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4 Cannabis Retailers On How Brands Can Help Them During The Pandemic

Retailers have always been the most important link in the seed-to-sale supply chain. Here is what retailers need from brands.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The entire North American cannabis industry is propped on the shoulders of retailers at the moment. After dispensaries and delivery services were considered essential businesses in key markets such as California, Washington, Illinois, Michigan, and Ontario, our nascent industry was rightly permitted to keep serving patients and prove its stability in a recession.


Across the country, dispensaries are quickly introducing curbside pick-up or delivery. The stores that remain open have put strict social distancing in place, often limiting the number of people in-store at once. We should applaud them for taking admirable steps to adapt their operations and maintain a safe working environment for their staff while continuing to provide an essential product and service to millions of people. It’s a testament to the nimble resilience of the cannabis industry that we can pivot at a moment’s notice.

RELATED: How Legalizing Marijuana Could Help Kick-Start The US Economy

Retailers have always been the most important link in the seed-to-sale supply chain. Outside of brand events and activations like Patient Appreciation Days (PADs), retail is the only link that touches the consumer. In a market with relatively scant sales data, they can offer qualitative insights into what consumers really want.

On-the-ground knowledge from budtenders, buyers, and dispensary managers is crucial. Now it’s more important than ever that brands listen to the retailers. We reached out to four California retail owners, buyers, and operators to get a sense of how they are adapting to the Covid-19 disruptions, and how brands can better support them during this crisis.

How has your business adapted to the changes?

“We were forced to change up the whole program to respond to this. For everyone’s safety, we opted to close the store and only offer delivery and curbside pickup. We have runners going back and forth to the cars, everyone has masks, we are cleaning the product, and we’ve got plenty of hand sanitizer. The majority of the staff is happy to still be working and serving the community. If anyone voiced concerns or felt uncomfortable, we just let them take some time off. The staff’s safety is number one for us.” – Max Herrera, GM at Atrium, a dispensary located in Woodland Hills, California.

“Actually, it has not been that difficult. The hardest part has been getting edibles in stock. The other issue we have run into is lower cash sales. More customers are using Alt 36, Vault, or checks. I now have to get our vendors used to checks and ACH transfers instead of cash payments. On a personal level, I miss being able to meet with my vendors in person. That is my favorite part of my job.” - Kelley Owen (aka Mamma Bear), Director of Procurement at Pineapple Express, a Los Angeles-based delivery company.

“New Life has adapted by remaining a small, but mighty team that remains hyper-focused on our values. We have placed increased efforts into our delivery service which naturally supports our cultivation products and empowers us to choose brands that are aligned with our values of social justice and equity in the cannabis market.” – Carlton Williams, CEO/Founder of New Life, an East Bay delivery service and brand focused on uplifting communities impacted by the war on drugs.

RELATED: Important Lessons From A Profitable Cannabis Company

“At Barbary Coast, we have implemented new processes to create a safe work environment for our employees, as well as our customers. We’ve also launched delivery service to all of San Francisco to ensure people can safely access their cannabis during the shelter in place and stay at home if they want to.” - Eugene Kim, Marketing Manager at Barbary Coast Mission, located in San Francisco. 

How can brands and other businesses along the supply chain support you and your staff right now?

“The staff always appreciates it when the brands drop off lunch! I would also say that now is the time to communicate more with your stores. Things are changing all the time. Keep in touch with us about things like inventory levels, delivery dates. Be a presence.” - Max Herrera, GM at Atrium, Woodland Hills

“Our vendors have been great in supporting us. They have been offering amazing promos to keep business steady. We had four vendors donate amazing $300 gift baskets. Our vendors are also cross-promoting on social media. The biggest way vendors have been supporting us is by wearing face masks, gloves, and respecting our space when making deliveries.” - Kelley Owen, Director of Procurement at Pineapple Express 

“Cross marketing on social media and events collaboration, and most importantly, being informed and spreading the word about true equity businesses.”  - Carlton Williams, CEO/Founder of New Life

“Continue to incentivize the customer with promotions and know that the strong relationships that you build through this crisis will be beneficial for the future of the cannabis industry.” - Eugene Kim, Marketing Manager at Barbary Coast Mission

What consumer trends are you seeing emerge that brands should pay attention to?

“Honestly, I would say price drops are working. People have less money and less to do, so they are at home smoking more. We’re seeing brands offer big discounts at the moment and there’s definitely traction.” - Max Herrera, GM at Atrium, Woodland Hills

“During Covid 19, edible sales are up over 200%. I am also seeing sales go up on multiple pack pre-rolls since people do not want to share a pre-roll during these difficult times.  I am also seeing a trend towards high terpene and layered products.” - Kelley Owen, Director of Procurement at Pineapple Express 

“We’ve definitely noticed that people are starting to care more and more about brands with a purpose. People are also asking a lot more questions about what is in their products. These are both encouraging changes.” - Carlton Williams, CEO/Founder of New Life

RELATED: Marijuana Dispensaries Offer Essential Services Across The Country. Here's Why It Matters.

“We’re noticing that consumers are becoming more conscious about their spending. Consumers are looking for quality at a low-price, and if brands offer promotions right now it will demonstrate that they understand the gravity of the situation and care about their customers.” - Eugene Kim, Marketing Manager at Barbary Coast Mission

With patient appreciation days on hold, how can brands collaborate with retailers to reach your customers?

“Be on social media and repost our content. Let people know what your product is and where they can get it. Everyone is at home and all up on Instagram. I think it’s really important to do video content particularly. We did some simple stuff to explain how our curbside pickup works and that was extremely helpful for the customers.” - Max Herrera, GM at Atrium, Woodland Hills

“We have done some Instagram live with our dispatchers and drivers when new products come out. We also have vendors come in and train them just like you would a budtender, so we would encourage more brands to do that. We are able to run PADs through Dutchie to promote new brands and sales as well.” - Kelley Owen, Director of Procurement at Pineapple Express 

“Social media engagement helps a lot. It’s great when brands coordinate specials on our menu and draw their audience’s attention to us on social media.” - Carlton Williams, CEO/Founder of New Life

“The best thing about this year’s 4/20 was the new and creative ways we reached people during the crisis. Collaborating with brands in new and exciting ways, via social media and live streams, gave us new opportunities to reinvent the cannabis industry once again. By coming together for a common goal, we can all survive this crisis and come out stronger on the other side.” -  Eugene Kim, Marketing Manager at Barbary Coast Mission