Producing quality product is just one aspect of building a successful cultivation operation. Getting product into retail stores and keeping it there is essential to your success. Cannabis Business Times reached out to recreational and medical dispensaries for insights on what they want from cultivators. These front-line tips can help you get product on shelves and give retailers what they want and need.
Tips from: Ramsey Hamide
Owner, Main Street Marijuana Vancouver, Wash.
Main Street Marijuana is the first recreational marijuana store in Vancouver, according to the company. It has retail locations in downtown Vancouver, East Vancouver and Longview.
1. Be persistent.
“For a new company, persistence is the biggest thing. It’s really difficult in this current environment, in Washington at least, to be a new vendor in a store. A good percentage of our shelf space is already occupied by time-tested companies that consumers are responding to.“
As a buyer, I’m inundated. There might be a company I want to buy from, but then that email slowly slips down the page. … If they’re persistent—not calling 10 times a day, but being as communicative as possible—it goes a long way to getting that business.”
2. Get a professional sales representative.
“A good sales rep is crucially fundamental to success. The top 10 companies in Washington all have business-level professional salespeople representing the product in a business-to-business manner. Carve out whatever it takes, and get a persistent, professional-level salesperson.
“Engage retailers in a professional manner, as you would in any other industry. It could be the best product in the world, but it has to be presented to us in a way that’s convincing enough for us to give it a shot. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
3. Provide detailed, real-time information.
“The more information you can give stores, in as close to real time as possible, the better off your sales will be. I suggest a website, with a point-of-sale and shopping carts, that’s updated in real time. That’s what I’m seeing now from some of the well-funded businesses.
“If you can’t do that, my suggestion is a Google document. Put all your inventory in there with testing information and pictures of everything—flowers, packaging. Then when I’m buying, I’m buying confidently. Be open and honest. You want long-lasting relationships that lead to that shelf consistency.”
4. Work for collaborative relationships.
“We know what our customers respond to. It’s just a matter of whether new producers and processors are willing to take that data and make the changes or the tweaks necessary to be competitive in this current environment.
“Know your retailers, know your retailers’ market and have a collaborative relationship with your retailers. Knowing retail-friendly price points and common retail markups is really, really critical. If you can, get retailers to share sales data. We both want the same things, so an open approach in a collaborative environment is crucial.”
5. Connect one-on-one.
“We always welcome vendor days. Any time a retailer will let you set up shop and engage with customers one-on-one, that can be extremely valuable to your brand. The onus is on the producer/processor whether they choose to get in front of those customers.
“As a new company, engaging budtenders is crucial to getting noticed. I’m the gatekeeper on what comes into my store, but once it’s in the store, they’re the gatekeepers to some extent on what the customer is going to buy. Get budtenders samples so they can try the product and, if they like it, recommend it.”
Tips from: Debby Goldsberry
CEO, Magnolia Wellness Oakland, Calif.
Magnolia Wellness is a collective of patients that offers medical cannabis products and patient- wellness services, such as massage and chiropractor, and classes on microdosing, pain management and cooking with cannabis.
6. Be original.
“Don’t bring in products whose names are trademark violations. Girl Scout Cookies, Silver Surfer, Candyland, Gorilla Glue and any other cannabis product that violates the law leaves dispensaries vulnerable to high-cost lawsuits that they simply cannot win. Cannabis helps with creativity, so smoke a joint, and think of a better name.”
7. Follow available vendor guidelines.
“Medium-size dispensaries like Magnolia Wellness do not need a full-time buyer, so making an appointment in advance is essential for returning vendors. This way, the dispensary can carefully manage their inventory, buying what they need, when it’s needed, and budget for your payment.
“For new suppliers, there is no way our buyer can meet with them all. Instead, we ask people to drop off a product sample for evaluation. Our buyer uses an organoleptic review, or a sensory analysis using sight, feel and smell, along with evaluating the needs of our members, before asking the supplier to come in for an appointment. Otherwise, they would waste too much time meeting with people whose product is not to our standards or is not needed by the members.”
8. Participate and connect.
“We generally invite 20 of our top producers to join us at the Medical Marijuana Farmers Markets, which look just like a regular farmers market, except all the booths are cannabis producers. Our permit allows on-site cannabis consumption, so you can sample vaporized tastes of various products and try bite-size samples of edibles at the booth.
“Our members want to meet their producers, who can use this as an opportunity for market research. They can try out new products, get feedback from patients and offer one-of-a-kind deals directly to consumers.”
9. Provide truth, safety and variety in packaging.
“We are always looking to screen out products that are nicely packaged, but that are of poor quality. It’s not uncommon that a low-quality product comes in a high-quality package. We do, however, require all of our edibles manufacturers to use safe and secure packaging, and to label the product with dosage limits.“
For flowers, we like a mix of both. High-test cannabis in a nice jar is a top seller, but if all of our flowers came that way, we simply would not have room to store them. Dispensaries need a variety of jarred and flat-packed products to fill their inventory needs.”
10. Develop a marketing presence.
“If you are trying to get your product into dispensaries, proof of a good marketing campaign can help. For example, if a supplier can offer us placement on their website, on social media and in any advertising, then we are most interested in the product (if it passed quality-control tests).
“Dispensaries like to partner with suppliers to drive new members to the shop and to get current members to return. Build your social media and web-based presence, and be ready to offer a marketing plan to any new dispensary you want to provide to.”
Tips from: Paul Lee
General Manager, Dispensary33 Chicago, Ill.
Dispensary33 is Chicago’s first medical cannabis dispensary. The Dispensary33 team doesn’t “just read labs results,” but also visits “each cultivator to understand how products are grown, dried, cured and extracted; and to procure the best of what’s available,” according to the company’s website.
11. Share our values about product.
“We strongly believe that the highest form of customer service is providing the best products possible. If a cultivator’s pitch to us starts with price point, rather than quality, then the conversation is a non-starter.”
12. Trust is everything.
“Many cultivators are several hours away by car, so being able to go on a sales rep’s word is key. The best possible rep is one who works closely with the master grower to figure out which of their products coming to market are going to excite us, and who will offer it to us before it’s even ready to be sold. If a trusting relationship has already been established then we’ll buy the whole batch sight unseen.”
13. Understand our operational needs.
“In Illinois, everything comes pre-packaged, and our vault is deliberately small to make sure we are continually turning product over. Packaging that isn’t easily stacked, or is cumbersome, makes storing and accessing that much more of a pain to work with. We also display everything we sell (no one west of the Rockies can appreciate how rare this is), so aesthetics really matter to us as well.”
14. Don’t spread it around.
“Some cultivators try to cast the widest possible net with their popular products, which fits well with dispensaries that want to carry small amounts of a really wide selection. Our selection is far more curated because we only want the best of the best, so we prefer cultivators willing to let us buy them out of entire batches.”
15. Be flexible.
“We have a lot of specific asks: Grind our pre-rolleds no more than a day or two before being delivered; create unique package deals for holidays; formulate specialized RSOs [Rick Simpson Oils]; etc. So, we really value a cultivator with the flexibility and operational capacity to quickly make our ideas a reality.”
Tips from: Brad Zusman
Owner, Canna-Daddy’s Wellness Center Portland, Ore.
Canna-Daddy’s Wellness Center works “hand [in] hand with farmers allowing them to have an opportunity to be promoted and appreciated” by the dispensary and the patients, according to the company’s website. It promotes its mission to provide compassionate and personal care, and guarantees product quality 100 percent.
16. Practice farm-to-flame branding.
“In a nutshell, this is brands within brands. All farmers have to understand that if they’re going to move forward in this industry and be a player, they’re going to have to create a brand, a story behind the methods, whether it’s through marketing or advertising.
“If you come into our dispensary, you will notice that everything is pre-packed. Each product is labeled with the farm, their logo and all the characteristics of the strain itself. That’s what we call farm-to-flame branding.”
17. Work closely with your retailers.
“Farms really need to work closely with the dispensaries to find out what strains are moving today and what strains are forecasted to be good [in a few months]. A big mistake that a lot of people are making in the industry is that they’re still growing a lot of products that were sold in the black market or gray market versus a regulated market.”
18. Explore available services.
“The farmer really needs to utilize the services out there. For example, they may be in an area without a lot of skilled workers or with seasonal labor. That can interfere with getting consistent, quality product to market. Instead they can farm out trimming to an area with a healthy labor pool, or farmers can work with a distribution company instead of a salesperson, for example.
“I have a graphics arts team that can design labels for the farms, so we’re kind of a company that provides services as well. We provide labeling, packaging-we do anything and everything that’s part of the [tools] for the industry. Farmers need to be aware of what’s available and use those services.”