Are you a budding cannabis entrepreneur? The “Green Wave” of cannabis reform is bringing historic opportunities to cultivators, processors, packagers, and other businesspeople who until recently would have found themselves locked out of the marketplace. What’s more, many states are incentivizing entrance into the cannabis industry for women, BIPOC, and several other populations who have been marginalized by systemic sexism, racism, and the impact of the decades-long War on Drugs.
But while it’s an incredibly exciting time to be entering the cannabis industry, that’s not to say it’s easy money. If you’re preparing to bring a cannabis brand to market, you’ll quickly find that you’re far from alone. Everyone, it seems—from plucky small-scale growers to savvy edibles creators to chemistry whiz kids with the latest formulation of cannabis concentrate—are angling to get into the game. Cannabis buyers at dispensaries have no shortage of eager brands lining up for a shot at those precious inches of shelf space; if you want to make it to market you’ll need patience and a plan of action for getting your brand in front of dispensary purchasing agents.
Where should you begin? Start here, with our curated list of approaches to getting your cannabis product in front of cannabis buyers!
How to Get Your Brand in Front of Cannabis Buyers: Do Your Homework
Whether it’s a killer new strain of flower or a groundbreaking topical formulation, your product won’t make much headway unless there’s a market for it.
Because the cannabis market is still highly localized due to the current federal prohibition, it can actually make it easier for new producers to assess and respond to demand in their particular state. At the end of the day, what will allow your product to stand out in a crowded field? Here are a few idea-starters:
- Keep It Legal: You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but dispensary buyers tell us it still happens all the time. Make sure you’ve completed all your necessary licensing and credentialing before you initiate any contact with cannabis buyers.
- Look For What’s Missing: On top of producing a superior product, you’ll need to get familiar with dispensary shelves. Scout as many dispensaries as you can, and try to determine what’s missing in their product lineups. With untold numbers of strains already available—and the selection of concentrates and other extracts not far behind—where can you exercise a flair for innovation and creativity? If every brownie on the shelf is labeled “sativa,” “indica” or “hybrid,” would producing a strain-specific version help your version rise to the top?
- Get Feedback: If you have the opportunity to engage with budtenders in quiet hours—NOT by waiting in the dispensary line and then lobbing a misguided product pitch—ask them what’s selling and what people are asking for. Budtenders have zero purchasing power in terms of the dispensary’s stock, so don’t waste your time and theirs pitching to them. But they’re the ones who interact with the public, and the ones in a position to make or break new products like yours.
- Know the Market: What’s your price point, and what are the pricing structures used by the types of dispensaries you’d like to carry you? If your edibles come packaged in single servings (but the dispensary chain you’re targeting only sells 10-packs, for instance), you may need to adjust your game plan.
- Look Sharp: In our experience, cannabis buyers appreciate professionalism and polish. Even if you’re drumming up pre-orders, it’s essential that you know your product inside and out, have all aspects of your packaging ready for the public—that includes all informational and warning labels—and include samples for the dispensary, except in those jurisdictions where doing so may be prohibited.
- Create a Brand Presence: Don’t think for a minute that any serious cannabis buyer won’t research you online. What about your website? Is it compelling, informative, and professional? Does it signal your seriousness about creating a superior product that people will want to engage with?
That initial contact with a dispensary cannabis buyer is crucial, so let’s take a moment to drill down a bit further on this essential connection.
How to Get Your Brand in Front of Cannabis Buyers: Dispensary Buyers
Dispensary cannabis buyers can be an intimidating lot. That’s through no fault of their own; it’s simply the nature of their job description to accept some brands and reject others. That’s why your first point of contact with them is your opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to excellence.
It’s been said before, but even in this day and age, sincerity and preparation count for a lot. Verify their job title, spelling, and pronunciation of their name, and any other pertinent details through conversations with budtenders or researching them on sites such as LinkedIn. Many cannabis buyers belong to trade groups, which you can investigate using this regularly updated list. Make sure you know exactly whom you’re addressing, and—referencing the checklist above—be sure you have all your product information at the ready.
Similarly, it’s vital that you understand the position and role of the cannabis buyer. It’s quite likely that they work on a weekly or monthly schedule, meaning that they’re only available to field calls or meet at specific days and hours. Make sure you know how—and when—to reach them so you make the most of your efforts.
In the same vein, if you’re not yet an expert at cold calling, now’s the time to get good, fast. Old pros often return to a simple formula: While it’s true that you’re asking the cannabis buyer for something—a chance to pitch your product, space on the dispensary shelves—you’ll typically get much farther when you can offer something in return, such as marketing support (we’ll return to that in just a moment).
Because the cannabis market has moved out of its early phase—when most any legal product could find a home on a dispensary shelf—you’ll need to have a plan of approach. Consider your backstory: What brought you (and by extension the product) to the marketplace? Was there a twist, a special challenge, a historical or cultural tie-in or just an “A-ha moment” that brought you to this juncture? If your product has a compelling tale, there’s a far better chance it will stand out among the countless other brands vying for a cannabis buyer’s attention.
Do you have a business partner or contact who’s worked with the cannabis buyer before? If so, that connection could demonstrate your trustworthiness and viability, especially when it comes to having a reliable supply chain (don’t tell us you don’t have your distribution plan in place, please).
We talked about labels and packaging a moment ago, but it’s a topic worth returning to. There are many directions you can go in terms of designing your overall product look and feel, and they’re worthy of their own article (or three). But whatever you choose, it’s vital that the packaging and art direction matches your product and brand identity.
Does this mean you should hire a professional (and pay them more than you’re comfortable with)? Very likely. But seeing as your branding and packaging are often the first thing the public—not to mention the all-important cannabis buyer—interact with, this is the time to devote some serious attention to this point.
On a similar note: It’s not uncommon for brand founders to be their own salespeople early on in the game. But for long-term success and growth, think seriously about hiring a professional sales rep early on in the process.
Okay, let’s move on to a different approach: Trying your luck at cannabis conventions.
How to Get Your Brand in Front of Cannabis Buyers: Conventions
In many regards, taking the convention approach—buying booth space, handing out samples (again, carefully consulting local ordinances first), and trying to win over the crowd—isn’t hugely different from approaching cannabis buyers on an individual basis. You still need to be intimately knowledgeable about your product and your intended niche in the marketplace. And needless to say, your branding and presentation need to be spot-on as well.
In a sense, the bar is even higher here, because you have a booth to present, not just your product. It’s essential that you put in the work to make it look clean, appealing, and intriguing, not like a 4th-grade science fair presentation. Consider printing up stickers with your contact info, or providing something more useful than a free pen. What about a special discount for pre-orders made at the trade show? An in-booth raffle or lottery that ties in with your brand backstory? Again, this is the perfect time to get creative and demonstrate your flair for innovation.
The convention and trade-show route meant to be a substitute for those one-on-one approaches, but merely another approach to try. If you love working the crowd—but have the ability to make each convention attendee feel authentically welcome, and not just another potential sale—you may just have found your calling. While many conventions are still virtual, others have cautious plans for in-person events. Here’s a list of some of the most important for 2021.
We talk a lot about influencer marketing here at Foottraffik, and for good reason. Across all industries—but particularly cannabis—influencer marketing can deliver outsized results. By some estimates, this tactic delivers 5-to-1 in terms of earned media value. And while it might seem counterintuitive for you to be marketing yourself before you’ve found a place on dispensary shelves, in truth, it’s never too early to start, especially if you pursue influencer marketing opportunities.
Why? Influencer marketing is based upon insider buzz, exclusivity, and tips from known—or admired—sources. These are precisely the facets that give influencer marketing its unique power. In cannabis—perhaps more than any other industry—the cachet you earn from these seemingly unsolicited endorsements can go a long way towards planting your brand firmly in the public’s (and cannabis buyers’) minds.
Remember when we mentioned the power of offering an exchange during a cold call? This is what we’re referring to: A cannabis brand with a robust and well-executed marketing plan brings real value to a dispensary, especially if you’re targeted in your approach (that is, not pitching every last dispensary in town to carry your brand).
Here’s another marketing approach that gives real value to a cannabis buyer: Offer to host an in-person education event in their dispensary. You’re helping the dispensary build authority and credibility (and generating content like crowd shots, audio, and video that you both can share down the road). Most importantly, it demonstrates your commitment to meeting the public and selling them on your unique offering.
Do you have other questions about interacting with dispensary cannabis buyers or broadening your reach? We’ve helped countless brands make waves in the fast-moving cannabis industry. Reach out; we’re always happy to talk!