Interview: How The ‘Apple Store Of Weed’ Aims To Dominate The Cannabis Retail Market By Changing The Stoner Narrative
As MedMen's new chief marketing officer, former Visa executive David Dancer wants to make the nation's biggest pot merchant a household name, with a strategy that hinges on destigmatizing usage via upscale stores and a cultural branding campaign that positions marijuana as a lifestyle
This is not your stoner’s cannabis.
That’s the message the marijuana merchant MedMen is preaching as it plots a retail expansion that aims to capture a sizable chunk of an industry poised to boast $75 billion in sales by 2030, according to Cowen estimates.
This summer the 14-store chain turned to David Dancer, an executive with decidedly buttoned-up, corporate-culture branding roots, to help it preach a new cannabis gospel.
Dancer, who’s held senior marketing roles at Visa, Charles Schwab and Teleflora, is on a mission to chip away at the stoner stereotypes and Reefer Madness-esque stigma surrounding cannabis as MedMen spreads its wings, while legalization of marijuana in the U.S. creeps along at a slow-but-steady pace.
Dancer spoke with PSFK on how MedMen is crafting a new cannabis narrative with seemingly Apple-inspired stores that serve shoppers’ dual medicinal and recreational needs, and via EMBER magazine, the centerpiece of its “content and culture” campaign that places pot in the lifestyle context of food, health and wellness. It’s all in the service of its lofty goal to make MedMen a household name.
PSFK: How does your experience at mainstream corporate companies such as Visa and Teleflora impact your work at MedMen? What best practices do you expect to bring from those firms?
David Dancer: Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to work with iconic brands, have navigated the regulatory environment within the banking industry, have lead retail marketing and have managed P&L’s and marketing efforts across products and within both the physical and digital environments. This relevant experience is coupled with years of brand storytelling with a keen focus on sales and margin growth. I have a commitment and focus on utilizing insights to build short and long-term plans to meet business objectives, and love to do so by building teams that are committed and focused on growth and flawless execution.
Unpack for us how cannabis is misunderstood. How will MedMen’s self described ‘disruptive footprint’ demystify this new consumer category?
The nature of the cannabis industry is still largely misunderstood. Consumers are seeking ways to learn more about cannabis products and the benefits of using them. Our retail footprint includes 14 stores spread throughout Southern California, New York and Las Vegas in accessible and shoppable neighborhoods such as Robertson Boulevard in Beverly Hills, Abbot Kinney in Venice and on 5th Avenue in New York City. We are establishing ourselves as a destination where consumers can visit our stores while shopping and running errands as they would any other product. In our recent ‘Cannabis’ campaign, we highlight the iconic neighborhoods where our stores are located. No longer in the dark alley or the dingy pot shop, our stores are beautiful, welcoming spaces for new and curious users.
Who is MedMen‘s target audience?
From the young professional to the working parent and the retiree, all are welcome at MedMen. As we move ahead, we’ll be conducting further research to better understand our customer segments as well as opportunity segments to meet our retail growth and sales objectives.
Describe the essence of your retail concept.
We’ve been called the Apple store, the Barney’s and the Starbucks of weed. Our stores feel like any other premium retail experience, we just happen to be selling cannabis. Each of our stores has a uniform aesthetic: sleek, modern design with walnut tables, glass displays and high-tech iPad menus allowing us to merchandise and showcase our products to meet the needs of both recreational and medical customers. In addition, our sales associates are readily available to spend time with each customer providing an almost one-on-one experience.
What are the ways you are ‘shifting the narrative’ and building brand equity to stake a claim as a category leader?
Marijuana is becoming mainstream. Now, two-thirds of Americans live in a state where marijuana is legal in some form so we’re seeing a major shift in the cannabis conversation. No longer are we focusing on the ‘stoner’ stereotype and instead we look at cannabis as a replacement for alcohol and pharmaceuticals. We are pounding down the doors of media outlets to gain access to media buys that allow us to educate and attract consumers to our stores. We are the first cannabis brand to secure national radio spots and we have many exciting marketing plans that will rollout before the end of the year.
MedMen opened a New York City flagship on 5th Avenue, despite the fact that recreational use is illegal in the market. Why?
It’s not a matter of if legalization will come, but when. By opening a store on Fifth Avenue, MedMen is establishing a footprint in one of the most iconic shopping districts in the world.
How does the EMBER Magazine campaign advance the goal of destigmatizing cannabis use?
EMBER Magazine furthers our goal of demystifying cannabis culture and educating potential and current users. With A-list talent like Lake Bell gracing our cover and sharing her personal experience, we are showcasing how cannabis can be part of anyone’s lifestyle and delivering editorial content that is informative, educational and culturally relevant.
Who do you view as retail competition in this space?
While there are many other cannabis retailers providing unique and compelling customer experiences, we position ourselves to operate as a traditional premium retailer. Our retail locations are accessible, well designed, thoughtful and appropriately staffed to ensure that our customers receive an experience that is similar and hopefully superior to other retail experiences.
Can you paint a picture of two MedMen shopping scenarios, a recreational purchase, and a medicinal one?
A medical purchase in New York City: a patient would come to our Fifth Avenue store with their ID, New York state medical marijuana card and doctor’s recommendation and check in, fill out a new patient form and then they would speak to a sales associate or pharmacist to assess the patient’s needs. Let’s say the patient has chronic back pain. MedMen staff would ask a variety of questions, like, ‘What’s your pain like on a scale of one to 10? Is it worse at particular times of the day? How does it affect your life? What kind of relief are you looking for?’ MedMen staff would then recommend one of our vape, gel caps or tincture product offerings or a mixture. Depending on pain level, maybe it’s our Awake vape to get them out of bed and oral tincture to get them through the day and gel cap to keep them asleep.
A recreational purchase in California: A potential customer only needs a valid ID to prove they are 21 and older. They check in and speak to our sales associate about what they’re looking for and any general questions they have about cannabis and its use. For example, to help with menstrual pain, they could be recommended Papa and Barkley topical balm or Relief patches. Sales associates would answer any additional questions and guide them through the purchase.
How many store openings are planned for this year and next year?
We are focused right now on opening our new Las Vegas store on Paradise Road near the south end of The Strip, and we will be entering the Florida medical market before the end of the year. Plans are in place to enter new markets and expand our existing footprint throughout next year.
MedMen’s innovative strategy for adding an element of luxury to a newly legitimized market has allowed the retailer to lead the pack in its category. For more strategies that brands are employing to better serve consumers and drive business, see PSFK’s reports and newsletters.
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