It’s hard to cut through the noise and engineer a truly unforgettable cannabis brand — one that keeps customers coming back again and again. Yet the Donnelly Group — a well-known British Colombian restaurateur — has done exactly that.
The Donnelly Group utilized flexible POS features and some tricks from the hospitality industry, and created Hobo, a cannabis retail chain that quickly set the record for single-day sales in Canada. Hobo anticipates their 29th grand opening by the end of the year.
Dispensary Branding that Stands Out
Harrison Stoker, Vice President of Brand at the Donnelly Group, knows that a brand is more than a graphic design package; it’s an experience.
Stoker’s trendy, upscale eateries are famous for creating novel dining experiences that disrupt customers’ expectations. In fact, disruption is the Donnelly Group’s specialty.
We’re oddly attracted to contentious issues and love building disruptive brands, says Stoker.
Even the name Hobo — which has raised eyebrows — disrupts expectations. Stoker and his team chose the name to evoke bohemianism and a lust for authentic experiences. Based on the Hobo brand’s success, the message resonates; Stoker’s Ottawa store set the Canadian record for single-day ticket sales.
Growing a Dispensary — at Lightning Speed
With a strong sense of their brand — and no dispensary experience — the Donnelly Group set out to disrupt BC’s cannabis retail scene. Stoker assembled a retail-savvy team and chose Cova as a POS partner.
What started as one store in BC quickly became five (with another three debuting soon). And the Donnelly Group recently opened a Hobo storefront in Lethbridge as part of a plan for six Alberta-based stores. And by the year’s end, Stoker expects to have 15 stores operating in Ontario. That’s 29 in total.
Creating a Branded Customer Experience
How did Hobo expand so rapidly? Stoker took the restaurant paradigm and applied it to the dispensary model to create a more personal, streamlined experience.
At Hobo, when customers walk through the door, they’re greeted by a hostess in a living room setting. Classy couches invite them to relax rather than stand in line. Most notably, the hostess isn’t holding a tablet; while powerful retail tech is working behind the scenes, she’s greeting customers up front, not processing them. She escorts the customer to the retail area where she helps them find their ideal products.
Hobo’s concierge model isn’t unique, but Hobo expedites the process with a simple trick from the food-service industry…
The Double-Ticket System that Creates Incredible Transaction Volume
Stoker chose the Cova POS in part because it let him recreate the ordering process of his restaurants. When a host places an order, it’s instantly displayed in the order-fulfillment area for quick service.
I went with Cova because of the ‘save order’ feature, which is fully automatic,” says Stoker. “It’s like in a pub — it allows us to print the ticket in the front and also in the back kitchen at the same.
At Hobo, backroom personnel pick-and-pack orders as they’re placed. Their order-fulfillment model ensures the products are ready at the register and allows the store to run 18 registers simultaneously. Local competitors run four registers, at most.
With so much of the work moved out of the retail area, and no need to store inventory directly on the sales floor, Hobo removes the biggest bottleneck of the purchasing process. It frees up space to welcome thousands of customers each day, and offer new ways to browse, like their automated “decision tree” kiosk, which makes tailored product suggestions and sends customer orders to the back room. It all ties into the Cova POS.
Choosing the Right Cannabis Retail Software
Stoker says he interviewed 15 software companies before settling on Cova.
Stoker admits to being an overthinker. But that penchant for analysis enabled him to choose a POS that will grow with Hobo’s future, indefinitely. Hobo plans to implement online ordering and improve their analytical capabilities.
“I was thinking about how the POS was going to interact with our future eCommerce application, how we were going to get our CRM plugged in, how to get better analytics,” says Stoker. “I was talking about APIs a ton.”
POS Flexibility, E-Commerce & Analytics
One of the features that excited Stoker the most was Cova’s open API. The Cova platform works with multiple software providers and is prepared for whatever the future may hold. For Hobo, that means online ordering through the menu and marketplace platform dutchie. With dutchie menus, Hobo’s customers can place orders that automatically flow into the Cova system and are ready when the customer arrives.
For analytics, Cova customers can use Headset, a leading analytics provider. And for a payment service that solves the unique problems of dispensaries, customers can select Merrco, a cannabis-specialized payment service.