Imagine, if you will, the complimentary shampoo, soap, and lotion at your hotel room sit side by side with a gram of premium cannabis flower, a gummy, and perhaps a pre-roll that is just the right size.
“Maybe that will be cannabis one day,” Denise De Nardi, the Chief Sales Officer at Native Roots, told Rootwurks last week.
De Nardi came to the cannabis world after a long career in the health and beauty industry, first as a multi-state franchise owner at the Body Shop and later at Aveda, where she oversaw 110 stores, mainly in the travel/retail division that includes hotels and airports.
In 2018, she was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from a recruiter and jumped at the opportunity to join the cannabis industry.
“At the time, what I knew about cannabis was there's a big component of cannabis that's focused on wellness, which is the industry that I was always in, health and wellness. So I thought I’m going to go out to Colorado and see what this company's all about.”
At the time, De Nardi said that cannabis retail “was moving away from what many people refer to as the pawn shop or the jewelry store model, and more into experiential retail,” which she said matched her background well.
“I think the opportunity was what attracted me and also really learning about the plant and the benefits both on the medical and adult use side.”
Billing itself as “Colorado’s Happy Place,” Native Roots currently operates 20 Colorado medical and adult-use cannabis dispensaries. The company is vertically-integrated and runs a 173,000-square-foot grow facility.
According to the company’s website, since 2015, they’ve produced more than 90,000 pounds of marijuana flower, 8 million grams of concentrate, and 3 million pre-roll joints.
De Nardi described how Native Roots has expanded into new floor plan models that “really encourage education” about cannabis. She said the goal is to keep the consumer in the store longer and to engage them in different categories of cannabis products.
What is experiential retail?
When discussing “experiential retail,” De Nardi discussed “the opportunity to teach people about the product” and the importance of customer engagement.
“It's always trying to connect on a human level and knowing when to step back and not rush the customer. You should really let them guide the conversation.”
De Nardi said that retail cannabis is similar to her previous career in health and beauty in the focus on “in-store interactions” with customers.
“That part is pretty similar because it’s about how you interact with the customer in how they want to use cannabis and what they know about cannabis, and making the environment as comfortable as possible."
She added, “my philosophy is to always treat every customer when they walk in the door as if it's our first time visiting a dispensary.”
De Nardi said that one-way cannabis is different from her former industry is simply the level of compliance regulations involved, covering everything from product intake and management to security. Luckily for Native Roots, the company has “a great compliance department,” according to De Nardi.
“It gives different perspectives”
The executive team at Native Roots is 57% female, a rare statistic in almost any industry, not only cannabis.
“When we're filling positions, we don't really look at it and say, this has to be a female. It's really who’s a great candidate that fits the bill.”
But she did note that having such an executive team “gives different perspectives of how we approach business” and that female leadership has a great knack for multi-tasking and “bouncing ideas off each other.”
The “race to the bottom” in cannabis
While inflation is causing price increases for all types of consumer products, this is not the case for cannabis. For example, the average price per gram for wholesale flower in Colorado is 24.1% less than a year ago. The lower prices are mainly due to an oversupply of cannabis, especially in mature markets like Colorado.
Many cannabis companies have turned to lower prices to boost retail sales.
At MJ Unpacked in Las Vegas in late September, De Nardi spoke on a panel about the “race to the bottom” in cannabis prices and why it’s, at best, a short-term solution for retail marijuana companies.
“We’re seeing the race to the bottom now. There are brands that aren't going to make it in the next six months because they're driving their costs down so low. It’s a short-term gain; that’s my perspective,” De Nardi told Rootwurks.
“Unless you can continue to grow the footsteps coming into your door, there’s no value in decreasing your prices.”
She spoke about how cannabis customers are segmented. Some are looking for a premium product, some are looking for a good product at a reasonable price, and some are looking for a very, very low cost. She also said there’s no reason you can’t have low prices and quality.
Ultimately, she said, it’s much more about establishing a store’s identity and place in the market regardless of how many retail locations it has.
“A lot of people are looking at top-line revenue, but what's going to drive long-term growth is how profitable your company is. It’s always identifying who you are as a company, even if you're a small mom-and-pop dispensary.”
She added, “you find your place in the market and stick to your strategy, and long-term wins are much more sustainable in our industry than short-term gains.”
In terms of Native Roots, De Nardi spoke about the customer experience in their stores. This includes their desire to speak to all types of medical and recreational cannabis consumers' demands with a wide variety of flower potency levels and a focus on “how you want to feel and not just how high do you want to get?”
Ultimately, cannabis education is a crucial part of the retail experience for customers and those working behind the counter.
“Even for people with a long customer experience history, I always say you can never stop learning.”