Recently I had a conversation with an established cannabis dispensary owner in Oregon about the relationship his buyer has with vendors. It was very similar to past talks I’ve had with store owners in other states. The owner felt that the buyer was spending too much time in meetings with existing vendors, and not enough time evaluating new products and new suppliers.
I’ve heard this complaint numerous times over the years and it brings up an interesting question: Is it possible that lots of experience in the cannabis industry prior to legalization is a bad thing in a post-legalization world? I remember a lunch I had six years ago with another well-known dispensary owner in Washington. We talked about a lot of subjects over that meeting, and when I inquired about who his biggest vendors were he replied that he purchased a lot of product from buddies that he’d known for years.
I politely pointed out that in the world of big retail (Best Buy, Costco, Amazon), buyers are trained to avoid “buddy” relationships and directed to only buy from the vendor with the best product at the best price. I also suggested he stay out of the decision-making process when it came to buying and hire a professional buyer to eliminate any pressure to help his friends. The point seemed to resonate, and over the next few months he directed his new buyer to focus on finding the best products, regardless of prior relationships. The result: His margins and profits went up steadily, and his store had lots of new products on the shelves.
The above scenario isn’t just limited to buying cannabis flower. I’ve witnessed the same thing on our end of the business. Media buyers will sometimes buy ads in a publication because the ad salesman is a friend or because the publication is local. Often ignoring critical questions like “is their audience the audience we’re trying to reach?” or “do they even cover our end of the business?” To survive in any competitive industry (and cannabis is very competitive), it’s critical that the emphasis throughout any business organization be on becoming as efficient and profitable as possible.
To that end, it often means ditching employees who hang on to business relationships that exist simply because the vendor is a friend. I’ve spent nearly a decade observing the Washington cannabis industry. Along with Colorado, Washington has the oldest up-and-running recreational industry in the U.S. And while I can’t say for sure if Colorado is as cutthroat as Washington (Colorado has vertical integration which tends to decrease competition), I can safely say that in the Northwest — and Washington in particular — an awful lot of so-called “experienced” people (master growers, buyers, managers) have disappeared and been replaced with professionals who don’t have the baggage of prior “buddy” relationships with them.
If the customer is placed first — as it should be — then the rest will follow, and decisions will be made based on merit and not friendship.