By Tony C. Dreibus
When CNN asked Brian Rogers and his business partner to participate in a documentary series on the tribulations of opening and operating a legal recreational marijuana shop, they were thrilled.
“Initially it was very exciting, mostly for what we perceived would be positive exposure for the business,” said Rogers, whose retail cannabis store in Breckenridge, Colorado, takes center stage in “High Profits,” an eight-part series that began airing last month.
It hasn’t exactly played out that way so far, though.
Rogers said production of the show strained relations with some neighbors, city officials and other business associates who have grown tired of having a film crew around. And the store – which was called Breckenridge Cannabis Club during filming but was renamed Backcountry Cannabis Co. after Rogers and his partner added a second location elsewhere in the state – hasn’t seen a spike in business just yet.
Still, he remains hopeful that the exposure will pay off as the busy summer tourist season approaches.
With the legal marijuana industry dominating headlines across the country, news organizations are clamoring to tell the tale of how businesses in a brand new industry. As Rogers discovered, however, operating a business in the spotlight comes with unexpected challenges.
Rogers spoke with Marijuana Business Daily about the benefits and drawbacks of participating in “High Profits,” how filming affected his shop and what other entrepreneurs can learn from his experience.
What was it like to constantly be followed around by crew members wielding cameras, microphones and lights?
We thought it would be easier than it was. About halfway through filming we were so busy we began to wish we had never agreed to do it. Some council people and townspeople started to get weary of the cameras.
What were some of the positives of having a CNN crew with you for six straight months?
To some degree it seemed to legitimize who we are in the industry because people seem to take cameras seriously, so they expected we must know what we’re talking about. The timing was great for CNN and the show because it came out around 4/20, so we’re hoping this plays off itself in the summer.
Right now we’re in the off-season – nobody comes to Breckenridge from mid-April through mid-May. It’s generated a lot of phone calls but it hasn’t been good for business because there’s nobody here to come and shop. People are not flying into Breckenridge to buy weed from our store because we’re on TV, but we’re hoping it plays out in the summer (when tourists return).
Were there negatives to being the subject of the documentary?
People were afraid if they did business with us, whatever production these cameras were working on might not represent them well. Some of the people we did business with said “if the cameras are around, we’re not coming.” There were times when I had to sneak around them to do things off camera because people didn’t want their faces shown or their business names mentioned.
It was bad in that regard, because sometimes people are afraid of the cameras because of the exposure.
They knew it was CNN and they were afraid that the wrong Department of Justice people would see them and clamp down. If it were a T-shirt shop or restaurant owner, they would’ve jumped at the chance.
Did you ever worry that the wrong people would take notice of the publicity?
This one morning we were working in the Breckenridge store, working on surveillance for the store, and three police officers walked in. I thought, “Was this the moment they were there to arrest me or was it an annual checkup?”
It was a checkup, and they were introducing a new officer, but our customers just froze. I said, “These are local cops, and it’s still legal” but they didn’t care, they just stood there and stared because they’re so trained to think this is illegal. Old habits die hard.
What advice would you give to a cannabis business owner who’s approached for this type of documentary/reality show?
Be prepared to keep your cool. There are plenty of times when you’re trying to get work done and the cameras are trying to capture it. Sometimes you want to send an e-mail or talk to an employee and you can’t, but when you sign up like we did, you’re expected to open up everything. Be prepared to live up to your commitment.
Now that the documentary has started to air, what type of feedback are you receiving?
We thought the show would paint (business partner) Caitlin and I and the company in a more positive light. We are all organic, spent five years going further into debt and we offer better pay than our competitors.
So far the show hasn’t touched the organic nature of our production, has made us look like money-grubbing (owners) and thus far hasn’t repaired local relations either – so expectations not yet met.
Tony C. Dreibus can be reached at [email protected]
Photo credit: CNN