By Garrett Rudolph
A chance meeting at an event geared toward bar and nightclub owners sparked a new venture into the cannabis space.
A businessman with several dispensaries in California was opening a new location that he wanted to make his flagship store. He was looking for something that would set this new dispensary apart from other competitors and give it the look and feel of a high-end retail establishment.
“They weren’t looking to open a place where people could come ‘score drugs,’” Anthony Vernaglia explained. Vernaglia and his father, Kip, had been developing digital menu boards specifically for restaurants, coffee shops, brew pubs and other food and beverage establishments. Meeting with the dispensary owner kickstarted their entrepreneurial spirit and opened up an entirely new avenue for their readerboards.
The result was Elem·n·tal Digital, which creates fully customizable retail menus specifically for the cannabis industry.
“We’re still really young in this industry, but we’re adapting and developing as we get a better grasp on what the clients and dispensary owners need,” Vernaglia said. “So far, I feel like we’ve got an excellent product here.”
The initial step in developing the cannabis-specific menu boards was identifying the different needs for cannabis retail, compared to food and beverage businesses. They needed to be easy to use, with instant flexibility and a variety of product information. They needed to be customizable. There had to be a wide range of sizes to fit cannabis retailers of every level.
Vernaglia said he found the boards actually fit better with cannabis businesses than the hospitality industry. Whereas every bar, every restaurant, every coffee shop had a completely different menu, the categories for marijuana dispensaries tend to be fairly uniform — flowers, edibles and concentrates are the staples for every retailer.
Next it was a matter of determining the necessary features. Vernaglia found that most dispensaries used chalkboards and whiteboards for their menus. Every time an employee needed to make a change on the menu, items had to be hastily added or removed. It made it challenging to keep all the different products up to date, along with vital information, such as pricing, producers, THC and CBD potency, etc. Plus, they tended to be messy.
Vernaglia said he and his father spent a lot of time “creating a layout that could handle the high quantity of items and still look cool.”
The menus themselves are easily controlled by Elem·n·tal Digital’s patented Display Commander web app, Vernaglia said. This gives employees and managers the ability to quickly change everything on the menu — items, prices, colors, fonts, photos and more — through a phone, tablet or computer. Employees can take pictures of a product with their smart phone and put it up on the menu board in a matter of seconds.
“You can do it from your couch if you want,” Vernaglia said.
The company says the menus “can be manipulated in seconds, mastered in minutes, and will last for years.”
Not only can stores display products, but they can also use the boards to display cannabis-related news, sale items, fun facts or to promote community events, or turn the menus into money-makers by selling advertisements for local eateries, events, etc.
Because of the wide range of options and customizable features, the Elem·n·tal Digital menus vary tremendously in price — anywhere from $1,200 to nearly $10,000, depending on how many screens and features the retailer wants to use.
Elem·n·tal Digital (www.elemntal.com) is also working on partnerships with some other top vendors in the cannabis industry to provide an added level of functionality.
Vernaglia said the Elem·n·tal Digital menu boards fit with the greater trend in the industry of business owners realizing they need to provide a retail experience, rather than just being a place that sells marijuana.
“It’s no longer dispensaries and patients,” he said. “It’s shops and clients. They consider themselves storefronts. If Colorado and Washington are any example of what’s to come, people are going to start putting more investment into their storefronts.”