Business

Summer Business: Brands Retool for Pandemic

By Hilary Corrigan Jun 24, 2020
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Also in Summer Business Week: 1) Sales Hold Up, As Consumer Dynamics Shift  2) Cannabis Jobs Market Surges 3) Dispensaries are Cautiously Optimistic

Before COVID-19, concentrates brand Spherex kept an aggressive events schedule with several pop-ups and dispensary visits each week, plus larger monthly industry events.

Since the pandemic, the Colorado company has adapted by ramping up its social media presence and offering more discounts. “It’s been great for our online presence all around,” marketing director Katie Mattox said.

Like many other brands, it’s trying to adapt to the social distancing imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the struggling economy. The dual crises have nixed many brands’ summer plans, from vendor days at dispensaries to booths at conferences and summer festivals.

Lately, Spherex’s Instagram and Facebook stories have featured dispensaries, which has improved its relationships with them. Some dispensaries don’t have marketing resources to create robust online content, so they appreciate Spherex spotlighting them and they re-post that content, Mattox said.

The company’s beefed-up social media effort also highlights discounts, and drives traffic to dispensaries where they’re available. Those online promotions—with advance notice of products, sales, dates and locations—let customers plan and buy when there’s a special, Mattox said. It’s a strategy that Spherex didn’t pursue before COVID, but plans to continue through summer and into the future.

Another challenge for brands is that the pandemic has cut off dispensary visits as a way to discuss products with consumers. They’ve also minimized budtenders’ role as an information resource for consumers. Spherex plans to put representatives back in dispensaries when it can, Mattox said.

Like others in the industry, Spherex continues to watch rules on social distancing and phased re-openings. It plans to attend the GreenGrow Expo, a trade show this weekend in Oklahoma, where Spherex is licensed.

The company will use protocols such as six-foot markers and limits on the number of people at booths. The in-person event will mark its first since COVID and will help it determine its marketing strategy.

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‘A very unique year’

Summer is normally a strong season for the cannabis industry. In Colorado, people flock to outdoor activities and music festivals that pair well with weed.

The Clear Concentrates usually sets up booths and pop-up tents at theme parks, outdoor events and Red Rocks Amphitheater concerts, where representatives hand out T-shirts and other items. This is “a very unique year,” said Robert Murray, vice president of operations at The Clear parent company Clear Cannabis Inc.

The company is now trying to be more price conscious for consumers. The strategy involves partnering with dispensaries for sales programs in different states and lining up discounts throughout the season at different dispensaries.

“We’ve always done some type of promotions in the past,” Murray said. But they’re more aggressive this year.

Clear also lined up a sprinter van to drive to some dispensaries. The presence in parking lots—outside, with social distancing measures—aims to still let representatives hand out materials and talk with customers, but in a safer setting than indoors.

Boosting e-commerce

COVID sped up a shift to e-commerce that insiders say offers brands and dispensaries an opportunity. They can communicate more directly with consumers through digital purchases and better understand what consumers want. But they also need to ensure an efficient, easy online experience.

They also need to provide information to customers. E-commerce has taken the onus from budtenders and dispensaries, said Jon Lowen co-founder of consumer data consultancy Surfside.

More often now, customers are making their selections and pre-ordering online before going to stores, so there’s less interaction with budtenders. As a result, brands need to communicate directly with consumers now—more often and more efficiently. That includes ensuring the right infrastructure and software in place to facilitate pre-ordering for pickup or delivery.

Enter Jane Technologies Inc. Earlier this year, the software company rolled out a new e-commerce platform aiming to connect brands and dispensaries. When customers go to a brand’s website and choose a product, they can access a list of nearby dispensaries carrying it and complete their order without leaving the brand’s site. Jane calls it an “indirect to consumer” model. 

The firm aims to help both dispensaries and brands win, so that the former can focus on creating a pleasant retail experience and the latter can focus on their products, Jane CEO Socrates Rosenfeld said. That means digitizing existing commerce and retail infrastructure. Brands and dispensaries can pay $300 per month to sign up for the software.

“We were ahead of our time prior to COVID,” Rosenfeld said. “It’s actually been great timing.”

New for summer

Despite the pandemic, some brands have forged ahead with plans to release new summer products.

Concentrates brand The Clear was just launching its Clear Reserve cartridge when COVID hit. It has now relaunched it in Nevada and accelerated its launch plan for Colorado from the end of the year to the end of the summer.

Spherex also recently released a new version of its Phyx sparkling water, with a 10-milligram dose of THC, higher than its original version. Spherex planned to launch it as a summer drink and COVID did not stop that.

Napa Valley, Calif.-based House of Saka launched its Saka WHITE, a cannabis infused chardonnay.

Edibles brand Coda Signature released Cherry & Sarsaparilla Fruit Notes and other new flavors for summer. In a news release, Coda emphasized a need to keep edibles “relevant and helpful in consumers’ disrupted daily lives.”

And CBD products company Kat’s Naturals launched its Kat’s Craft Collection with NuSachi Processors, a new line using organic Tennessee strains.

The packaging comes from artist Justin Helton of Status Serigraph, who has designed for bands such as the Grateful Dead, Phish and Dave Matthews Band, according to a news release from Kat’s Naturals. The vintage concert poster-style label covers an apothecary-type collectable bottle.