Wisdom From The Women Leading The Cannabis Industry, With Sondra Hellund of Franny’s Farmacy

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

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Expect the unexpected: The cannabis industry is still in its infancy stage, and with that comes a lot of excitement, and unexpected surprises when it comes to laws, regulations, science, and everything else involved with running a business in this space. Like Franny herself always says, “This is not business as usual.”

As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sondra Hellund.

Sondra Hellund is the Owner/Operator of Franny’s Farmacy in Charlotte, NC. As the first Franny’s Farmacy female franchise owner, Sondra takes pride in leading by example and empowering her team to achieve new heights both personally and professionally. Her dedication and commitment to bringing the vertically-integrated, locally-sourced Franny’s Farmacy brand and its offering to the people of Charlotte is embedded in her team of highly-trained bud-tenders and staff. The dispensary serves as a wellness destination for Charlotteans to gather, connect, learn, feel inspired, and experience the very best in hemp-wellness.

A Charlotte local for the past 25 years, Sondra refers to the city as the first place to ever feel like home. After experiencing several Franny’s Farmacy Dispensaries for herself, the heart-led leader took it upon herself to lift the veil on a top-tier hemp-wellness dispensary that her city and its community deserved and needed, and could be proud of.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I came into the cannabis industry in the most organic way possible. I came into the industry as a customer. My partner, Anthony, was a customer of Franny’s Farmacy in another location. I live in Charlotte, NC where, at the time, there wasn’t a Franny’s Farmacy.

He was visiting and mentioned that he was out of gummies and said to me, “let’s run to Franny’s!”

“A what?”, I replied.

The rest is history. I’d like to say it took a ton of agonizing research, but as soon as I heard woman-helmed, organic, and vertically-integrated, and right after I met Franny herself, I knew it was the right move.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The most interesting thing is not so much a story but an experience. We are located in a very vibrant, “hot,” if you will, part of Charlotte, North Carolina alongside high-end, upscale stores and restaurants.

From the start, we wanted to create a dispensary that cultivated an experience that was just as beautiful, elegant, and welcoming. Frequently women will open the front door of the dispensary, step one foot in, look briefly from side to side, and then back out as if to leave. I catch them every time and ask, “What store are you looking for?”

Their reply is always, “The CBD store…”

The interesting insight from these experiences and stories are about the general public’s perception of how a Hemp and CBD dispensary should look. The general assumption is that it might smell smokey and not have a look and feel similar to that of a reviving health and wellness destination. There are still lots of minds, opinions, and assumptions to education and persuade out there, and that’s what my team and I are committed to at Franny’s Farmacy of Charlotte; educate, educate, educate. Education is key to unveiling what this plant is all about, and the impact it can have on the health and wellness each of us is trying to achieve for whatever reason it may be.

The lesson learned here is that a lot of what lies ahead of me in this business is going to involve providing safe access to quality products, and continuous education for both my team and our community here in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This was truly a rookie mistake. My team and I were sponsoring a TopGolf tournament in late March. It had been a chilly week and, as I recall, cloudy all week. The weather surprised us all on the day of the event with beautiful sunshine and 60 degree temperatures.

We had a great time, the weather was beautiful, and the event was great. While unpacking some extra boxes at the dispensary, I noticed that 25 jars of CBD Gummies turned into soup! Now, this may not sound funny to some, but all I could do at that moment was laugh. The only other alternative was to get upset, angry, or cry, and I wasn’t going to let that happen!

I can’t tell you how many times I have kindly reminded customers, “Please don’t leave your gummies in the car on a warm day,” and share that story. What I learned from this is to not take every little thing too seriously, even if it means learning the hard way from time to time.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?

The most comical reaction to me becoming a part of the cannabis industry was hands down when I heard my then 17 year old son say, “Mom’s decided to be a drug dealer.” He was very intrigued with the idea for about two weeks. For the record, this was also during the same time he was binge watching Breaking Bad.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

It’s really difficult to point to one person and say, “That person, they helped me the most.” I would never be able to do that, and for that I’m grateful. I’ve had so many mentors along the way; some I knew about, some I didn’t. I’ve been lucky to have been surrounded by such talented and supportive people from different fields and backgrounds.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! Franny’s has several new products launching and Franny’s Farmacy of Charlotte is incredibly excited to have them available to our customers. I want my customers to stay knowledgeable and informed about their health and wellness so that we stay strong as a community. That’s just one part of the Franny difference. When we are in your community, you will know because we care.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

Collectively, all three of the entities listed must continually highlight the successes of women across all fields, and particularly in agriculture and cannabis. There are so many amazing women in this field doing extraordinary things and I don’t just say that because my company is helmed by one of those trailblazers.

In addition, I believe it’s up to us, women, to step up and self-promote our successes. We have a responsibility to put ourselves in the game.

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.

1) Legislation: You can wrap a light rail train in a decal of a huge bottle of Jack Daniels, but you can’t advertise CBD at a rail-stop. As a retailer, sometimes you can’t take debit cards because the banks don’t allow it. The list of examples of how the current legislation makes it difficult to operate as an everyday business is endless. For the pure-bread entrepreneur, sometimes these challenges can add a bit of spice and make the journey a little bit more fun and interesting.

2) Misconceptions need to be addressed daily: Until I planted both feet into the industry as a dispensary owner, I did not realize how much of my role would involve breaking down the perception of cannabis, hemp, CBD, Delta-8 THC, Delta-9 THC, etc… For such an amazing little plant, the misconceptions are endless.

3) Education is ongoing: The opportunity to learn something new in this industry is endless. I find myself learning something new every single day, and passing it along to our community, customers, and team on an ongoing basis.

4) Participating in this industry can be transformative: The joy one can bring to people’s lives is immense.

What we do impacts people on so many levels. I’ve seen it happen in such great ways here in Charlotte.

5) Expect the unexpected: The cannabis industry is still in its infancy stage, and with that comes a lot of excitement, and unexpected surprises when it comes to laws, regulations, science, and everything else involved with running a business in this space. Like Franny herself always says, “This is not business as usual.”

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?

1) The opportunities that will arise in the Mid-Atlantic states for this industry if and when the Federal Government legalizes cannabis

2) The transformative, life-changing opportunities that cannabis holds for the medical field, especially in the area of mental health

3) I’m curious to see if more and more charities will decide to break free of social norms and decide to take donations that come from the cannabis industry

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

  • As a dispensary owner, there are always political, regulatory, and legal concerns because these affect the way I do business everyday. Legislation bleeds into everything we do one way or another. I believe I not only speak for myself, but for all the leaders in the cannabis industry when I say this, but this industry needs more effective regulations across the board.
  • Regulations that ensures safer products for everyone are a must. At the moment, companies can still get away with cutting corners to increase their profit margins while posing a greater risk to consumer safety. This needs to be addressed as soon as possible if the general public wants to see better quality, safer products on the market.

- The cannabis industry needs GMP specific to our industry. There needs to be safe handling of ingredients, traceability, protocols for recalls, and product safety. These are the things that will ultimately help break the stigmas and negative connotations surrounding this miraculous plant that we’re working with.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

I’m all for federal legalization as long as it’s accomplished correctly and fairly. At the end of the day, cannabis legalization at the federal level is what a majority of the people want in this country and that’s what they should have.

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

There is no comparison. This is like comparing apples to oranges. Cigarettes have been killing people for decades. For starters, when cannabis is inhaled, it does not have the same impact on the lungs that tobacco has. So why should they be grouped into the same category? In addition, Hemp and CBD are revolutionizing how people take care of their health and wellness. I don’t think people are adding tobacco products into their daily wellness regiments to look and feel better.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Your best teacher is your last mistake.” This has been my favorite quote for a long time. It helped me a lot; to learn from what I perceived to be failure and to try to take something positive from it. However, after a while, it came to a point where it almost felt punishing.

I recently heard this quote by Abraham Lincoln, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.”

Call it basic, but it works for me in every situation life throws at me, especially in business.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’m going to refer back to good ‘ole Abe, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” If I could get anything to catch on, it would be that.

Wouldn’t it be just so lovely to live in a world where the Golden Rule was actually a rule?

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!

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Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.