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Why We Said No To Most In-Store Demos

Vendor booths are ominpresent in dispensaries, but this company thinks they're bad for business.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you've visited a cannabis store lately, you’ve probably seen them: A booth within a retail store manned by a brand representative, talking about the product and sometimes giving away samples and branded swag.

Heath Korvola | Getty Images

In the cannabis world, in-store brand activations like these have not only become the norm, they're relied upon. “Customer appreciation days” or “demo days” have long allowed brands an opportunity to build relationships with a captive audience. Given the limited marketing options out there for cannabis businesses, they have become even more prevalent.

They're also a solution for dispensaries that are not looking for more foot traffic and instead depend upon vendors to drive traffic for them.

But recently my dispensary decided to turn away from these types of in-store demos and events. Why? We simply believe it’s possible to provide outstanding value and quality to our customers -- all the time -- without imposing on their shopping experience.

Related: How To Navigate the Murky Waters of Cannabis Marketing

The Danger of Demos

Cannabis retailers should never be codependent on a third party to own the consumer experience. It’s critical for your dispensary to attract the consumers that fit what you stand for as a store.

Some stores will serve an endemic intoxicant crowd, others will serve those looking for a high-end experience, and some will cater to the value consumer. Your marketing and your partner marketing needs to fit in with what you stand for vs. the other way around.

Consumers are always happy for a deal and to get free goods -- but whether it helps them make the right product decision is still unclear. Additionally, given that the ROI from these special event days is extremely hard to track, it can’t exactly be described as a safe investment.

If not choreographed well, demo days can be a disaster. The rep from the brand might not be a good fit for your store. You might have to entertain competing brands. You might not have enough of the vendor’s product in inventory on that specific day

But most importantly, you might be confusing the customer. Most dispensary managers work 12-plus hour days often 6 to 7 days a week properly managing every vendor that offers a PAD is difficult.

Related: 5 Ways to Create a Better Cannabis Customer Experience

Why We Said No to the Status Quo

For all the reasons above, we were inundated with vendors asking for their own demo days. In reality, these events would have been much more beneficial for the brand than for the consumer or our store. It was fully our responsibility to strategize and plan, and we weren’t always able to ensure that all the right merchandise would be in stock in our busy store.

Eventually, we also realized that we were too dependent on these brands to drive traffic in our store through social posts and we put the burden of a BOGO on them -- it didn’t seem that we had a partnership with them. We knew we needed a positive change.

The Solution: Launching Partner Tiers

We work with hundreds of vendors, but there are only a few that we trust enought to partner with us. We wanted to be able to support them in a platform much different than the existing sloppy method of “throwing up a table” in our store

For this reason, our retail staff came up with the idea for Partner Tiers: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. We realized that we couldn’t offer a demo day slot to every single brand, and knew we needed to do a better job supporting our big partner brands. Our partners now have the ability to really make an impact in our store. They can directly train our budtenders on their products, get premium shelf placement in the store, co-market with us, and have well-scripted Partner Days inside the shop.

Sometimes less is more. We are grateful for all of our vendors, but especially our partners who have committed to working with us on a strategic basis. In the end, we know we will learn a lot more about these relationships and the cannabis business, and hope to extend the trust we build with our customers to our vendor partners as well.

Related: His Software Solution Aims to Ease the Pain of Running a Dispensary