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This article is part of Entrepreneur’s series on How to Start a Cannabis Business. We seek to promote financial inclusion through marijuana. In previous articles, we’ve looked into numerous aspects of getting into the marijuana industry, including licensing issues and how to convince investors to give you money. We even talked with numerous celebrities about why they are getting involved in the cannabis industry and how to get them to endorse your product or company.
Before your brick-and-mortar cannabis store officially opens, do a soft launch to make sure all the bugs and glitches are fixed. Here are some suggestions from people who have been there, done that.
Test your systems
You should try out your security system and your point-of-sale system, create test entries taking advantage of the software products’ sandbox features (making sure to erase that fake data before your market debut), and perform other trial runs. In other words, build in time to test all your systems and procedures in a soft-launch format before opening your doors to the public.
According to Marijuana Business Daily, the two biggest challenges for cannabis businesses without access to banking face are safeguarding cash and paying employees and vendors. Being prepared for them can save you massive headaches in the future.
Invite friendly faces
Once you’ve test-driven all the elements in your location individually, invite your family, friends, and colleagues to your shop, office, grow operation, or manufacturing facility and see what they think. Conduct this exercise at least once; if possible, spend two or three days at it. Ask people who will be candid about their opinions; it’s likely your mother or best friend won’t want to tell you if they don’t like something—or might not even know what a cannabis-related business should look like.
“Don’t just trust every person who gives you anecdotal feedback,” says Tyler Stratford, director of client relations for Canna Advisors. “Prepare an actual questionnaire, highlight areas of concern which are confined . . . and get the customers to describe the general feel they get from your location. Did they feel rushed? Did they feel like the employees didn’t know what they were talking about? Those are some general things that stem from inexperience.”
In addition to getting people’s comments, take notes during the soft launch yourself. This will probably be the only time you’ll be able to watch what’s going on in your business; once you open, you’ll be too busy running the place.
In many ways, how people experience your brand is related to the tangible aspects of it, whether it’s the physical location, the product, or even the people representing the brand. It’s important to keep this in mind as you assess the results of your soft launch. What worked? What fell flat? What sort of branding outreach can you derive from what you saw during the soft launch?
“Especially with a product that customers will hold in their hands and consume, the tactility of it is very important,” notes J. J. Kaye, co-founder of design consulting firm High Pressure Zone. “So, for instance, if you decide to place a demo of your product at a certain dispensary [or host a demo of a product in your store], don’t just throw them together half-assed. You need to put your best foot forward; that’s one of the very first touch points. The person doing the demo and educating people about the brand is basically representing your brand.
“Not thinking about that is really a missed opportunity to really create a connection and develop a lifelong consumer,” Kaye adds, pointing to the importance that large retail chains like Neiman Marcus or Barneys place on creating a consistent brand experience.
Here’s a detailed checklist of a few things you should test during the soft launch:
- Your security system
- Your point-of-sale system
- Your location’s general feel
- The way traffic flows inside the location
- How the product looks in your store, if applicable
- How the employees treat customers
- How customers react to interacting with employees
- How your staff reacts to unexpected scenarios
- How your staff manages an emergency drill
One final suggestion, courtesy of Tyler Stratford: “Throw in an issue. Have a scenario where somebody pretending to be drunk comes in, or come up with some kind of situation everyone in your team has to react to.”