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Vetting Vendors: A View from Pure Green

By Matt Walstatter

When my wife and I first decided to open Pure Green, our dispensary in Portland, Oregon, we were amazed at how many people tried to sell us cannabis.

It was not just our friends, but the plumber who worked at the shop, the ad rep who sold us our first ad, even a journalist who came for an interview all asked if we needed any meds. And that all happened before we made our first sale.

Opening for business was like opening the floodgates of a dam. Vendors, with and without appointments, visit daily. They offer samples and promotional materials, hoping to secure space for their products on our shelves.

This presents a huge challenge for dispensary owners, who must decide which vendors to work with and which products to stock. Finding the treasures buried in the mountain of samples can be incredibly difficult yet is vital to your success.

Over the last year and a half, I have found some real winners and some real dogs. Fortunately, I have also been able to come up with some good guidelines for choosing which vendors to work with.

Persistence and consistency

Even when a product looks amazing, I rarely buy anything the first time a vendor comes in. I am looking for consistency in my lineup. If a patient buys Death Star at my shop on Tuesday, they should be able to find the same Death Star next Friday, next month, or next year.

This requires a grower (or processor) capable of producing adequate amounts of product of a consistent quality. A vendor who comes in with a sample, then continues to return with similar samples, shows me that he or she is capable of producing a consistent product over time.

This also shows persistence, which tells me that the vendor is hungry to make a sale, that it matters to them. I have found that persistent vendors often have the best customer service should I decide to become a customer.

Help me, help you

I prefer to work with vendors interested in building and promoting a brand, because a vendor with a brand can help me sell his product.

Imagine for a moment that you grow OG Kush, but you don’t have a brand. You can market your OG Kush, but how will people know that they are buying your OG Kush, not the OG Kush that Jimmy or Susie grew? They won’t, and your marketing dollars will be wasted.

We spend a significant amount of money on marketing, but that money goes a great deal farther if we get marketing support from our vendors.

When Coca-Cola delivers products to Safeway and Fred Meyer, they don’t just drop them off and say “Good luck.” That would be foolish, because Safeway also carries Pepsi and Dr. Pepper, and they make just as much money selling one as they do selling the other. Coca-Cola knows that in order to compete it must market its own product.

We look for vendors who understand their role in this process and who have built a brand that allows them to do their share of the work.

This also allows for cross-promotion. When a vendor makes a drop, they can post it on social media, letting people know their products are available at our shop. We can also post on our websites, reaching an overlapping but still distinct group of potential customers.

Professionalism is paramount

I once spoke to an attorney who was a member of her firm’s hiring committee. She told me they received so many resumes that they needed shortcuts to thin the herd. They started by tossing any resume that didn’t include an Ivy League degree.

We see so many samples that we need similar shortcuts. Obviously we don’t require an Ivy League education, but we do look for a certain level of professionalism.

A sample in a nice container with a printed label will probably get a better look than something in a crumpled up baggie. Promotional materials, lab tests, even a little swag (t-shirts, stickers, etc.) show me that a vendor takes a serious, professional approach to their business. This helps me to feel comfortable working with someone who is unknown to me and may not have any references.

Trust Your Staff

Budtenders, if they are good at their job, know your customers and your products. If you ask them the right questions they should be able to offer a great deal of insight on which products will sell and why.

At Pure Green, we don’t buy any product without trying it first. This is another area where your staff can be extremely helpful.

Even if I wanted to (and I don’t), I couldn’t try every sample we receive. Instead I go through the samples and any associated promotional materials. I talk to whoever spoke to the vendor, to get their impression. Then I sample whatever interests me most and pass out the rest to staff members who try the samples and report back.

It’s helpful to know your staff, and their consumption habits, tolerance, etc. If, for example, I receive a sample of an edible that I am interested in carrying, I make sure that some goes to an employee with a high tolerance and some goes to someone with a low tolerance.

It’s not exactly scientific, but it gives me a more complete sense of the product. Similarly, I know who my dabbers are and who my CBD people are, so I can make sure to get the best information about those products.

As the Cannabis Industry matures, we see an increasing number of growers, processors and manufacturers of infused products who need a place to sell their wares. Choosing from among these options is of paramount importance, since the products you choose to carry will ultimately determine the success or failure of your business.

I look for persistent vendors who consistently produce a quality product. I work with businesses that are interested in building a brand and willing to spend the time and money that undertaking requires.

I favor vendors who take a professional approach. And, I rely on my staff to keep their fingers on the pulse of our customers and the larger marketplace.

Matt Walstatter and his wife, Meghan, are the owners of Pure Green, a patient owned and operated dispensary in Portland, Oregon. They have jointly owned and operated cultivation centers since 2001. Their dispensary opened in 2013. Matt can be reached at (971) 242-8561 or matt@puregreenpdx.com.

 

 

Rob MeagherRob Meagher

Rob Meagher

Rob Meagher, CBE’s Founder, President and Editor-in-Chief is a 30 year veteran of the media world. His career has spanned from stints representing the Washington Post, USA Weekend, Reader’s Digest, Financial World & Corporate Finance to the technology world where he worked at International Data Group and Ziff Davis where he was part of the launch team for The Web Magazine, Yahoo Internet Life, Smart Business and Expedia Travels before starting his own marketing and Publisher’s Representative Firm. He also ran all print and online media sales and marketing for the Society for Human Resource Management before partnering with Forbes and then Fortune to create Special Sections covering a variety of topics. Rob, who started CBE Press in 2014, can be contacted at [email protected]

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