Cannabis retailers should know what the competition is doing. It’s not a matter of copying them. It does mean staying informed. You must observe and identify what’s working and what’s not. While that might be simple for florists, dry cleaners, and convenience stores, cannabis dispensaries are, for the time being, a rare animal.
Where legal, medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries are running into some common problems. In heavily rural locations, they tend to be small enterprises, often family-owned. They have a limited market and minimal local competition. They risk becoming complacent in their image making and branding.
In urban areas, the powers that be generally zone dispensaries into industrial areas. Vegas, Denver, and Seattle do have a few downtown locations. Philly, Orlando, and D.C. have recently opened attractive center city dispensaries.
But most of the cannabis revenue flow comes through those industrial area sites where you sometimes find several dispensaries on the same street or in the same zip code. So, setting aside dispensaries like the huge drive-through dispensary in Las Vegas, you should look at ways these competitors can set themselves apart on a budget.
5 low-cost ways to build your cannabis business:
- Customer experience: Your dispensary must offer a premium customer experience. The customer’s experience must be a core marketing strategy. You must think of it as something new and beneficial to everyone.
“Customer Service” has always referred to transaction issues. You want to treat customers politely, of course. You should package their goods securely and process their paperwork and payment promptly. Everyone expects such in-store behavior.
However, to make a marked difference, you should work towards creating a unique customer experience. The only thing that will pull customers away from online browsing and purchasing is a return to the felt shopping experience. You don’t need to turn your dispensary into a Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus, but you can design your store and service to provide a memorable shopping experience.
- Store design: The customer experience begins with an impression of the outside and inside. With most dispensaries stuck using the green marijuana leaf on a gray background, you are free to do something new and interesting with your branding. You do want to attract passersby, but most of your business will be local so should design to their interests.
Legal dispensaries must distance their appearance from the old school head shop with thousands of products displayed carelessly. You should design the dispensary floor plan, workflow, and customer traffic strategically. Customers want a welcoming and easily navigated environment. You can research “best practices in retail marketing” that coach you, for example, to place the products you want to move at eye level.
Lighting shouldn’t be too bright or too soft, but it should highlight product and information. Any ambient music should be low but set well enough to baffle other noise. Signage should be clear and menus displayed for customers waiting to explore. Even in industrial settings, your dispensary can encourage return customers with some investment in furnishings, flooring, and decor.
- Training: You can expect most of your customers to be naive and uneducated regarding cannabis. Regular users have relied on black market dealers. They may think they know it all, but you want to expose them to something new. You want to educate them to move up from baggies.
Your local and return customers will learn where things are and how your system works. But, medical marijuana dispensaries and newly permitted recreational use dispensaries must educate their customers on the nature of the product and its various options.
You should start the training on your website. You must present a digital presence consistent with the physical dispensary experience. States are still discussing standards for online sales and delivery. They are increasingly concerned about the validity of CBD claims. So, your website must stay current visually, and it must engage and capture online browsers.
You must maximize your reach with content copy, videos, slides, and customized cannabis SEO services. As the Marketing Retail Report says, “your content and marketing need to prove that it’s ready to engage with people, rather than be passive about information.” The site should link to the in-store experience where you must have a firm, structured, and continuing education program for your management and staff. Customers will look to your budtenders for advice and coaching. When customers ask where to find something, the budtender should step up to escort them to the product and explain all they want to know about the origin, content, use, benefits, and side effects.
With revolutionary and continuous changes in the evolving cannabis regulation, your budtenders must remain ahead of the information. But, they also need regular coaching in style, behavior, and compliance. They must be experts in current and changing law and products, but they must also be hospitality professionals
- Inventory rotation: Any dispensary must move its inventory. After all, cannabis has a shelf-life. Freshness is vital when you are selling organic material. So, you should start with effective Point-of-Sale (POS) technology. You cannot manage inventory, let alone meet seed-to-sale regulations, without one. Selecting, installing, and implementing POS requires continuing management and staff training.
The POS and the data it records and distributes should reduce employee theft. Training will show employees what you know and what you track. Any worthwhile system will require them to seek authorization for purchases, limit discounts to friends and family, and share the info with all responsible parties.
It also helps train employees in inventory management. It will accomplish two things:
- It will help them see every grain is accounted for.
- It helps them see how their individual success is tied to the dispensary’s success.
You might even tie some performance measure to the accuracy of inventory and POS use.
As importantly, POS will track what product is moving and what’s not. It helps you understand the cost and risk of loss. Dispensaries are handling an expanding inventory of products other than cannabis flowers. With topicals, cosmetics, beverages, edibles, and equipment in stock, you need technology to save you money.
- Quality control: If you want to keep your customers away from street dealers, your best lead is your quality control. Customers will pay the dispensary price as long as they get what is advertised. They appreciate the labeling on contents and THC: CBD ratios. They don’t always want the “best” in the line, but they want to get what they paid for.
Not every customer will pay for Cadillac strains or celebrity-endorsed products. But maintaining and moving a supply of varying grades makes inventory management tougher and POS all the more valuable. To keep up your inventory movement and quality standards, you must understand PAR (Periodic Automatic Replacement). It’s up to you to identify the minimal level of inventory acceptable to be on hand for a specific period. It then orders automatic replenishment when the inventory for that item falls below that level. Linking that PAR with your POS and supply chain can create a seamless process.
Low-cost ways to increase your customer base
The best practice processes can cost a lot of money. But, you don’t have to dive in from the first day. You can always upgrade as you continue. However, you should understand that costs will increase if you postpone the moves. As Vauhini Vara said in The Atlantic, “the early associations between pot and medicine—and hence harmlessness, even wellness—were helpful. Since then, the tactics have gotten more sophisticated.”
In our digital age, your market first learns about you on the Internet. If they can’t find and navigate your website easily, it will cost you more to reach those prospects. It’s the place to start your image and brand building. It’s the first place to introduce and sustain your logo, look, and language. The website becomes your hub for social media contacts.
Social media channels have become the currency for contemporary communication. Links to social media inform your current and potential market, they attract the attention of distant users, and they enable important feedback. You’ll want to build a network of followers whom you can offer discounts and deals.
Many cannabis dispensaries are owned by the same corporation. They are not franchised, but they are branches of the larger brand. These chains will increase in number and extend their reach. The dispensary owner with one or two stores will find it tough to compete with them. Their future is still promising. However, if that’s your position, you must approach your business with firm strategic plans.
The cannabis dispensary business has the usual business risks. But it also has complex issues with evolving regulations and compliance requirements. Dealing with these external pressures is time-intensive, time you could better spend on building your business. So, while a cannabis dispensary is a very promising opportunity, you must approach it with a good business education behind you and the ability to identify goals, implement strategic plans, and maintain a budget.