Franchises Fuel Growth at Franny's Farmacy
Hemp pioneer Franny Tacy has built a vertically-integrated cannabis company and dispensary franchise business rooted in seed-to-shelf transparency & consumer trust
“What is really monumental about what we do is franchising.”
That’s Franny Tacy, founder and CEO of Franny’s Farmacy, a vertically-integrated cannabis company headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina. She is also among the first female hemp growers in North Carolina, and holds a forestry degree from Northern Arizona University and a master’s in education from Tennessee State University. The first Franny’s Farmacy dispensary opened in downtown Asheville in 2018, sourcing seed-to-shelf traceable products from Tacy’s own organic farm in Leicester, North Carolina.
I spoke with Tacy just before Thanksgiving about why she began growing hemp, what sets her company apart in a turbulent emerging market, and how she scaled Franny’s Farmacy to a dozen franchises and corporate stores across six states.
Tacy began growing hemp in 2017 as part of North Carolina State University’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program. “I was destined to be a farmer,” she explained in her TEDx talk about farming industrial hemp. Growing up in Tennessee, Tacy learned first-hand about both agriculture and business from her cattle-broker father and banker mother. “I kind of got the best of both worlds,” she told me.
In 2018, she pivoted from farming hemp for food and fiber to growing the crop for cannabinoid production. “I’m a businesswoman. We shifted to medicine because that’s where it is,” Tacy said. She is also a dedicated advocate for the medical applications of cannabinoids, and has lobbied the FDA to regulate CBD as an ingredient. “I spent almost 15 years in pharmaceuticals before I even got into cannabis,” Tacy told me. “I would like to say that we are hopefully emerging from the dark ages and prohibition.”
“As we become more global citizens, and we look to what is medicine and what is healthcare globally, plant medicine is absolutely part of health and wellness all over the world,” Tacy said. “It’s really only in America where we are so focused on pharmaceuticals that cannabis has been demonized.”
The cannabis market in the United States is subject to a balkanized system of legislation, mostly at the state level, leaving the door open for misinformation, uneven regulatory enforcement, and poor – even dangerous – consumer experiences. Just as Tacy is an advocate for medical uses for cannabis, she believes regulation is fundamental. “We need to regulate manufacturing in this industry so we don’t have products with heavy metals in them in gas stations – in consumers’ hands with them thinking this is a healthcare product,” she said.
In the meantime, Franny’s Farmacy self-regulates. “I was the first to get certificates of what is seed-to-shelf, tracking the product you put in your body to the farm it grew on,” she said. “We are trusted. It’s the only reason we’re in business.”
Consumer trust has powered growth at Franny’s Farmacy for half a decade, and has been key to the company’s survival in an industry where competition is fierce and entrepreneurs struggle to turn a profit even in booming coastal markets. “They’re calling me legacy now, and I’m like, that’s not fair. It makes me sound old,” Tacy joked about her young enterprise. “But it is. 2017 is legacy around here.”
That isn’t to say growth has come easily. It’s hard to market weed. “We’ve had four websites shut down,” Tacy said. “Finally, we had to get our own server to remain in business.” On Instagram, “I had almost 30,000 followers on my farm,” she told me, but “they shut it down soon after I started my ‘farmacy’ … I had to rebuild it from scratch.”
“We set up email marketing. There are all these other things. It sucks, but there’s nothing you can do,” Tacy said. Despite setbacks, social media and digital marketing played an important role in catapulting the brand’s growth, and by teaching best practices to other entrepreneurs, Tacy turned a roadblock into yet another growth driver. “This is why I set up franchises,” she told me.
“One of the biggest things that people reach out and want to talk about is how this is not business as usual… This is early in the industry. There’s nothing that is normal,” Tacy said. “You don’t bank. You don’t do social media, or marketing – even website development. None of it.”
Franchising is an opportunity to work for yourself, but not by yourself.
“I am a great example of what to do and what not to do,” Tacy said. Building a franchise model is a growth strategy for Tacy, but also a way to share her knowledge, expertise, and passion for cannabis as an educator. The franchise model systematizes everything from initial setup and opening to marketing, banking, point-of-sale, payroll, and training. Helping other entrepreneurs execute plans that work motivates her. “That was the whole point of it,” she told me. “That’s the motivation for doing everything… I like to do things once. I come from an entire family of engineers and Episcopal ministers, so we like that. We like a plan.”
“It's all challenging, and most people don't have that opportunity to be entrepreneurs and to live the American dream. We're punching a clock and COVID changed everything,” Tacy said. “Franchising is an opportunity to work for yourself, but not by yourself.”
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Tacy even sees franchising as a way to achieve some small measure of justice in the industry. Black Americans are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and though states like New York have indicated that individuals with a pot conviction will be first in line for dispensary licenses, justice is slow. “Women, African Americans and minorities a lot of times are able to get grants, certain funding, and other things to start a business. Not in cannabis,” Tacy said. “Not that I can overcome any or all of this through a franchise model, but we absolutely give discounts to women, African American, and minority business owners.”
“Justice is a really, really big word to bring into cannabis, but our industry is really leading. We’re doing a lot of progressive marketing, action, fundraising, and even stuff on Capitol Hill… to get people [who committed] nonviolent crimes out of prison,” Tacy said. Franny’s Farmacy supports and donates to the non-profit Last Prisoner Project, an organization dedicated to “freeing the tens of thousands of individuals still unjustly imprisoned for cannabis.”
Franchising gets attention, and is certainly part of what is monumental about Franny’s Farmacy, but it isn’t the only engine behind the growth of the business. Tacy’s leadership in and advocacy for consumer safety standards and transparency, as well as the company’s vertically-integrated approach, has won consumers’ loyalty and established the foundations for continued expansion.
Considered an expert in hemp and a leader in the industry, Tacy’s model is working. Even if it didn’t however, she’d be satisfied. “Worst case? I check out and live on my farm and just focus my time and energy on food and farming. That's it. No matter what, it's all pretty good,” she said.