Retailers have long known that a grand opening event can be an incredibly effective way of boosting their retail traffic.Cannabis retailers, though, face a number of challenges when it comes to organizing events like these: they can’t give away free cannabis, and in some jurisdictions can’t even advertise their event.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also compounded these difficulties. In the current environment, you need to ensure that you can convene opening events safely. This will mean designing a protocol for keeping your customers safe in store, or even going fully online with a virtual event. Other creative approaches include:
- Booking slots for your customers to visit, so you can limit the number of people inside the store at any given time
- Moving your educational events or vendor demos online, and delivering them via live stream
These challenges don’t mean that you can’t hold grand opening events. They just mean you have to be a little more creative with them than typical businesses during normal times.
In this article, we’ll explain why grand opening events are such an effective way of driving retail traffic. Then, we’ll show you how to organize creative in-store events, conduct vendor demos, and encourage social media engagement.
There are many benefits to organizing opening celebrations. One is brand awareness. By holding a grand opening event you can quickly and effectively get your name noticed and start to build the kind of brand awareness that is crucial during your first few years in business. Another is media engagement. If you get your event right, it might even generate mentions in the media. Mentions in well-respected magazines and newspapers are invaluable when it comes to building your reputation, and many journalists have a weakness for a lush party. Finally, events help you to engage with your community, who will be the primary drivers of your initial growth. If you can get a few enthusiastic individuals on board right from the get-go, you can start creating a buzz around your brand that will naturally build into mainstream recognition.
Cannabis Retail-Specific Challenges and Opportunities
Most experienced retailers are well aware of the benefits of grand opening events. However, cannabis retailers face some specific challenges when it comes to holding this kind of event. Having an educated and willing adult consumer base is a great start. But in a brand new adult-use market that limits advertising and promotional activities, retail owners will have to be creative in their approach.
Retailers in both the US and Canada are regulated by national and state-level laws that prohibit certain forms of advertising. If you are starting a new cannabis retail business, you should ensure that you are well versed in these regulations. We’ve written guides on the marketing and advertising restrictions in Canada, as well as a more general guide to the laws covering dispensaries in Canada, and these are a great place to start your research. For retailers outside Canada, check our guide to marketing your cannabis business for a round-up of the applicable laws.
In brief, these laws say that, as a cannabis retailer, you are likely not allowed to give out free gifts. In some places, you might not even be able to advertise your cannabis products. This means you’ll have to get creative, and we’ll show you how below.
Before we get into the practicalities, however, you should remember that – even if the laws seem excessive – you are in an industry that has widespread public approval. A recent study shows that use of cannabis by Baby Boomers is on the rise, with 9 percent of Americans aged 50-64 using it – that’s reportedly double the amount of people in almost a decade! Meanwhile, Deloitte’s 2016 study of the Canadian recreational cannabis market found that Millennials consume more cannabis daily, weekly and monthly than Generation Xers and Baby Boomers.
Smart Ideas for Openings
1. Conduct Vendor Demonstrations
Product demos are a creative way to highlight your product selection on your opening day while also giving brands the opportunity to interact directly with consumers. From demonstrating a cool new grinder or other accessory, to giving out samples of non-medicated future edibles products, inviting vendor partners to show off their assortment is a fun way to increase brand awareness and provide a unique experience to your consumers. But remember, giving away free cannabis is not allowed.
2. Encourage Social Engagement
With such tight restrictions on marketing for cannabis retail owners in many jurisdictions, social media may be your best tool as a marketing strategy to bring retail traffic. Hire a photographer to take pictures or set up a photo booth to encourage guests to post about the grand opening. And while you’re at it, create an event specific hashtag that consumers can use in their posts.
3. Give Out Branded Swag
Subject to Canadian and US law, brand elements like a logo may be placed on other items as long as those items don’t appeal to young people or project “a way of life” that includes excitement, risk, or glamor. Giving away products like t-shirts, hats or water bottles featuring the retailer logo gets customers excited while helping build awareness about your brand.
4. Offer Educational Workshops
Making a positive first impression is crucial. Including workshops at the event to educate customers about the various aspects of cannabis, from the endocannabinoid system, to methods of ingestion, to which strains your establishment carries, can go a long way toward demonstrating expertise and professionalism.
Here are some examples of the creative approach that retailers have taken:
- Marijuana Doctors have organized annual events for Doctors Day which highlight the benefits of Marijuana
- Community-focused education events are very useful when it comes to dispelling some of the myths around cannabis retailers, and provide a genuine opportunity for dialogue between your business and your community. The Cannabis Marketing Association offers some great resources for companies looking to convene this type of event
- Booking a stall at an industry trade show can also be extremely useful for companies who are offering new products, giving you a platform to talk to your colleagues and explain your business.
5. Set A Event Theme
Cannabis prohibition is over, and that’s plenty of reason to celebrate, but setting a theme for your opening day celebration might help make it even more memorable. Add to the festivities by decorating the store, wearing fun costumes, and even welcoming customers to do the same!
6. Organize a Fundraiser
Raising money for a local charity can be a great element to add to your grand opening event. This is because fundraising events achieve two valuable outcomes at once. First, they indicate that your company is engaged with the local community, and is committed to giving something back to it. This can be a real asset for cannabis retail businesses, which sometimes need to overcome the negative stereotypes that some more conservative customers still hold.
On the other hand, a fundraiser achieves a more direct goal: encouraging people to attend your event, and find out about your company.
7. Create a Publicity Stunt
Finally, if you really want to capture the imagination of your customers, consider making a spectacle as part of your grand opening event. This might sound a little sneaky, but in reality many famous brands have made very effective use of PR stunts: the Tour de France started as a publicity stunt to promote a new French newspaper, and the Macy’s Day Parade also started as a stunt.
In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, making a traditional type of publicity stunt might be quite difficult. However, there are some ways of working around this:
- Stick to the idea of a publicity stunt, but move it online
- Take the same idea, but focus on making the news more generally. You could start a campaign around a particular cause, engage with the community around a specific hobby, or seek online community involvement
In either case, let your dispensary take a back seat. What matters for this kind of event is that you directly engage with your customers. You can explain your product range at a later date.
Your imagination is the only real limit when it comes to creating these kinds of media-friendly stunts. There are some tried and tested ideas, though. You could try choreographing a flash mob, creating a human billboard, or launching your own annual race or parade to catch people’s attention. Or, if you really want to go for it, you can even try to break a Guinness World Record.