on everything from their business as a whole to specific flowers, edibles, and concentrates. Co-owner and COO Kyle Bishop attributes such success to one thing in particular: “Our people give a shit.”

That attitude starts at the very top. “Our executive team is made up of passionate cannabis enthusiasts who love to compete,” Bishop explains. “Not a lot of these businesses have that type of leadership.”

Northeast Alternatives first found traction as a product of personal passion. Founder Chris Harkins turned to cannabis in the aftermath of his mother’s failed battle with cancer in hopes of changing the narrative for his father, Phil Harkins, who found himself in the same boat not long after her passing. The father-son team dug deep to discover how cannabis could offer unprecedented hope in the face of a death sentence. Harkins then partnered up with Bishop and two others, Rich Rosier and Zac Cooper, to put that work in motion on a grander scale. 

There’s no better inspiration than a good example. From the very beginning, these leaders have emanated a contagious enthusiasm that everyone who’s hopped on board since can’t help but catch. In that sense, every player on the team holds the same stake in the game. They’re all equally committed to their own role in producing something truly great. “If you talk to anyone here, you’ll be convinced that you’re speaking with an owner,” notes Bishop. “Everyone is just that passionate about their contribution to what we’re trying to accomplish. Every plant grown, every edible infused, every medical patient helped and every new product launched is treated, in that moment, as though they’re the only one in existence.” 

This passion is inherent in the diverse and growing array of Northeast Alternative brands including Cannatini (adult beverage flavored gummies), Double Baked (traditional desert flavored gummies), Farm to Fam (natural, vegan, rso products for medical use), SweetSpot (microdose hard shell chocolates with different effects), and two new brands launching this September: Dab Science (concentrates focusing on minor cannabinoids and terpene blends for targeted effects), and Valorem (a new catch-all brand with a social equity component). The brand recently harvested its first batch of premium flower at their new 100,000 sq. ft. production facility in Lakeville, MA. They project to pull down 50 lbs of flower per day and introduce over 40 new strains via their 5000 sq. ft. R&D / breeding facility.

Life still goes on outside the walls of Northeast Alternatives for the members of this determined team. There are still families to take care of, fresh air to relish, and hobbies to pursue. But while they’re here, they’re here. Body, mind, and spirit all funnel straight into the creative process from start to finish. “We can accomplish the impossible this way,” believes Bishop. “String enough of those victories together and the impossible becomes the day-to-day.” 

“Every victory, large and small, is celebrated as a team victory creating bonds that cross departments and a sense of unity that’s then palpable to visitors.” —Kyle Bishop, COO, Northeast Alternatives

They’re all in it out of an inherent, authentic appreciation for how they fill those days. “Everyone is trying their hardest, not just going to work,” touts Bishop. He identifies such unbridled passion as the distinguishing factor that gives Northeast Alternatives its edge. “The extra love is how you get the win. If you do not truly care, your weed will reflect that, and you will not bring anything home.”

The thing about true love, though, is that it can’t be forced. It has to be born on its own. For that reason, Bishop and his co-founders put special care into recruitment. “Our strategy starts with investing in individuals. We hire first and foremost for personality, looking for people with talent, passion and drive, even if it comes from outside the cannabis industry.” From there, they look at potential hires like puzzle pieces. “We need people who will fit together to form something far greater than the sum of its parts.”

Once they’ve put together a cohesive team or added a new piece to the puzzle, everyone’s off to work in the way they work best. The executives at Northeast Alternatives believe in a relatively hands-off approach so that all those creative juices have room to flow. “We set high standards with clear expectations right away, and then step back and allow everyone to flourish,” reflects Bishop. Without the initial investment in the right people, though, the trust it takes to step back at all would never have existed. 

But, the effort doesn’t end there. Even harder than reeling in the right match might be keeping the employee around for the long haul. While fending off burnout and making people feel individually appreciated isn’t an easy task by any means, it’s certainly easier than dealing with a high turnover rate. Everyone and everything, from business model and product to employer and employee, suffers when gratitude falls too far off the priority list. The team makes it a point to program specific methods of support into their everyday operations. 

“Structurally, this means that every voice is heard and every success is rewarded,” Bishop outlines. “Every victory, large and small, is celebrated as a team victory creating bonds that cross departments and a sense of unity that’s then palpable to visitors.” 

It’s not all talk, either. Northeast Alternatives has the employment history to prove it. Budtenders and packagers have risen through the ranks to management roles, racking up years of unwavering dedication to the same business. They’re not only rewarded with copious praise, but also with titles and responsibilities in line with their achievements. “Each one of them has earned their place and feels an immeasurable sense of accomplishment,” Bishop says with admiration.

Just because the cannabis industry has a reputation for ruthlessness doesn’t mean that it’s a practice worth perpetuating. Prioritizing respectful working relationships has universal benefits: both the product and the team are better for it. Northeast Alternatives proves that putting people first isn’t just about being a good person yourself; it’s simply good business.