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Interview with Alex Pappas, Director of Marketing at Gro-Tech Systems, Inc.

Rhythm Singhal By Rhythm Singhal in Interviews on

Alex Pappas is the Director of Marketing at Gro-Tech Systems Inc, their mission is to manufacture the best greenhouses and light deprivation systems that allow you to effectively grow your harvest and investment under one roof.

Your Journey as a Marketing Professional.

My background is primarily in advertising agencies when I really started my marketing career in Los Angeles. I got my foot in the door at Deutsch LA in the finance department of all places, which in retrospect was a great place to start. It was fascinating and eye-opening to see how the budgets worked and how money flowed through the agency – it gave me an appreciation for the business side of things and was a solid foundation. Also, I was part of a great team.

After a little more than a year, I transitioned to the planning department as a digital strategist at Deutsch. I cut my teeth in automotive and big-box retail for clients like Volkswagen and Target. I was fortunate to work on a number of clients ranging from Esurance to Nintendo to Pizza Hut where we handled everything from live Grammy Award commercials to app development to social media strategy. It gave me incredible exposure and a holistic view of the digital marketing landscape. I was also surrounded by some of the smartest and most talented people in the industry and I tried to soak up everything I could like a sponge.

I moved north after a few years to Butler, Shine, Stern, and Partners in the Bay Area and continued working in automotive for MINI Cooper with a heavy emphasis on social and digital strategy. I was lucky to join the team when we were in the middle of re-branding MINI Cooper and launching their Super Bowl campaign – a rare opportunity to be able to step in and help tackle both. I stayed in the Bay Area and worked at RAPP SF to hone my skills in customer experience strategy (CX), B2B marketing, and journey mapping. They had a propriety methodology and I was learning from some of the best in the industry. After I got married, my wife and I moved to Sacramento and I took a role with more leadership and autonomy going clientside as the Director of Marketing for Gro-Tech Systems, which is where I’m at today.

What are the primary marketing channels you have worked on? What will be your advice to young marketers on each of these channels?

I’ve worked primarily in the digital space with an emphasis on CX, social media strategy, website and mobile strategy, email marketing, and app onboarding. I’ve had to take on more of a role for Gro-Tech Systems that focuses on trade shows and more B2B channels, which has been a welcome challenge.

My advice to young marketers is that the digital space is constantly changing, especially social, so educate yourself and see what’s working and who is doing it. No matter what you try to do in each of these channels, make sure it adds value to the end-user because nothing else matters.

What are some of the important marketing software that you have used and found to be really useful for your company?

In terms of social media, working with Crimson Hexagon and Netbase social listening tools have been a great way to gauge the success of efforts and get a real sense of what the conversation about topics and brands consist of. It comes straight from the horses’ mouth, so to speak, which can be much more valuable than MRI or some other reports. Which is not to say that MRI is not valuable, but augment it with social conversations and see what people really think about a product, brand, topic, etc. Also, we are very busy so try to automate as much as you can if you have a process in place. We’ve been testing tools like Buffer for our social media publishing and planning to help create a seamless process internally.

We’ve also been utilizing Quip as a way to plan and communicate internally. It’s like Slack, Google Sheets, and Dropbox all rolled into one platform. I highly recommend as a tool that helps foster transparency and efficiencies.

Which companies, according to you, are your competitors. How do you differentiate against these?

Our industry is full of a lot of legacy companies who have been around for decades and are established in the commercial agriculture industry. They are generally very good at what they do and have the reputation and track record to back it up. Companies like Nexus, Conely’s, and Agra Tech fall into this category. We’re the first greenhouse startup in CA in the last 25 years I believe, so we can’t compete on time and territory just yet. Quality, experience, pricing, and service are all table stakes. However, most of our clients are in the cannabis industry, so there is particular expertise you have to have to market and sell to that industry vs. traditional commercial agriculture.

Our approach is also different from other manufacturers in that our greenhouses are patented in a way that directly benefits these growers. Most greenhouse manufacturers already had existing structures and designs they’ve been using for decades – they simply retrofit a light deprivation shade system to their existing design and sell it to cannabis growers. Instead of this approach, we designed our patented light deprivation system first and then built our structures around it in order to avoid many of the issues growers run into trying to grow cannabis in traditional greenhouses. Specifically, with cannabis, it’s not as much about the exterior of the greenhouse, but the internal environment that is most important to successfully growing and harvesting. Our design and approach focus on having an optimal internal environment without sacrificing quality or design.

At the end of the day, even after legalization in some states, it’s still a fairly volatile industry that is constantly changing. People are investing almost everything they have sometimes and jumping through a lot of hoops at both the state and county levels, which can be confusing and unnerving. We help people every step of the way and design and customize jobs specific to grower’s needs, region, and budget. We’re not just selling greenhouses, we’re selling confidence in an unpredictable industry – and that’s why people go with us.

Your 2 line advice to people entering in the marketing domain.

If what you’re doing doesn’t add value, then it doesn’t add anything. Don’t go for vanity metrics, play the long game and build confidence with your audience – it’ll pay off in the end.