Interchange founder Greg James reveals the event’s origins and what operators should know before attending
After eight years and nearly two dozen events across three states, Marijuana Venture’s Interchange has become one of the industry’s most successful and anticipated business-to-business events in the cannabis industry.
The show, which brings together licensed buyers and sellers for two days of scheduled meetings, was the brainchild of Marijuana Venture founder and publisher Greg James, who sat down to talk about the early days of the Interchange event series, how it’s grown and what advice future attendees need before arriving.
Marijuana Venture: How did Interchange get started?
Greg James: Twenty years ago, I owned and ran Topics Entertainment. It was a top-10 publisher of CD-ROM software. We competed with companies like Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Symantec and others in the consumer CD-ROM space. The big retailers were based all over the country: Comp USA in Dallas, Best Buy in Minneapolis, Barnes & Noble in New York, Staples in Boston, WalMart in Arkansas, Fry’s in San Francisco, Circuit City in Virginia, and then Costco was just north of Seattle. One of the distributors in that industry had the bright idea to bring all the buyers to one place for a weekend of sales pitches by the publishers. It was a big hit. The event became super popular. All the major retailers and CD-ROM companies participated. Because of the way the cannabis industry is restricted to in-person meetings, it made sense to produce the same type of event in Washington.
MV: What were the reactions to the first events?
GJ: There was some initial pushback. Retail buyers didn’t seem to think there was a need to participate since the vendors came to them, and vendors balked at the cost. The first one in November 2015 had about 25 vendors and 25 retailers. However, all the participants quickly realized it saved them a huge amount of time and greatly increased the efficiency of the buy/sell process. Word spread, and the rest is history. Since about 2017, every Interchange event in Washington has sold out.
MV: How is the event different from other cannabis shows?
GJ: Right from the start, we emphasized business, professionalism and good preparation. While we do host a mixer, the event itself is not a party, budtender show or cannabis cup, and it’s not open to the public. Interchange is run with a strict focus on commerce and providing an environment in which buyers can evaluate new products, and vendors can participate knowing they will get to sit down in private, scheduled meetings with at least 20 different buyers over two days. The results speak for themselves. In the eight years we’ve been producing Interchange, I’ve heard dozens of comments from vendors who say it’s the smartest thing they ever did to get new sales.
MV: How has it grown and expanded since the early days?
GJ: We’re now doing four a year in Washington, two in Oregon, and two in Michigan. We’ve added vendor tables and expanded to give processors as well as cultivators the opportunity to meet with buyers. And the spots always sell out because at the end of the day, the participants always see positive results and realize that in this industry, the bottom line is still what counts. Big parties and crowds in Vegas might be fun, but sales are what keep the lights on and the rent paid.
What is Interchange?
Remarkably simple and effective, Interchange has become a must-attend event for many cannabis retailers and vendors in Michigan, Oregon and Washington.
Best described as “speed networking for the cannabis industry,” Interchange is a private, two-day business-to-business event in which state-licensed producers and processors meet with dozens of verified retail buyers to connect with new clients, open new accounts, promote new products and manage existing relationships in a business-only environment. The unique event is designed to save cannabis buyers and sellers both time and money by keeping the focus on business.
Interchange events feature the top cannabis retailers, producers, processors and ancillary businesses participating in two days of scheduled, uninterrupted sales meetings.
Michigan operators have the chance to attend two Interchange events this year, both at the Eagle Eye Golf Club in Bath. The first will be on May 17-18 and then again on October 18-19.
After a tremendous event to kick off Oregon’s 2023 Interchange series this spring, cannabis professionals in the Beaver State can now sign up for the fall Interchange, September 20-21 at the DoubleTree in Portland.
There are three more Washington Interchange events in 2023. The next event, May 23-24 at the Renton Pavilion in Renton, is nearly sold out. Interchange then heads east to Spokane in August before returning to Western Washington to close out the 2023 slate of events on November 7-8.
For additional information or to register, visit Interchangemv.com.
MV: Any advice for vendors?
GJ: Good question. Unfortunately, cannabis is still seen by many as an informal and relaxed industry. The reality is that in many ways it’s no different than other businesses in which consumer products are sold by retailers. What this means is that the cream rises to the top and competition is fierce.
I’ve witnessed many examples of poorly prepared vendors late for meetings with bad presentations. They seem surprised that the buyer isn’t impressed with their “We grow the best weed” pitch — the same pitch nearly every grower starts with.
On the other hand, well-prepared vendors invariably do well. They arrive on time, have great products and packaging, take notes, know the retailers’ product mixes, do their homework and come ready to answer questions and take orders. Success is all about preparation.
MV: Advice for retail buyers?
GJ: Come with an open mind and be ready to ask questions. Treat vendors with respect even if you don’t think you’re interested in their products. As I said earlier, I ran a big CD-ROM company for many years. I had many meetings with buyers from Costco, WalMart, Target and Best Buy. They’re all huge retailers. Never in 15 years did I experience one who had an attitude, or that made me or my sales team feel like we were wasting their time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.