On the road to success, struggle is to be expected and honored. While everyone has a natural desire to ascend to higher planes of existence, it all rests upon the shoulders of each of us to match that inclination with real initiative. That couldn’t prove to be more true for this group of pioneers.
Most people don’t believe me when I tell them that the Sweet Leaf Marijuana empire was built on two maxed out credit cards and nine thousand dollars cash. It’s a risk that Christian Johnson doesn’t know if he would have the “balls to do it again.” And, honestly, if I weren’t living this dream every day of my life, I can’t say that I would either!
Sweet Leaf is headed up by three of the most driven people I have met in this industry to date. With their brothers strategically placed as the heads of all grow departments and myself in the retail and compliance sector, they cultivated a team that achieves success and grows with the ever changing political climate. A company culture shaped by cutting edge technology, transparency and their hard work.
The $50,000,000 Sweet Leaf Marijuana empire was built six years ago on $9,000 cash and two maxed-out American Express cards when Christian purchased his first 40 air-cooled lamps and rented a 8,000-square-foot warehouse in Denver.
Sweet Leaf recently sold that building for $1,400,000. The first harvest paid off the credit cards. The second paid the rent and air conditioning. If even one thing had gone wrong—had they yielded any less or failed at one crop—I wouldn’t be able to share this story.
Matt and Anthony became associates a few years prior when Matt was invited over to Anthony’s grow by the latter’s brother, Chris, (to whom Anthony attributes for his bold leap into the cannabis business). To Anthony’s dismay, Matt pulled up in a Dodge Durango on 22 inch rims, blasting 2Pac and had a blunt behind each ear.
The team united when the owner of a Denver dispensary was failing and owed all of these guys some money. He asked them for help. “Right place, Right time and just eager enough to go all in” Matt says. They all sat down together, forgave debts and invested just over $150,000 to partner in their first dispensary locations. This specific location is still in their portfolio today and is one of their highest grossing locations.
The AJS (Aiken, Johnson, Sauro) team incorporated in December of 2011 with a solid vision: to better the lives of customers, employees and community; to create something that they could all be proud of.
With a location escalation yearly average of one store and 21,000 square feet of grow per year, they have a respectable share of the cannabis market in Denver. Sweet Leaf sits among the Top 5 grossing cannabis businesses and license holders in the state of Colorado. This puts them in the top of the nation and top of the world, being as Colorado was the first place to have fully-licensed cannabis businesses.
One of the only completely self-funded and debt-free businesses in the cannabis industry, Sweet Leaf now has seven stores. Six of which are in the Denver Metro area and the seventh in Portland, Oregon. Sweet Leaf currently operates a littler over 130,000 square feet of grow, with over 80,000 square feet of planned expansion over the next two years.
The sales numbers have increased over the past six years like clockwork. With gross sales of $750,000 in 2011, $2,600,000 in 2012, $5,300,000 in 2013, $11,200,000 in 2014, $28,000,000 in 2015, Sweet Leaf has more than doubled their gross every year.
Currently Sweet Leaf is staffed with 217 full-time employees and are slated for a $55,000,000 year in 2016. With all of that said, these guys aren’t laughing on the way to the bank. They are all firm believers in buying into the dream that they sell, and have reinvested over 80 percent of all profits over the past five years in order to scale this empire to what we have today.
With a company employee mantra of “Dominate today, get better tomorrow,” this company has a focus on the career development of its staff. Sweet Leaf offers full medical benefits, life insurance, paid time off and are in the process of rolling out a match-based 401k plan. And hopes to one day be able to provide the “Google” work experience to their team.
Christian Johnson – 47, Born and raised in Nebraska, and even after attending the University of Nebraska Lincoln for Industrial Engineering, he admits that he learned more in one year of owning a business than college and high school combined. With that said, I can promise you that Christian will never turn down a challenge. Even though Christian handles any Sweet Leaf-related court appearances, you can usually catch Christian in the newest 70,000 square foot warehouse. Being covered in dust or paint isn’t a rarity for Christian, as he’s been working on a $10,000,000 project that he dreamed up years ago. All done with an ear-to-ear smile.
Anthony Sauro – 30, Born in California and raised on the East Coast, Anthony is the perfect balance of the East Coast hustle and the laid-back mentality the West Coast is known for. Anthony is an all-American boy and you can’t help but love him. He is the personality of this company. Anthony provides a fun and welcoming environment for both customers and employees. He’s focused on running a reputable business and takes pride in taking care of Sweet Leaf’s people.
Matthew Aiken – 37, Matt is an anomaly. With an Accounting degree from CU-Boulder and an honorary PhD in being a bad-ass, Matt mastered the art of leadership—a requirement that a large cannabis company needs. He’s also a friend that we love to smoke a blunt with. Matt reminds us that greatness belongs to those who focus relentlessly on thir ambitions, and to surround themselves with people who bring added value both personally and professionally; have a positive attitude and strive for progression and greatness. Matt has his sights set on national expansion and seeks to break into the international market within the next five years.
When asked if they believed if the market is too flooded to still make a break into the cannabis business, they had mixed opinions regarding the funds needed to make your break into the business now. But all agreed that there is plenty of room for expansion and that every state is fair game for a new industry leader to be born. These three gentlemen are living proof that the future belongs to the people who believe in the power of their dreams, and work relentlessly every day to attain them.