Strengthening the Cannabis Industry from the Roots Up
Some of the best business ideas have been born on cocktail napkins in bars and restaurants around the world. When you get the right people together, with the right concept and shared ideals, anything is possible. That’s exactly what happened with Gro-Tech Systems.
Gro-Tech Systems is a classic example of what can happen when motivated people spot a real need in a market they know intimately – and decide to do something about it.
In this case, it was husband and wife Scott and Delia Stephan and colleague Chris Ehrlich who, fed up with the quality and service customers were getting in the field of greenhouse and light-deprivation systems, decided they’d make a good team to put it right.
Stephan was a licensed HVAC contractor in the commercial space with specialized expertise in healthcare construction, and Chris Ehrlich, who Stephan calls his right-hand man, was an HVAC superintendent. They established Gro-Tech Systems in 2013 and set out to put the needs of the grower first.
“We take a different kind of approach because we understand heating and cooling and environmental controls,” explained Stephan who serves as President and Chief Executive Officer. “A lot of us come from the same background, so when we all put our heads together, it’s pretty difficult to stop us.”
Once established, Gro-Tech Systems briefly acted as a distributor for a greenhouse manufacturer, but quickly came to the stark realization that if it really wanted to address market needs, it would have to do it on its own.
“Conventional greenhouse manufacturers would always outsource their light-deprivation systems. But these were actually not light-deprivation systems at all, they were shade systems that were then adapted to the blackout system, so there were all kinds of issues with wear and tear and weight distribution because the two fabrics are different weights,” explained Stephan.
Throughout their careers, Stephan and Ehrlich had tried to work with greenhouse curtain designers and light-deprivation technology companies to improve the design of existing systems, but constantly found themselves met with resistance. With that, the company took on both the design and manufacture of greenhouses, and even patented its own automated light-deprivation system.
As the cannabis market started to take off in California, Gro-Tech Systems began to receive invitations from growers to service and install light-deprivation systems in their grow operations. Many of them were struggling because their existing greenhouses and light-deprivation technology were missing the mark.
“Growers were being forced to adapt their operations to the requirements of manufacturers’ existing structures and outdated light-deprivation technology,” Stephan says, “instead of manufacturers customizing solutions to meet the needs of growers.”
Gro-Tech Systems took a more thoughtful approach by designing the light-deprivation system first, followed by the structure around it, so as to optimize the growing environment as well as ease of operation and maintenance.
Not only a manufacturer but an innovator, too, Gro-Tech Systems’ greatest feedback loop is its customers. Consequently, it takes a hands-on approach to ensure their needs are met and that trust and lasting relationships are established.
As Director of Marketing Alex Pappas notes, “We always come at it from the perspective of the grower. We always want to make sure that we have the best operating procedures, the best distribution and manufacturing processes, and that everything we’re doing is always being improved on,” he says.
“Being a relatively smaller and new company compared to some of the other greenhouse operators out there, we’re not tied to legacy beliefs or the status quo. It’s a necessity for us to embrace new ideas, approaches, techniques and technology.”
Gro-Tech Systems not only designs and constructs exceptional structures and light-deprivation systems, it delivers end-to-end greenhouse solutions, even supporting clients as they navigate the permitting process. The market might be volatile but grow operations don’t have to be.
“We have a very hands-on approach. A lot of the time we’re helping the clients before they’ve even broken ground,” explains Stephan. “It just streamlines the process and makes it easier. We’ve got two dedicated superintendents in charge of making sure that contractors have everything they need, and any help they would need, when it comes to installation.”
Being present from initial consult to installation gives Gro-Tech Systems an excellent grasp of what its growers want. Gro-Tech Systems offers three different greenhouse models: The Foothill, the Sierra, and the Alpine Series. Each has unique features designed to maximize canopy and help plant growth flourish in an energy-efficient operation.
The Foothill Series, while it is the base-level cold frame offering, nevertheless boasts quality construction and performance. A standalone greenhouse, it serves growers who have limited space and require flexibility and mobility.
The simple-to-assemble design enables growers to get up and running quickly, with operational ease. Described as “stout, sturdy, and ideal for low elevation,” it’s the ideal stepping stone for growers as their operation expands. It is available with manual light-deprivation tarps and offers growers a low cost of entry without sacrificing performance.
The Sierra Series is the next step up from the Foothill Series and offers the same ease of start-up and operation, as well as being expandable and flexible, but is designed for the highest levels of durability and productivity. The fully-engineered system optimizes canopy space inside the structure, and comes with an automated light-deprivation system.
The Alpine Series is Gro-Tech’s high-spec greenhouse. It’s intended for growers who are making a significant investment in their operations and is built with the integrity to withstand high wind speeds and heavy snow loads. Stephan refers to it as the Cadillac of Gro-Tech Systems’ offerings.
Growers have the option of choosing a structure that’s either standalone or ‘gutter connected,’ which allows structures to be joined together. This helps minimize the costs per square foot for larger grow operations.
A satisfied user of Gro-Tech’s gutter-connected option and a company on the go, Palomar Craft Cannabis enjoys both market growth and investor confidence. Now, together with Gro-Tech, Palomar is developing a brand new 65,000 square foot facility and has found that the gutter-connected option serves well.
Palomar’s aim is to achieve consistent harvests of high-quality cannabis, utilizing greenhouses. Gro-Tech Systems designed and engineered custom column caps to join three separate 5,760 square foot greenhouses, creating five growing zones to stagger cycles and enable harvesting almost year-round. Gro-Tech Systems is proud to be playing a part in their success.
The true point of differentiation at Gro-Tech Systems is not the greenhouse alone, but the concept of designing the structure around its patented, automated, light-deprivation technology and not the other way around.
The automated light-deprivation system is essentially the core of Gro-Tech Systems’ offerings. Importantly, it can be retrofitted to any manufacturer’s greenhouse, which especially serves growers in counties that disallow construction of new structures.
Further, energy efficiency in these greenhouses is only possible because their automated light-deprivation system produces a light-tight seal. As environmental regulations in states like California tighten, this will be an even more important consideration. The systems can easily be maintained and repaired without interrupting growth cycles, which saves the client time, money, and headaches.
Gro-Tech Systems recently undertook its largest commercial-scale retrofit to date at Wave Rider Nursery in Salinas, California. The project entailed the redesign of its patented light-deprivation system to meet the design requirements of greenhouses from multiple manufacturers, a growing requirement in a growing market.
A total of eighteen 5,000 square foot, custom flat-slope light-deprivation systems were designed and delivered, as well as eight custom, 5,000 square foot, flat-top shade systems that can be independently controlled in each of the company’s five greenhouse wings.
Regardless of which model growers choose, they are guaranteed to receive the standard of care that is characteristic of Gro-Tech Systems. From highly detailed drawings to an impeccably organized distribution system, everything Gro-Tech does, from the design and manufacture to installation is thoughtfully planned and carefully executed.
In fact, Stephan and the team at Gro-Tech Systems intend to expand their resources to include a dedicated service department, adding another layer of value that the market can count on.
As the expert in climate-controlled greenhouse structures, Gro-Tech Systems can support growers regardless of which region or climate they operate in. Though Gro-Tech is based in Rough and Ready, California, it has undertaken projects as far removed as Maine and Canada. As legalization widens market horizons it is well-positioned to grow.
“California is our backyard and we feel very lucky to be in Northern California. We’ve got access to a lot of the large commercial cannabis growers here, and also some of the smaller boutique craft growers,” says Pappas of the company’s desire to take care of its local market first before outward expansion.
Its work with Nug in Oakland, California is a perfect example of the meaningful projects Gro-Tech Systems is undertaking in the state. There, some of its greenhouses are part of the Oakland Equity Program that donates greenhouse space to those who have fallen victim to the failed “war on drugs” in the United States. Now they can cultivate and build a business legitimately.
Gro-Tech Systems will continue to advocate for change for its customers, while supporting growers in the best way that Gro-Tech can: by designing and manufacturing exceptional greenhouse structures and light-deprivation systems. It’s Gro-Tech’s way to provide the optimal growing conditions that plants and the industry need to flourish.
Clearly, the success of Gro-Tech Systems is intimately linked with the growth of the plants themselves. That’s why Gro-Tech will continue to create and provide products that house, harbor, and help fulfill the industry’s ambitions.