Gilbert Asks the Expert: Cannabis Industry Insights from Lazy River Products CEO William Cassotis
When recreational marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in 2016, many entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to launch a new business in this exciting space, including William Cassotis, the CEO of Lazy River Products in Dracut, Massachusetts. Lazy River Products is a premier recreational marijuana dispensary recently approved by the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) to cultivate and develop marijuana plants and products. Since the cannabis industry and its laws, regulations, and risks can be complex to navigate, we thought William, who is a client of Gilbert Insurance, could be a great resource for others thinking of starting a cannabis-related venture.
Q&A with William Cassotis of Lazy River Products
Gilbert: You started Lazy River with two friends from grade school. How did that come together?
William: Kevin Platt, Lazy River’s director of cultivation, Mark Leal, our director of operations, and I all grew up together in Londonderry, New Hampshire. We’ve been buddies since elementary school, and the three of us always talked about starting a business one day. But after high school, we each went off on our own path for a while.
I consider myself a serial entrepreneur, and after I graduated from college, I became a Planet Fitness franchisee. Ultimately, I owned over 20 Planet Fitness locations, which I ended up selling to provide funding for Lazy River. In the meantime, Kevin moved to California to pursue his skateboarding passion and then ventured into legal cannabis after Proposition 215 passed in that state in 1996. Mark worked as a corporate executive at Telco Systems, where he specialized in managing large teams.
As legalized cannabis was emerging as an industry here in Massachusetts, the three of us were drawn to it for a variety of reasons. It was apparent that the skill sets we had developed since our youth would really complement each other in a cannabis-related business. Kevin had the tactical knowledge of growing marijuana, Mark had the management experience, and I was familiar with owning and operating a business. More importantly, we all felt that a cannabis business would provide us with the opportunity to positively impact people and communities.
So, we jumped in. I sold my franchise locations, and the three of us took off on a road trip to do some research. We visited the states where cannabis was already legal. We met with our contacts who worked in cannabis. And we really took a deep dive into this industry to learn how everything worked.
Gilbert: Why did you decide to open up a dispensary specifically in Dracut, Massachusetts? Can you share with us the process from breaking ground to opening shop?
William: There was a lot of strategy behind choosing Dracut as the location to set up shop. For one, we were familiar with the area, having grown up not too far away. Plus, the town is close to Route 93, so we knew we’d get a lot of drive-by traffic. Dracut is also close to the New Hampshire border, where recreational cannabis is still illegal, so we expected to get a lot of business from that state. And finally, Dracut was an early adopter of cannabis regulations and put a number of bylaws in place that made it easier to bring a cannabis business to this community.
That’s not to say the process from breaking ground to opening shop was easy. It was still a long road to get where we are today. It took many town meetings and lots of community outreach to demonstrate how Lazy River Products would bring value to the area.
Gilbert: Can you tell us more about the products that Lazy River offers?
William: I’d like to think that Lazy River offers anything that a customer can imagine. Our most popular product is our flower, the smokable part of the marijuana plant after it is dried and cured. But we also have a number of other products that are popular, including pre-rolls, concentrates, vapes, and edibles of all different varieties. We’re also in the process of developing new products, including pill-based cannabis and fast-acting products.
But something I must stress is that Lazy River never wants to sell a customer a product solely because it’s trendy or we want to get it off our shelf. Part of our customer experience involves understanding what the customer wants, and that involves learning what the customer’s past experiences have been and what they’re looking for in future experiences. This helps our trained staff to direct the customer to the product that will best serve their needs.
Gilbert: Speaking of customers, what does the Lazy River clientele look like?
William: We see a wide variety of customers at Lazy River. Even though we’re a recreational facility, you’d be shocked at how many registered medical patients visit our facility. Although they can go to a registered medical facility and not pay the sales tax, they choose Lazy River products. Beyond medical patients, we also serve a number of mature customers, business professionals who can’t necessarily walk around smelling like they just smoked a joint. These customers often buy products that are more discreet or are looking for products to help mitigate health issues. Each customer shops at Lazy River for a reason specific to their own needs and desires. It’s our job to ensure they have an easy and beneficial shopping experience.
Gilbert: What differentiates Lazy River Products from other dispensaries in the area?
William: Other recreational-use marijuana dispensaries can only buy wholesale products from outside vendors and sell them at retail. But at Lazy River, we’re approved and certified by the CCC to cultivate and manufacture our own products. In the near future, our plan is to become a registered medical provider that offers products tax-free to qualifying customers.
Another important distinction between Lazy River Products and other dispensaries is our community impact. From the very beginning, we’ve prioritized participation in the local community, which is reflected in our company motto “Give Back, Grow, Succeed.” We donate to the Dracut Food Pantry and the Dracut Scholarship Fund, and we hold a yearly fundraiser for the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. As a company, we also frequently participate in the Clean River Project, where we pick up trash and abandoned homeless encampments to prevent debris from entering the Merrimack River. Lazy River also organizes its own Broadway Road cleanup, from the Methuen border to our facility, which typically generates mountains of trash collection.
However, Lazy River’s community commitment isn’t only about service; we also know how to have fun. Each month in the summer, we host “River Fest” in the large parking lot of our facility. The event is completely free and features live music, craft beer from Spicket River Brewery for those of drinking age, free food, and local vendors, and, of course, our store is open for people to browse and shop. We’re always looking for ways to support the Dracut community and the neighbors who have been so welcoming to us.
Gilbert: What are the specific challenges and risks that cannabis dispensaries like Lazy River Products need to be aware of, and how do you manage these?
William: One of the main challenges of this industry is that things are constantly shifting. For example, federal regulations can change month to month. If we’re not careful to stay on top of new information coming out, we could get in serious trouble. While it’s up to us as a company to remain up to date on changes that might impact our company, I have to say Gilbert Insurance, as our insurance professional, has been a great help, as well. Since we broke ground, David Gilbert and the Gilbert Insurance team have been there, advising us on many things, including the type and amount of insurance protection we need to protect our investment. David is very flexible, knowledgeable, and responsive. I like that he’s our one go-to resource as opposed to having to speak with numerous individuals who might all be on a different page. I also appreciate that Gilbert Insurance does all the research for us, presents us with many options, and helps us make the best decisions for our business. Having collaborative relationships like this is extremely important, especially for business owners in an industry like cannabis that is still in its infancy stage.
We hope this conversation with William Cassotis gave you some insights into what it’s like to enter the exciting cannabis industry and run a cannabis-related business. Gilbert Insurance will continue to bring you more interviews like this, featuring local business owners and industry experts sharing their knowledge and experiences.
Learn more about Lazy River Products by visiting its website, which has plenty of information, including a menu and blog. To keep up with everything Lazy River Products related, follow the company on Instagram and Facebook.
The Gilbert team also wants you to know that we are here to lend our professional support to your cannabis business. We have a dedicated cannabis insurance specialist, David Gilbert, who has been advising clients in the cannabis industry since 2017 and can provide advice tailored to your specific company and needs. Please contact David with your questions about cannabis insurance and for help finding the insurance products, at affordable rates, that are right for you.