For Liz Stahura, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
The place was Boulder, Colorado, and the year was 2015. Colorado’s adult-use cannabis market had opened a year earlier, and the industry was just starting to take off. But the increasingly sophisticated industry lacked the “same type of market research and data that every other retail-based industry relies upon,” she says.
Being a newcomer in the cannabis space was intimidating at first, but Stahura knew her stuff when it came to retail analytics and consumer insights, having spent her entire career in market research.
She co-founded BDS Analytics with Roy Bingham that spring. As an analyst by nature, she evaluated the prospects thoroughly before jumping in. She ultimately viewed the opportunity as a calculated risk worth taking.
“It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” she says. “It’s been a really rewarding and eye-opening journey for me over the past five years.”
The company recently celebrated its five-year anniversary and rebranded as BDSA. Today, BDSA supplies companies inside and outside the cannabis space with three levels of market research: Consumer Insights, looking at who consumes cannabis and why; Industry Intelligence, analyzing the size and future of the market; and Retail Sales Tracking, which provides detailed sales information from cannabis retailers in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon (and coming soon to two provinces in Canada).
“Putting all three of those pieces together really gives us the definitive look at what’s happening within the cannabis marketplace,” Stahura says.
Even in BDSA’s early days, cannabis business owners and managers were excited about the prospect of gaining deeper insights into sales and consumer behavior. What was more challenging at that time, Stahura says, was convincing companies to make a budget for market research and actually pay for it — “and, quite frankly, there was a decent amount of sticker shock.”
“It was it was a lot of fun, though, to get out and spread the gospel, not just about analytics, but the gospel of data and analytics in general and consumer insights and market research,” she says.
As the industry has matured, more and more companies have not only chiseled out a budget for market research, but have dedicated entire divisions to analyzing sales trends and consumer data.
The majority of BDSA’s revenue still comes from cannabis endemic companies, but adjacent industries are increasingly becoming interested. Food, beverage, alcohol, tobacco and other CPG companies are trying to figure out whether cannabis is a threat to their business or an opportunity.
Prior to cannabis, Stahura spent the majority of her career providing market research to specialty outdoor retailers. While bicycles, surfboards and climbing gear might seem like very different products than cannabis, there are some notable parallels.
One of the things that drew Stahura to cannabis was the high level of passion within the industry, which bears a remarkable similarity to the core consumers of outdoor products. There’s also significant crossover between people who consume cannabis and enjoy outdoor activities as part of their lifestyle, she says.
One piece of advice she offers cannabis retailers that mirrors what she told bike and surf shop owners in the past is to “stop selling the tech” and “start selling the experience.” While some shoppers want the technical details, many can be intimidated by the dizzying array of options and specifications.
“What they really want to know is, ‘What’s my experience going to be like? How is it going to make me feel?’”