Cannabis Retail Has Begun. Meet the Marijuana Merchant

Updated: Nov 23, 2018

A new crop of retailers are emerging following new legislation in Canada that makes it the first major world economy to legalise marijuana for recreational use. Say hello to the marijuana merchant, retailers that are inventing this new category as they go along.

As of 17 October 2018, consumers across Canada are able to buy cannabis for recreational consumption for the first time, making it the world’s second country after Uruguay to legalise the drug for non-medical use. For two years Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have been working towards this, to better reflect society’s changing opinion of the drug and to bring black market operators into a regulated system.

Other countries are watching closely as this new category in retail emerges.

Other countries are closely watching what happens in Canada as this new category in retail emerges. In what is anticipated to be “the green wave” there are huge dollars currently being invested to capitalise on the growth of this ginormous untapped market.

So what is the future of retail cannabis? This was part of the discussion at a recent event held in Chicago to help iron out some of the question marks. “We are yet to become familiar with what a cannabis store should look like,” Gwen Morrison, CEO of retail consultancy firm The Store WPP told attendees of The Future of Cannabis Retail event.

“Right now, the experience is inconsistent as the category extends from the cold dispensary formats to lifestyle boutique. In the future, some stores may look like bakeries, others may take on the look of fine jewellery. As the BBC recently speculated, ‘seedy headshops’ could be a thing of the past.”

According to one event panelist, Bethany Murphy Gomez from cannabis research organisation Brightfield Group, education around this new category of specialty retail will be absolutely critical for consumers. “You walk into a dispensary and there are a hundred different products…you have no idea what half of them are…no idea what to use, how to dose it, what’s going to work for you…that’s why education is absolutely critical,” Gomez explained.

“Having well-educated, very polished staff is incredibly important and it will drive the entire experience,” said another panelist, Steve Weisman, chief executive of Windy City Cannabis.

Meet the Apple Store of Weed.

One cannabis retailer, however, is inadvertently creating a template for modern day marijuana dispensary. One of the earliest and perhaps best known retailers in the cannabis space is MedMen. Based in LA and publicly listed on the Canadian Stock Exchange, MedMen is touted to be the “Apple Store of Weed”. And yes, its store does somewhat resemble an Apple Store, what with its clean lines, open space and techy feel - it hardly looks like what you’d expect a pot joint to look like.

When a customer walks into one of MedMen’s stores, they have access to interactive iPads which have product information as well as educated and informed sales associates to serve the customers’ needs. “Being able to allow consumers to explore and get educated and find the right products is really the basis of the comfort of the store,” David Dancer, chief marketing officer of MedMen told AdWeek.

Until recently, MedMen has operated 14 of its high-end dispensaries in California, Nevada and New York, but the stakes are a lot higher now. Two weeks ago MedMen spent US $682 million on the largest US cannabis acquisition in history, to fully acquire medical marijuana retailer PharmaCann, which now gives the combined firm access to 79 retail stores and cultivation licences in 12 states. Note, this is not to be confused with the Australian PharamaCann.

“This is a transformative acquisition that will create the largest US cannabis company in the world’s largest cannabis market,” MedMen CEO Adam Bierman said in a company statement. “This would not have been possible even two years ago and is a testament to how far both the industry and these two companies have evolved.”

And while MedMen is the “Apple Store for Weed”, cannabis delivery service Eaze is the “Uber for Weed”. Eaze offers customers cannabis and cannabis accessories delivered to their doorstep in under an hour accross California via its app. Unlike other delivery services, Eaze has a superior data collection system, according to a report from AdAge, as it was one of the first to capture and analyse data on the back end.

"When we share the numbers and types of ways people use cannabis, there definitely is an epiphany we see happen," Jamie Feaster, Eaze vice president of marketing told AdAge. "The modern cannabis consumer isn't the stoner of the past. It's a woman, it's a baby boomer and the way they use cannabis isn't necessarily packing it into a bong or rolling up a joint.”

"The modern cannabis consumer isn't the stoner of the past."

While this might be a relatively new category of retail - it’s still retail at the end of the day and a lot of the retail rules will still apply. What’s exciting with cannabis retail, however, is the clean canvass this niche has, when it comes to creating new store concepts, new customer offerings, new ways to package and sell marijuana products and we will likely see customer service and creativity in products explode in this specialty area.

The marijuana retailers that forge ahead today in a major way will be those that will leave a lasting mark in the industry and I anticipate some exciting new ideas in the works that perhaps the rest of retail haven’t even thought of as yet. This new crop of retailers will no doubt be stirring the pot when it comes to a new breed of retail concepts as well.

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