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Very frequently, it’s cannabis that drives people to beef jerky. For Petalfast CEO Jason Vegotsky, though, things moved in the opposite direction. 

Vegotsky entered the cannabis industry several years after he co-founded Lawless Jerky following a chance encounter at a supermarket in southern California.

“It was wild. I’m in a Wegman’s food store, and I’m wearing a suit, and a guy comes up to me and starts pitching his beef jerky because he thought I was the manager of the store.”

Impressed by the gumption of Lawless Jerky founder Matt Tolnik, Vegotsky told him he worked in beer and wine sales. The two went across the street to grab lunch, and the rest was history. A few years later, Lawless Jerky’s CFO told Vegotsky he should check out the legal cannabis industry. 

DSC00257 (1)“I ended up in a roundabout way getting a contract for butane gas, which was then the leading solvent for turning cannabis into oil,” Vegotsky said. 

Vegotsky founded Summit Innovations, which supplied cannabis labs with input ingredients, including solvent for extraction. He sold the company a year later to KushCo Holdings, one of the largest ancillary companies in cannabis. Vegotsky served as President and Chief Revenue Officer at KushCo Holdings before founding Petalfast in 2020. 

Petalfast is a sales and marketing agency for the cannabis industry that helps with growth and go-to-market campaigns. It counts among its clients cannabis brands such as Yada Yada, Bloom Brands, Space Coyote, and Emerald Sky. 

According to Vegotsky, his experience in the wine, spirits, and food industries has served him well in cannabis. 

“I took a business model that I got from the food space and then applied wine and spirits go-to-market principles and how we manage the sales team and supplies and relationships and category management. The combination of the national food business model and go-to-market principles is what Petalfast is today,” Vegotsky explained, adding that when you think of cannabis and Petalfast, there are bits and pieces that are alcohol and some that are food.  

“People say that cannabis is so hard. No, it’s not. It’s just equally as hard as any other CPG (consumer packaged goods). There are a lot of brands in any space you go into.” 

Vegotsky did add that federal prohibition and advertising bans on social media platforms and elsewhere do make cannabis different than other products. 

“What does make it hard to a certain degree is you don’t have the normal marketing playbook. But to find out what consumer you want to go after and build a brand around that is no different than any other space.”

But what is a sound marketing strategy for cannabis?

“You don’t have the ability to do Super Bowl ads and commercials and all that. Nobody has the budget and it's just illegal,” Vegotsky said. He added, “we focus everything around the retail store because you really can’t do much more than that.”

“We focus everything around the retail store”

Vegotsky described how the company deploys 18 salespersons and 75 brand ambassadors to fan out en masse to dispensaries, where they do demos and in-store budtender training at scale.

“Our job is to get a brand into a store and get that brand into a place where a consumer is going to try that product. Once they try the product, then it’s on the brand.”

But regulations prohibit cannabis businesses from giving out samples to passing customers like in a grocery store aisle or at a liquor store. 

“If you have a [cannabis] flower brand, how can you really sample out flower? Instead you tell them the brand story and why they should pick them,” he explained. 

Vegotsky also explained that cannabis doesn’t have the same brand loyalty as wine and spirits, where consumers will stick exclusively to the same brand for years and even decades.  

“Even if you’re loyal to a cannabis brand, you still want to try new things. Going into a dispensary is still a new experience, and I think that brands that embrace the idea that consumers want to try new things, the better off they're going to do.”

As Vegotsky described it, the cannabis consumer “is on a journey right now to figure out what they like, why they like it, and when they like it.”

“Getting budtenders to like you is the name of the game"

And which cannabis professional plays a crucial role in this journey? The budtender. 

“Getting budtenders to like you, to listen to you, and to pitch on your behalf, that’s the name of the game. That’s everything.”

The formula for budtender outreach, as Vegotsky describes it, is straightforward. 

“Give them samples and plenty of weed to smoke. That’s step one. You need to be flush with samples at all times, not many budtenders are going to say that’s a cool story. No, you must always be flush with products and show them that you are authentic.”

Unfortunately, with turnover as high as it is with budtenders, “the second you get that budtender, and you win them over they get a new job, and you have to start over.”

Vegotsky admits that cannabis and marijuana culture wasn’t his thing growing up. He was more into basketball, and later played D-1 basketball at Bucknell University, including on a team that defeated Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2006. 

But to succeed in cannabis, he believes you have to embrace the culture - and jump in head first. 

“Jump into the first opportunity and learn and be ok that you might not be there forever. Just jump in and learn, and after 6-12 months, you’ll know the lane you want to be in, but you have to get that first six months in.”

To hear more about how working in cannabis can be similar to food and alcohol, check out this on-demand Rootwurks webinar, “Why Food and Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Professionals are Moving to Cannabis,” with a panel including Jason Vegotsky and other industry experts. Watch here.

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Ben Hartman, Content Manager

Ben Hartman is a cannabis writing and marketing professional with over 15 years of experience in journalism and digital content creation. Ben was formerly the senior writer and research and analysis lead for The Cannigma.

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