How TerraVida Scaled Up

All hired within the past year: TerraVida’s Abington dispensary staff. (Photo courtesy of TerraVida)

Upwards of 110,000 patients have registered to use medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, and nearly one-third of them are served by the three TerraVida dispensaries in the Philadelphia region.

'We’re hiring for long-term expansion. Since we opened in February 2018, our staff turnover rate has been zero.'
Chris Visco, Founder, TerraVida dispensaries

TerraVida now serves 200 to 250 patients a day at each dispensary. The average age of their patients is 58, and company officials estimate that 70% of the patients who walk into their facilities want to reduce or eliminate their pharmaceutical use, especially opioid painkillers.

To keep up with the rising demand, TerraVida founder Chris Visco has grown her employee count from three to 92 over the past year. That’s staffing up at a 3,000% rate.

Even in an industry that grew more than 64,000 jobs last year, that’s a phenomenal leap in scale. How did TerraVida do it? According to Visco, it’s all about finding the right people by offering solid salaries, benefits, and workplace satisfaction.

Zero Turnover, Exponential Growth

Founder Chris Visco was a retail buyer, operated a bakery, and ran political campaigns before opening Philadelphia’s leading dispensary. (Photo: Janet Burns for Leafly)

“We’re bringing on six more people [next month] in corporate,” Visco said, glancing at the grid of security-camera feeds on her computer in spare moments. “We’re hiring for long-term expansion. Since we opened in February 2018, our turnover rate [of employees who quit] has been zero.”

TerraVida’s dispensaries are staffed by multiple shifts of product specialists, patient care coordinators, licensed pharmacists, and other medical professionals. They’re overseen by store managers, assistant managers, and “third key” management trainees. Three phone operators working remotely take patients’ calls throughout the day (with expanded night hours to come). Soon the company’s website will offer 24/7 online (human) chat. Corporate teams include marketing, IT and data entry, purchasing and retail, supply chain, HR, and other administrative and executive roles.

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Ancillary Jobs, Too

The employment impact and opportunities don’t stop with TerraVida’s 92 direct hires. Visco works with a portfolio of ancillary companies as well—the kinds of businesses that economists categorize as “indirect” jobs supported by legal cannabis.

The dispensaries are guarded by a locally contracted security team, who protect the sites and observe them on video 24/7. The facilities are maintained by a local cleaning crew. To outfit the centers last year, Visco hired various subcontractors, a fabricator to make the display cases, and a women-led architecture firm, all from the surrounding area.

Buying From Local Growers

Products themselves arrived packaged and sealed at TerraVida from two of the state’s six licensed grower-processors, which Visco picked for their “long-term” pricing strategy rather than short-term opportunism. In the dispensaries’ waiting rooms, patients can help themselves to cookies from a bakery on Philadelphia south side.

In total, the company patronizes between 25 and 30 local vendors regularly, plus another 15 to 20 for special events and building TerraVida’s facilities (including its new 10,000 square foot headquarters in Jenkintown).

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It’s Not Just About Salary

Visco emphasized that establishing diversity, mentorship, upward mobility, and a fair employment package has been crucial to building the business so far.

“No one here makes under $15 an hour,” she says. “We have full health benefits for all our full-time workers, six weeks paid maternity leave, and a life insurance option. We offered family and medical leave before state law required it. We’re not making money yet, but we gave out holiday bonuses.”

“Last week, I promoted 11 employees, which was so exciting,” she added. “I hire personalities first. My belief is: you’re only as good as your people.”

Side Benefits: Job Satisfaction

Catherine Arntz, TerraVida’s digital media coordinator, said the months she’s spent working in the medical marijuana field have been a rewarding and unique employment experience. “It’s great,” Arntz told Leafly. “I actually look forward to going to work.”

'At TerraVida, I actually look forward to going to work.'
Catherine Arntz , digital media coordinator

Amanda Capoferri, marketing and event coordinator for TerraVida, said she’s felt the same way since joining the company in December. She acknowledged the business’ brisk ongoing hiring: “We had two people sharing an office, and now it’s three,” Capoferri joked. But the cramped quarters don’t dampen her pride in the company’s impact on communities near Philadelphia, including event sponsorships and non-profit giving. “It not only makes a difference by supporting these organizations, but by helping to spread the word and end stigma.”

Marketing manager Alayna Ryan, who’s worked alongside Visco (a former mentor) and TerraVida VP of Operations Josh Reiss since the company’s start, echoed her colleagues’ enthusiasm for working in cannabis with a team that feels invested. “It’s been an incredible year,” Ryan said, “and we’re always growing.”