Five Questions With Erich Pearson, The Deeply Compassionate CEO Of SPARC
Years ago when I was working in the rum business I would rely upon the good nature of fellow bartenders who had their medical cannabis cards in California. One of the places that always was on my must-visit list is the formerly medical-only dispensary named SPARC. Located in an unambiguous neighborhood, you should take your head out of your cell phone screen when walking there. Pay attention to where you are going and be aware of others who may be taking a rest right where you are walking.
It’s San Francisco, this is how things are.
Enter the purposefully designed front door and enter a domain that could easily be mistaken for an Apple Store. The lines are Danish in design, crisp and well lit with smiling, knowledgeable staff members. The business-side is on the right upon entering, you can queue up if necessary. On the left is the lounge area, no flowers burning but you can rent a Volcano, at least I did the last time that I visited. It was so very chill. Plus their own proprietary strains. It’s a tough call to buy anyone else’s stuff when the Biodynamically grown cannabis from SPARC really is, world-class and what I would smoke if I was in the neighborhood. Oh well, a man may dream of utter quality. I do.
Warren Bobrow=WB: Please tell me about SPARC. What brought you to the cannabis business? What did you do originally?
Erich Pearson=EP: I attended Purdue University in Indiana and graduated with a Building Management/Construction degree. I had a good friend that had moved out to California to grow cannabis, and I came out to visit him during spring break. California seemed like a cool place to live and I thought I could make a good income through cannabis. Prop 215 had just passed in 1996 and in the summer of 1998, I moved to California to grow medical cannabis. I quickly got involved with a lot of medical marijuana folks in the area and got introduced to the people at Maitri Compassionate Care in San Francisco – a non-profit that provides compassionate programs to people suffering from HIV/AIDS in San Francisco. I began donating cannabis to their patients and we started one of the first – and now longest-running – cannabis compassion programs. The original goal was to make sure as many people got their medicine as possible. SPARC’s name is actually originally an acronym for San Francisco Patient And Resource Center.
WB: Can you tell me more about your seed-to-sale operations in Sonoma Valley? Indoor or outdoor grown?
EP: All of our cannabis is outdoor grown in the highly coveted Sonoma Valley. Much of which is grown biodynamically — all activity on the farm is guided by principles of caring for the soil and listening to the land. This high-quality flower is the foundation for all of our other products produced in our manufacturing facility in Santa Rosa. Ranging from cartridges and joints to tinctures, topicals, and capsules, SPARC currently offers an in-house assortment of products to cover almost all product categories in cannabis. We then distribute the products from our factory to our retail outlets and retail partners across the state.
WB: What are SPARC’s business goals? Six and twelve-month?
EP: The next year is going to be really exciting in terms of expansion across all aspects of the business. We’re working on an expansion at our estate farm, and changing local policy to allow us to offer an immersive experience – including onsite sales, tours, and cannabis tasting similar to a winery. This year we are relaunching our in house brand – Marigold – with beautiful new packaging and expanded product offerings. On the retail front, we are working with various local jurisdictions to apply for and open new retail locations in Northern California to expand SPARC’s retail footprint. Our recently launched e-commerce platform has been indispensable during the COVID-19 crisis, enabling our customers to easily continue shopping for curbside pickup or delivery from the safety of their home. We are also putting the finishing touches on a new B2B service leveraging our operational expertise with complete turnkey retail management services for dispensaries in California.
WB: Tell me more about SPARC’s community outreach and advocacy work. What obstacles or stigmas do you face?
EP: We face stigmas within the local government when trying to drive policy changes. It requires a lot of trust and long term relationships which are hard to forge. I served on the San Francisco Cannabis Tax Force for three years, helped start the Sonoma County Cannabis Business Association, and remain an active and engaged member of the community at the local level, and we still experience a good amount of friction. The issue is that the stigma doesn’t necessarily come from the elected officials, but rather the bureaucrats. Most officials are on board but implementing and creating policy at the state level we run into stigmas that make it difficult to drive policy forward. Our goal is to make Sonoma County the most approachable jurisdiction to cultivate cannabis outdoors.
WB: What makes SPARC different from other cannabis operators in California?
EP: With new brands, retailers, and companies coming into the market all the time, the largest aspect that keeps SPARC differentiated is our legacy of 10+ years serving the community. Beyond that, we sell products we made from flowers we cultivated in a retail location we operate, and I’m not aware of too many other brands that are truly fully vertical.