Recently I’ve had several meetings with cannabis producers and their salespeople. Because they know I’m friends with a lot of the big Northwest retailers, they often ask me for advice on sales strategies, how to meet the owners of the stores and what buyers want to see.
I’m always happy to offer advice, and 20 years of selling more than $500 million of media products to major retailers like Costco, Amazon, Target and Best Buy — prior to launching Marijuana Venture — left me with a wealth of knowledge and some great lessons (as well as some funny moments and screw-ups).
Here are a couple tips and stories:
– Forget hats and T-shirts: The CD-ROM business was awash in T-shirts and baseball caps. Companies from Microsoft and Electronic Arts on down to small indies gave them away. Buyers had dozens of them, and I actually once heard a buyer from Circuit City say to a salesperson who gave him a T-shirt, “Just what I need, another rag for washing my car.”
I also remember a memorable meeting at Best Buy that was a real eye-opener. I was meeting with the senior buyer of the non-gaming CD-ROM category and his two assistants. I mentioned one of our competitors and asked how their products were doing. The assistant buyer, who was new, didn’t recognize the name of our competitor and asked the senior buyer who there were.
He replied, “You know them, they’re the Mrs. Fields crew.” The assistant replied, “Oh yeah, I love them.” I asked why they were called “the Mrs. Fields crew” and he replied that they always came to meetings with a fresh box of Mrs. Fields cookies. I remember thinking that it was a brilliant strategy. Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies. T-shirts and hats were a dime a dozen in that industry, just as they are in cannabis. But a fresh box of warm cookies? Now that’s something to look forward to!
The lesson: If you want to be remembered in this or any other industry, think differently. Come up with ideas that differentiate you from the crowd.
– Don’t force a square peg in a round hole: By 2003 I’d had half a dozen meetings with Target at their HQ in Minneapolis. We were doing about $2 million per year with them, which was far less than I wanted to do, or thought we should be doing. By contrast, we were doing $15 million per year with Costco at that time.
Rob, the buyer, was a poker player and not easy to read. I’d present items and it was obvious he wasn’t that interested. Even proven products that were doing big numbers in other retailers often failed to get him excited.
At that 2003 meeting, I knew I wasn’t getting anywhere and stopped halfway through my presentation. I said to Rob, “It’s obvious you’re not thrilled with our products. What if we did a private-label deal for Target with much higher margins?” He looked up and said, “Now you’re talking,” and we proceeded to develop a program that eventually resulted in about $10 million in private-label language-learning CD-ROM products for Target chain-wide.
The lesson: If you’re getting nowhere with existing products, suggest something new. Think outside the box. Propose something exciting, something with higher margins or something in new packaging. Buyers want to see ideas and products they don’t already have.
Cannabis may be a new and exciting industry that is rewriting the rules on how businesses function in a modern economy, but sales will always be sales, whether it’s computer software or vape cartridges.