Outlast whatever comes against you. The cannabis industry is still relatively new, and with that comes a lot of change, headaches, good days and bad. You have to be tough in order to survive the lows.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Cowden, founder and managing partner of Trim Force, the first staffing agency in Las Vegas to specialize in servicing the cannabis industry. With more than 30 years of staffing experience, Holly became a pioneer in the local cannabis industry when she recognized the immediate need for hiring assistance and staffing solutions among growers within the field.
Trim Force focuses on hiring for full-time career opportunities in the cannabis industry within cultivation and packaging. Holly handles servicing dozens of clients daily and managing several hundred employees, while ensuring all departments run smoothly and efficiently. Holly is also the founder and managing partner of Star 1 Personnel, a staffing agency that has been providing Las Vegas Valley employers with premier staffing solutions since 2008.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
While attending college, I worked multiple temp jobs and was given the opportunity to try new positions I normally wouldn’t experience. I landed on the agency side in a sales position, eventually making partner, then starting my own staffing agency in light industrial. In early 2017, after the recreational use of marijuana became legal in the State of Nevada, Trim Force was established. We became the first woman-owned licensed staffing agency in Clark County, Nevada to specialize in cannabis recruiting. We quickly identified there was going to be a massive demand for newly licensed marijuana growers to find qualified people to work in cultivation and production. Foreseeing that marijuana growers would face recruiting challenges; we knew we could help them. With over 35 years combined experienced recruiting in agriculture farm labor, we felt confident we could bring impactful, added value services to the cannabis industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The Pandemic has brought new insight and a different view to the cannabis industry. In Las Vegas the pandemic took people from their jobs leaving them fearful on what next steps to take. People who would have never considered a career working with marijuana due to moral or religious beliefs are now reaching out after informing themselves on what the industry contributes to society. These people are now looking to emerge themselves on a new career path. I’ve learned that giving people the opportunity to work in the cannabis industry will provide a new view towards the misinformation that is still out there, and decrease stigmas attached to working in the industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the beginning we were fortunate to partner with one of the largest growers in the state of Nevada. They partnered with us and one other staffing agency to help them fill nearly 300 full time positions as quickly as possible. This was an enormous amount of pressure since most of our initial pool of candidates had little to no experience working with marijuana. Our job seekers consisted of former bartenders, school teachers, retired seniors, and stay at home moms. So, we came up with a plan with our client to recruit on location at their new state-of-the-art facility. This way our candidates could see the greenhouse and get a better idea of the job description.
We would bring our staff of recruiters, applications, equipment, etc. and set up shop in the breakroom. The morning of the job fair, my team and I arrived early before the other agency. A little gamesmanship was taking place between us and them. While the other agency was not as punctual or dressed to impress, they brought food. The score I was keeping in my head was one to one. Determined to win over this new client, we contracted a mobile fingerprinting company to assist with the fingerprinting portion of the requirements to help our applicants obtain marijuana agent cards (a state requirement in Nevada). This was an impressive move, we thought.
Everyone was benefiting from the convenience of the process we had set up. The on-site job fair was going perfect, until it wasn’t. The Department of Taxation had revised the Marijuana agent card application. The other agency nicely pointed out we had printed the old application. What should have been an easy fix turned into one misfortune after another. The printer we brought broke down. We quickly ran out and bought another one. Somehow during the unpacking of this new printer, the cord was lost. Long story short, we had to eat some humble pie and borrow the other staffing agency’s printer. The lesson learned: The only competition that day was the one we created in our heads. From that day forward, we would always run our own race and not worry about what everyone else was doing. Besides, we’re all in this industry together.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
Telling my family about my new business idea was hilarious. I grew up in a very traditional conservative home. So, when I told my parents about my idea of starting a cannabis employment agency, I braced for impact. I felt like a teenager again, afraid to tell my parents, like I did something wrong that they would disprove of.
At first, there was an awkward silence. Then my mom asked if the people I was going to employ would be trimming the marijuana that gets a person high or the oil you can rub into your skin for pain. Then my dad chimed in and said he heard marijuana had a lot of different benefits to help relieve all kinds of ailments. I was sensing my parents may be have been more informed than I thought. Then came my favorite question I get asked a lot to this day. Will people you employ be allowed to smoke marijuana while at work? My answer…of course not! We will always support and enforce a drug free workplace. Can an anesthesiologist get high and play pass the gas on the job? No! Neither can our employees.
Last question, what are you going to name this business? Good question! Next thing I knew, choosing a name for my business became the mission of my entire family. My parents were so excited for me, they told everyone. Surveys were flying through text messages and emails. Everyone was on board and I could not have felt more support and love from the people who matter most to me.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Drew Genuso, founder of Trim Ready, definitely played a key part in our success. It was by chance I came across his cannabis school website while I was randomly searching information for something completely different. The educational services Drew offered through his school is what caught my attention. So, I called Drew up and told him hey, I know nothing about cannabis but I’m an owner of a staffing agency and I think my services could really benefit cannabis growers, would you mind if I stop by your office sometime to speak with you? A day or so later, Drew spent two hours with me sharing as much information and ideas he felt could be beneficial to starting my company. He invited my staff and I to attend as many of his educational courses to help us obtain not just compliance knowledge but hands-on experience trimming cannabis. It was a lot of fun and a very insightful learning experience for us. Drew’s passion for the cannabis industry was contagious. It definitely inspired me to follow through with my plans to open Trim Force.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am super excited to be working with a new marketing team on several new projects. Most recently we held a Drive-Thru Hiring Event that was a huge success. People were able to pull up in their cars, park, and fill out our application in the comfort of their cars, while staying COVID-19 safe. We were able to fill dozens of immediate full-time positions for our clients that day. We gave everyone who attended a face mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Who couldn’t use another face mask, right?
We also have plans in the works to open several new recruiting offices in states where recreational marijuana is legal. Growers will benefit from Trim Force recruiters taking the burden off their hands of finding talented people in a fast and timely manner. Our team is ready on day one to alleviate growers from the stress of staffing shortages and seasonal demands. We essentially become an extension of our client’s human resource department. Trim Force clients also benefit from flexible funding options that helps free up their cash flow, workers compensation coverage for employees, and never having to worry about the hiring and firing aspect of staffing. Our service allows our clients to focus on what they do best, which is growing their business.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
In my opinion, gender parity is a desired goal to be achieved among society. Individually, as women we can lift and support each other in this fast-growing industry. Also, we need to embrace women who are new and looking for insight in the industry. Putting an end to the gender pay gap is a must, and a big step towards achieving gender parity. According to an article by Robin Bleiweis, in the American Progress, “Analyzing the most recent Census Bureau data from 2018, women of all races earned, on average, just 82 cents for every $1 earned by men of all races.” The amount decreases for minority women. Lastly, would be to encourage and hire diverse teams. This would create a larger range of opportunities for women nationwide.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
- Outlast whatever comes against you. The cannabis industry is still relatively new, and with that comes a lot of change, headaches, good days and bad. You have to be tough in order to survive the lows.
- Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it’s not a great idea. People thought I was nuts to even think of starting a staffing agency to support cannabis growers. I thought they were nuts for not starting one before me.
- Trust yourself. The voice within all of us is the one we should always listen to. A lot of good and not so good information will be offered along the way. My rule of thumb is to always take advice graciously, take information cautiously, but in the end if anything is going to be, it will be up to me.
- Be prepared for resistance. Some of the most negative people will be the closest ones to us. Don’t take it personally. Look to surround yourself with likeminded people. When I met Drew Genuso, I realized if I wanted to be successful I had to associate myself with people who cared about the greater good of the industry. This is something I reminded myself of after our little printer incident.
- Never give up, no matter the set back. My experience has always been, for every tough season, something more wonderful always follows behind it. Looking back, jumping head first into cannabis staffing was a little ballsy. At times it felt very overwhelming. I remind myself every day that nothing worth a dam comes without challenges.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
A movement towards greater inclusivity and diversity of women and minorities in the cannabis industry is exciting to see. During economic downturns, women and the minority communities are most often impacted the hardest. I’m proud to say women currently make-up 55% of Trim Force’s workforce.
After going through the most decisive and stressful election season, it’s exciting to see that several states have voted to legalize recreational and medical marijuana. Without a doubt, the legalization of cannabis in these states will result in job creation. Because of COVID-19 displacing so many people, this could not have come at a better time.
Lastly, I’m really inspired how local dispensaries here in Vegas did not let the obstacles of the pandemic shutdown keep them from thriving. When restrictions got tough, they got creative. Seeing the first parking lot drive thru definitely inspired me to create a similar model for Trim Force.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
My biggest concern is many cities and states are making the process for job seekers to work in cannabis unnecessarily difficult and expensive. People who are unemployed face enough financial hardships as it is. When government regulators add expensive license requirements, it forces people to choose between paying a licensing fee to get a job or putting food on the table for their family that week. It’s a really difficult decision we watch people have to make all the time.
Over regulation and taxation of legal cannabis businesses drives consumers to purchase their cannabis from other non-legal means.
The lack of legal banking options is still a concern. It limits the opportunity for businesses to expand, grow, and hire more people.
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
My argument is simple:
1) to federally legalize cannabis would make the industry a lot safer. People who work around cash are vulnerable. With all the technology and electronic payment options out there, it’s unnecessary for people’s lives to be at risk.
2) Cannabis has so many health benefits, from pain management to helping cancer patients with appetite issues.
3) My biggest argument of all is the opioid related deaths in America. In 2017 alone, there were 70,237 deaths related to prescription drugs. How can anyone be ok with this statistic?
To not pursue these arguments goes against common sense to me. If someone is a hold out to these arguments, maybe they just haven’t walked in someone’s shoes who have suffered.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
I think cannabis is in a complete class of its own. There is so much positive research to support the therapeutic benefits. Therefore, I don’t think cannabis should be heavily regulated or taxed the same as cigarettes. We know the harmful chemicals in cigarettes kill 480,000 Americans each year. I’m someone that doesn’t like heavily taxing or regulating anything, however I do make an exception to my belief when it comes to cigarettes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dad is a sports fanatic. He thought he was destined to have sons, he got three girls. So, it was pretty organic that my sisters and I grew up very competitive. If we weren’t playing sports, we were watching sports. From curling to basketball, it didn’t matter. My favorite life lesson quote comes from Hall of Fame basketball coach Jimmy Valvano, “If you laugh, and you think, and you cry. That’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week; you’re going to have something special.” I have reflected on that quote so many times in my life. More than I can count. It’s usually at the end of a long day, when I’m sitting at my desk with my head in my hands. Thinking of my issues list, and not sure if I want to laugh, cry, or do both. Doesn’t matter who you are. Whether you are unemployed or an entrepreneur it’s important to recognize how precious each day we have on earth is.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’ve never thought of myself as a person of great influence but if I could inspire a movement it would be regarding mental health. To create awareness and provide free mental health support/access to all Americans. I would want to make sure our veterans, young children with depression, and adults who struggle with anxiety all receive the treatment they deserve without having to worry about the cost.
Mental health has consistently been a far-reaching issue, but now with the pandemic it is an issue to which we need to bring additional awareness. The CDC has reported that during the pandemic there has been an increase in mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, suicide, and thoughts of suicide.
When people have a loved one who has a life-threatening illness (such as cancer) others graciously want to help you. But if you have a child or a spouse with mental illness, oftentimes people are scared to offer help. In the reverse, most families don’t share what’s going on with their loved one. They suffer in silence.
To provide real change in mental help support services would definitely be a movement I could see myself getting passionate about.
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Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!