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We Heart Retailers

March 28, 2023

Here at Woody Nelson, we love retailers. Many of us came from a retail background, and we have huge respect for what they do. Not only do retailers sell our (and other company’s) products, but they’re the face of the industry. They connect with customers and provide on-the-ground education, recommendations, and advice. Retailers have been, and always will be, a vital part of cannabis culture.  

Today, we not only want to give them a shout out and talk about our approach to the LP/retailer relationship, but open up the discussion about challenges within this space that are often overlooked. If our goal is to disrupt the cannabis market and leave things better than when we entered it, we’re going to have to address this relationship – where it currently stands and the direction we hope to see it heading in.  

For the purposes of this post, we’ve had a chance to connect with Andrea Dobbs, a cannabis enthusiast and founder of Vancouver’s Village Bloomery cannabis shop. She’s been an advocate in the community for many years, and even published an article in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight magazine.  

Additionally, we’ll be hearing from Walker Patton, one of Woody Nelson’s marketing guys, who has spent a large portion of his time over the past little while driving around and connecting with retailers.  

All that being said, let’s dive into the current state of the LP/retailer relationship and what we think might be a more beneficial way to go about things.  

As of right now, what do relationships between LPs and retailers typically look like?

According to Andrea, there currently “isn’t much of a relationship.”  

See, traditionally LPs have been more interested in getting their products out there than fostering any kind of relationship with the retailers selling these products. In her dealings with LPs, Andrea recounts that for the most part, they might drop by or cold call, asking for retailers to fill out sales sheets or gather product data. Alternatively, their main relationship building tool might be a mass, regional email sent out to everyone. She states that it often isn’t a very personal approach. There is little effort taken to finding out who the store decision makers are, booking time with that person, or doing research into which brands may fit into the retailer’s portfolio.  

Walker had a few things to say about the nature of this relationship as well, stating that there was often a lot of ego involved, especially right after legalization. A lot of folks who think they know more than they do have tried to tell retailers what they should be selling instead of asking about what the customer wants, or what kind of products align with the retailer’s values, portfolios, or preferences.  

What would retailers like to see from their LPs? How do you think this relationship could be deepened?

In Andrea’s opinion, she’d like to see LPs taking more time to create genuine relationships beyond just product knowledge sessions. Having the opportunity to learn more about the LP’s corporate culture, history, and what makes them stand out in the industry would be beneficial. Why are they in cannabis in the first place? Right now, she says, “the why seems to be money, and that’s not super attractive.”  

Coming from the perspective of an LP, particularly as a person who has toured many retailers across both British Columbia and Ontario, Walker emphasises the importance of respect. He said that retailers are often ignored, especially right after legalization. His approach was to take a learners attitude: what could Woody Nelson do to build relationships, support retailers, and develop products that retailers were excited about sharing? Ultimately, for him, humility is a core value. Taking time to listen and learn from retailers continues to be an important part of his approach.  

What are some things that LPs have done for retailers that stand out?

Although there weren’t too many examples Andrea could think of, there were a few instances to note. Specifically, she mentioned when some processors went to bat for retailers to get access to direct delivery during the BCGEU strike mid-2022. Sometimes, she says, there’s some social media reposting or creative support with display ideas, but not much beyond this.  

When it comes to what makes a positive experience with LPs, Andrea says:  

“LPs who have representatives who actually know their stuff is great. How it is grown, what the curing process looks like, they can describe their products in a way that actually represents them. They arrange an appointment to connect and they buy samples from retailers and allow us to look at and smell the products so we know what we are getting into. They don’t take for granted that we want their plastic swag!”  

On the flip side, however, she’s described uncomfortable experiences where the rep is loud, often clueless about products and culture, and spends at least part of the meeting bragging about their successful days in other businesses. Some reps have actively misgender folks, call full grown women young ladies, and taken up a lot of space without regard for creating a real connection with the retailer.

How do you think the direct delivery model will change these dynamics?

When it comes to the direct delivery model, Andrea remains hopeful. Despite still being a work in progress, she hopes it’ll grow and help sustain smaller businesses. While taxes and finances are a barrier, she states that “every person I’ve connected with via the Direct Delivery program has been knowledgeable, intelligent, and relatable. We get to meet people who are directly connected to the products they are either growing or representing. These are often folks who are supporting micro growers to market and they take this seriously.”  

She hopes that we’ll see more folks with money investing in the direct delivery program in order to make it work.  

How do you see the relationship between LPs and retailers developing into the future?

Currently, Andrea observes that it’s been a very intense time within the cannabis industry, with lots of giant corporations coming in and “acting like bulls in a china shop. Lots of noise, lots of causalities, and lots of drama.” She’d like to see it balance better in the future, with more sales reps who are better equipped to build relationships. However, as big business players still occupy a lot of this space, she says we may still have a ways to go before then.  

When it comes to the future of this relationship, however, Walker emphasises how important it is for the industry. Ultimately, he says that “we looked at [this relationship] with an appreciation and understanding of what retailers are going through. When it comes to designing the products, who do we trust to tell us what product belongs in front of the consumer? We trusted the retailers.”  

TL;DR

Retailers are vital and valuable members of the cannabis community. However, when it comes to the relationships between them and LPs, there’s still a lot of work to do. As LPs, we need to take the time to invest in building relationships and connections based on the foundations of trust, respect, collaboration and humility.

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