Pot shops likely to adopt more robust marketing tactics

A safe, clean environment and focus on educating consumers helps create buzz

What should pot retailers do to grow their businesses? The game plan is much the same as for other types of stores: Educate the customer, provide exceptional products and service and create a buzz through marketing, particularly social media and the occasional discount or giveaway. A safe, pleasant layout accented by cool music and little extras—T-shirts, pot-related crafts and paraphernalia—are also likely to keep old customers returning and new ones arriving. Kush Club has already started honing its efforts to connect with consumers. The Denver store will soon hold a drawing among customers who have purchased at least $200 in product and merchandise. The winner receives two free tickets to the Wakurusa Music Festival in Ozark, Ark (valued at $163). The four-day June event will feature more than 100 independent rock bands and performers. “People who smoke would go to music festivals. I put the two together,” says Ryan Garvey, a Kush Club “budtender.” Earlier this month, the retailer started a public Facebook page that garnered more than 1,000 likes within a week. The page regularly features available cannabis strains and encourages recreational users to drop by. Garvey says that Kush Club doesn’t have other special promotions planned yet largely because it has been focusing on maintaining enough inventory to meet demand. However, he expects the store to use a variety of marketing techniques in the future. This might include $1 joints – the cheapest joint now is $10 – other discounts and concert ticket drawings. The store website is also being reconstructed to create a more vibrant feel. Yet Garvey says that the best way to reach consumers is to combine quality products and customer service with a great store atmosphere. The store’s budtenders can discuss the use and effects of each pot strain, and Kush Club also provides information about pot on posters throughout the store. “We have really great pot,” says Garvey. Customers are treated to an eclectic mix of hip-hop, reggae, pop and rock music, and original artwork. Kush Club also sells colorful T-shirts of its own design – a portrait of a smoker accented by fluorescent green and red highlights. It’s still too early to tell what effect legalization will have on the number of pot retailers in Colorado. Marketing analytics that pinpoint customer online behavior, particularly on mobile devices, have yet to make any significant inroads into how pot retailers are coaxing customers to their stores. But it is safe to say that word of mouth and repeat business are likely to assume greater importance than before as stores vie for an increasing clientele both in-state and from across borders. Stores will have to do more to generate a following of recreational smokers, who may be thinking more about where they buy their grass. Taylor West, the deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said the trade group didn’t have a “lot of people calling the office” with marketing or merchandising questions, and that the organization was more focused on policy reform issues. But she added that this type of consulting is “the kind of thing we’d like to do in the future,” and that the group was weighing in on two important marketing-related issues: marketing responsibly to adults at least 21 years old, the legal minimum, and to a diverse audience. “Pot smokers are no longer the clichéd customer base of young, adult males,” West said. “The companies that are successful will recognize that there is a diversity of people that they should be trying reach.” West also said that stores could help their reputations by providing a safe, clean environment and by making information easily accessible – near the front of the store along with a clearly marked checkpoint for IDs. “You want a comfortable place that feels safe to visit,” she said. “It makes sense to educate consumers about responsible use,” West also said. “An educated consumer will have a better experience.”