On the Job: At Aspen pot shop, challenges come with budding industry
April 25, 2014
Editor's note: "On the Job" is a series that profiles locals and the work they do. It runs every other week in The Aspen Times.
Every day that Luke LaPenna goes to work as the shop manager at Silverpeak Apothecary in Aspen, he faces fresh challenges. Whether it's preparing to market a different strain of marijuana or helping set up the Marijuana Inventory Tracking Solutions system for the products sold by the shop, LaPenna has a job that is so new that it's constantly evolving.
"I can honestly say there is seldom a dull moment with this job," LaPenna said. "I work in an emerging business that is incredibly regulated. Compliance with the new marijuana laws is paramount right now, and we're diligent about doing this right. It's exciting to be on the forefront of an industry with such unlimited growth potential."
As the shop manager, LaPenna is a jack-of-all-trades and the go-to guy at Silverpeak for the 20-plus employees at the store, located on East Cooper Avenue. Just three months ago, Silverpeak was a medical marijuana outlet with two shop employees. Since recreational marijuana sales began on March 5, Silverpeak tripled its retail space and boosted its employee count to more than 20.
LaPenna is responsible for scheduling and training the crew, with a heavy emphasis on the new compliance laws all marijuana retailers must abide by.
"I pretty much have the keys to the shop," he said. "I do a little of everything."
In reality, he does a lot of everything at Silverpeak. He works with the marketing of the business, he does purchasing and receiving for edible products, he's responsible for daily inventory counts and relishes the customer service aspect of Silverpeak.
LaPenna helped initiate the "816" discount at Silverpeak. The "816" stands for the first three digits of local zip codes. Any customer who possesses an 816 zip code qualifies for a hefty local buyer's club discount at Silverpeak.
"It's more a local's appreciation club," LaPenna said. "It makes buying recreational much more affordable for our local customers."
There's also the quality-control aspect. When there's a new product for sale, LaPenna needs to know the potency and correct dosages to recommend to the public.
"I do need to try a lot of our products," he said. "In some situations, I can do quality control by sight and smell. I also rely on other employees opinions. Every one of our employees has become an expert in some form of this business, and we make it a point to share our knowledge with one another and the customers."
Originally from Long Island, N.Y., LaPenna, 36, is married with twin two-year-old daughters. He's a natural people person and possesses a disarming smile that he shares with nearly every customer. He speaks with confidence when he describes marijuana products and recommends caution when experimenting with cannabis.
He's also a stickler to the rules and regulations, especially concerning the MITS system used by the Colorado Department of Revenue's Marijuana Enforcement Division to track the pot from the greenhouse in which it is grown to the store where the herb is sold.
"We have an employee that serves as our compliance officer," LaPenna said. "We have an inventory person and we have a MITS person, but I still need to stay on top of all those responsibilities. That's one way we double-check all the aspects of working within the state rules."
Besides training all employees, LaPenna holds daily work meetings, both before and after shifts, to discuss how the employees can make the customer experience even better at Silverpeak.
"That's why I come to Silverpeak," said a local customer who preferred that her name wasn't used. "The employees here all are friendly and incredibly knowledgeable. Luke really knows the products and has never steered me in the wrong direction."
A typical week for LaPenna means working 55 to 60 hours at the shop.
"I have a lot of daily responsibilities," he said. "But the most important aspect we all strive for at Silverpeak is customer service. We want to make sure we have the best products, the best prices and the best customer service in the valley. We know there's some solid competition out there, so we're trying to stay ahead of the trends and we monitor prices at other outlets. We feel it's paramount to take care of our local customer base, whether they're recreational or medical customers."
Medical marijuana sales are how Silverpeak became established in Aspen. It became the first local medical marijuana outlet in 2009 and the first recreational outlet in Aspen proper in March.
"We have more than 200 medical patients," LaPenna said. "We're committed to continue serving those customers and provide them with the medicine they require at the best prices."
The daily challenges of working within a morphing business model makes LaPenna's job challenging at times, but the bottom line always comes back to customer service.
"No matter what we offer and how we offer it, our goal at Silverpeak is to give our customers the best shopping experience possible," he said. "We designed this shop to allow people an opportunity to learn about our products and to organize their thoughts before they reach the order counter. We want to be informative, friendly and offer the best service possible."