From wine to cannabis, shoes to beer, higher ed to pot: Lessons in making C-suite shifts between industries
Like many managers and executives who jump to new industries, when Zack Crafton decided to get into the cannabis business, many of his skills as a C-suite executive in the wine trade transferred over.
But many did not.
Before becoming the CEO of the Vallejo-based ESI Logistics on Mare Island, a cannabis distribution company that partners with other cannabis retailers to deliver their products, he was chief operating officer at online retailer Naked Wines.
Despite taking the head of supply and logistics and the head of marketing with him, Crafton quickly realized he was in partly unknown territory in the newly legalized cannabis market.
“When someone signs up for a wine club we know how often they buy,” Crafton said. “If you have a subscription customer on the wine side and they buy four to five times a year, it helps you predict how many people you need,” he added.
Not so with cannabis.
“It turns out when we first launched we had people who buy every two weeks, or every week … we had no idea what the aggregate order value would be.”
Crafton used his experience, however, to find similarities between the two products and bring his years of experience to bear.
“Wine and weed are at their heart luxury agriculture goods,” he said. “There are lots of similarities around why people buy the product and the effect the product has.”
He said both are perishable, temperature-sensitive goods that are highly regulated.
“There’s an attention to detail, there’s a knack for the regulatory piece and operating within the law and then operating a very efficient organization,” Crafton said.
Whereas tasting notes come with many wine bottles, Crafton’s company produced instructions on how to roll joints and connect vaporizer batteries as well as what the effects of a particular type of cannabis are.
While he originally started a cannabis company called Big Moon Sky, Crafton said ESI, the distribution company, was quickly approached by other cannabis companies looking for help with online tools and delivery.
“We built a sophisticated supply chain and sophisticated tech stack,” he said, noting similarities like keeping wine cool so it doesn’t spoil and ensuring the cannabis doesn’t overheat in shipping so it doesn’t become more potent.
Other North Bay executives, like Chief Marketing Officer Kelly Murnaghan of Petaluma-based Lagunitas, have made the jump from one seemingly totally different industry to another.
Murnaghan came to Lagunitas in June after a long stint as vice president of marketing at Vans shoe company. Shoes to brews anyone?
“There’s an incredible amount of overlap with the Vans model and Lagunitas model,” Murnaghan said. She noted she is the first person in the role since Lagunitas founder Tony McGee moved on to other endeavors.
She said McGee’s risk-taking, customer-focused approach was similar to that of Vans founder Paul Van Doren’s opening a small shop and tailoring his shoes to skateboarders’ needs.
“Neither brand relies a lot on paid advertisements,” Murnaghan said. “The value in (the) deep connection with a consumer is greater than achieving reach through big media.”
She was able to transfer over a similar mindset between the two companies in their unflagging focus on a core product while continuing to innovate. For Lagunitas, it’s India Pale Ale is its most well-known beer, while for Vans the core five shoe styles continue to be the base of the business.