Long before the legal, adult-use cannabis industry took hold in Los Angeles, Sweet Flower opened its doors in 2006 as one of the first medical dispensaries in the city. Originally operating with a purpose to provide compassionate caregiving, it quietly served patients until 2018, when Tim Dodd identified Sweet Flower as a service-oriented solution to a problematic gap in the rapidly corporatizing retail landscape.
The native New Zealander visited a dispensary himself for the first time four years ago, but was disappointed in the shopping experience. An avid long distance cyclist, Dodd suffered a crash while training in the Santa Monica Mountains and after being airlifted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, he was prescribed opioids for his long road to recovery. Instead of using the pharmaceuticals he turned to cannabis, but found the buying experience to be “confused, stigmatized and unapproachable.”
Inspired by the success of treating his pain with plants instead of pills, he approached Sweet Flower.
Dodd, leaving behind executive roles ranging Technicolor to Warner Bros. to Time Warner, acquired Sweet Flower with his colleague of more than two decades, Mike Thomson. Together, they reorganized, rebranded and then opened Sweet Flower’s new, adult-use concept on Melrose in April of 2019 and expanded the original Studio City location with a grand reopening later that same month.
In March, Sweet Flower announced its initial external raise — a $15 million Series A round led by AFI Capital Partners with other investors from the retail, media, entertainment and finance sectors.
“At AFI, we value high quality operators that have a clear focus,” said AFI Capital managing director Chi-Chien Hou. “Sweet Flower combines efficient retail execution with a strong emphasis on customer and community engagement; this translates into a great retail experience that keeps consumers coming back and positions Sweet Flower as one of the leaders in the mainstream cannabis movement in the most influential market in the country.”
The investment positions Sweet Flower to scale up its expansion, launch a manufacturing and distribution vertical hub in downtown Los Angeles, the introduction of a sub-brand of retail stores throughout California and the roll-out of its private label program.
“We have been bootstrapped to date, but as we continued to expand, and with increasing tailwinds in California (a market we’ve always firmly believed in that is in favor again), we saw the opportunity to expand again,” Dodd, now Sweet Flower CEO, noted. “We have four stores across Los Angeles, making Sweet Flower one of the largest and best regarded branded retail chains in the city. Culver City will be coming next, and we are pursuing five more organic expansion opportunities in California.”
But what also already sets Sweet Flower apart from the larger retail chains it competes with is a clear mission — one Dodd defined in the beginning — of inclusivity and diversity. Sweet Flower’s official mission statement reads: “To set a new standard for modern cannabis retail that is inclusive, diverse and approachable by all.”
The company currently employs 120 team members, 80% of whom are African American or Latinx with a women-led executive team. Under its “Sweet Flower Shares” community investment initiative, over $175,000 in donations have been directly distributed to local community organizations in Los Angeles including the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Poverello House, Central Valley Community Health and multiple nonprofits in Culver City, where Dodd was awarded the 2019 President’s Award from the chamber of commerce for his work. Dodd also serves on the board of the Black Cooperative Investment Fund, while Sweet Flower is a member of Cannabis For Black Lives, assisting in forming programs with The Hood incubator, First Equity Alliance and Cage-Free Repair.
“In addition to having a diverse selection of products, we have a diverse team and stand by our pillars working tirelessly to support the communities we serve,” explained Sweet Flower CMO Kiana Anvaripour, who previously was at the helm of marketing for Beboe Brands from launch to acquisition by Green Thumb Industries (GTI). “We have executed memoranda of understanding with local groups in our markets to support diverse hiring, while also supporting Black- and Brown-owned cannabis brands, record expungement, skills and jobs training and building an inclusive cannabis supply chain with all our vendors, suppliers and partners.”
Sweet Flower has made a product promise, too, allocating 10% of shelf-space to BIPOC brands. Currently, the following brands are highlighted in each store through a section for companies owned by people of color: Acqua de Flor, Ball Family Farms, Biko, Calexo, Congo Club, Cronja, El Blunto, KGB Reserve, La Familia, Leisure Trees, Lifted Legacy, Potli, Pure Beauty, Saucey, SF Roots, Sundae School, Timeless and Viola. According to Anvaripour, the industry standard is 2% of shelf space; Sweet Flower currently sits at 17% with 19 BIPOC brands and counting.
While the list of celebrities cashing in on cannabis with their own brands grows, Sweet Flower has drawn stars into its stores to simply shop — and often get spotted on their way out. The brand also has strategically aligned itself with Hollywood through official collaborations with the likes of Chelsea Handler, Lionsgate’s “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” and Beats by Dre. And Houseplant, the much-hyped flower and home goods brand by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, chose Sweet Flower as its first retail partner, in L.A.
“Every partnership we have done to date has been extremely organic,” shared Anvaripour. “We are focused on the community we serve, which in L.A., includes entertainment, media and wellness, so most of the collaborations have stemmed from [leaders of those industries] being our customers. Partnerships like this destigmatize cannabis — celebrities have a large platform to share their experiences and yes, cannabis can be fun, but at its core, it personifies wellness and this year has proved to a growing population that it can help naturally.”
Sweet Flower also recently released its first merch drop in the form of a capsule collection with the Los Angeles-based clothing company Free & Easy. The limited edition line includes a hoodie, hat and tote (available in Sweet Flower stores as well as on the website of both brands).
The immediate next step for Sweet Flower is the August grand opening of a new flagship location in Culver City, where the company’s office space is also based. Customers can expect Sweet Flower’s signature minimalist, bright design aesthetic and extensively trained staff, known as “Sweet Florists” — a welcome improvement on “budtenders.”
Dodd describes the almost-complete showcase space as, “A beautiful mid-century heritage location across from Sony Pictures, Apple and Equinox and adjacent to Culver City’s downtown restaurant district. We have deep roots in the Culver City creative community and look forward to being a part of the renaissance of the city.”
The company will also continue to build on its delivery service, a highly profitable arm of the brand developed in-house. Dodd attributes its success to Sweet Flower’s attention to customer service — he wasn’t willing to outsource to a third party like Eaze or Emjay.
“Being invited to our customers’ homes is the ultimate permission, and it is also the ultimate extension of our brand,” Dodd added. “It is critical to get that last mile step to the customer’s door right, and the only way we felt comfortable doing so was to do it ourselves.”