Phat Panda's Co-Founders Share How They Got to No. 1 in Washington's Marijuana Marketplace

Phat Panda's Co-Founders Share How They Got to No. 1 in Washington's Marijuana Marketplace

Katrina and Robert McKinley describe their company as boutique cannabis on a large scale.

May 15, 2017
Crystal Hammon

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 print edition of Cannabis Business Times. To subscribe, click here.

There’s a common perception in the cannabis industry that all larger operations are run the same: Fill a room with plants and harvest the heck out of it. If that’s true, then Grow Op Farms LLC—the largest Tier 3 producer (which allows for 10,000 to 30,000 square feet of plant canopy) in the state of Washington—is an industry renegade.

“We like to think of ourselves as a large-scale boutique,” says Robert McKinley, the chief executive officer of Grow Op Farms, which is also known as Phat Panda, the name of its popular product line and parent company.

As entrepreneurs who built their first successful business as marketing experts devoted to helping other companies thrive, McKinley and his wife Katrina had one clear advantage when they decided to begin growing cannabis in 2014: They knew how to grow a business.

But neither knew anything about farming in general nor growing cannabis in particular. So the serial entrepreneurs started by hiring star players. One of their first and most important recruits was Andrew Guy, Grow Op Farm’s head grower. “The interesting thing about growers is that they all think they have the most awesome strains and the best way of doing things,” McKinley says. “Andrew, though, had a unique perspective and reasoning behind the strains he grows.”

At any point in time, you can find up to 80 strains of cannabis being cultivated at Grow Op Farms. Each strain is carefully selected based on criteria such as appearance, potency, cannabinoid and terpene content, flowering time and, perhaps most importantly, potential consumer demand. McKinley credits Guy with introducing the company’s best sellers—OG Chem and Golden Pineapple. “They’re both amazing strains,” he says. “Both have super high THC, great flavor, and people love them.”

In pursuit of high-quality cannabis, Guy is always looking for popular strains to help Grow Op Farms maintain market dominance. “We’ve got multiple phenotypes of 35 different strains being tested right now, and we’re ready to start another four or five in the next couple of days,” Guy says. “We keep our seed projects running continually. Every other month, we’ll test another half dozen strains.”

Grow Op Farms has 26 flowering rooms where cannabis is grown in a coco coir mix, fortified with Emerald Harvest nutrients. Each room is tended by an eight-member team and produces five to six harvests per year. A dedicated environmental services team keeps the facility clean, and it has a trained team of scouters whose sole job is to watch for potential problems with each crop. “It’s extremely labor intensive,” Guy says. “But that’s the trick to growing good, clean cannabis. Everyone needs to be clean, so the No. 1 thing we practice here is cleanliness.”

McKinley says growing a large volume of premium cannabis in an indoor environment isn’t easy, making it all the more important to be relentless about simple principles, such as knowing your plants and organizing your space for yield, in addition to cleanliness.

To read the full article in Cannabis Business Times' May edition, click here.

Top Photo: J. Craig Sweat Photography