You can’t go for more than a day without someone talking about the cannabis industry in California. Whether you are for it or against it, it peaks everyone’s interest and its re-acceptance into mainstream society is, well, viral. This presents an incredible opportunity for products and companies to build a thriving and influential business. State legal cannabis entrepreneurs, both new and experienced in the cannabis game, should learn from the cautionary tale of one of the first vape cartridge producers in CA, who came on the scene seven years ago and crashed and burned within a year.
No one is really disputing that vape cartridges and e-pens have completely changed the way people consume and even view cannabis. With an e-pen, you sidestepped all the negative connotations of rolling a joint and it was discreet enough to let you smoke in public with less anxiety. But more than that, it allowed a new group of people who were curious about cannabis try it with less concern.
From my own personal experience, I first came across the pre-filled cart with cannabis oil in Oakland 2011 at the International Cannabis & Hemp event. In the 215 area, there was a buzz going through the crowd of a group of people smoking cannabis through an ‘e-cig’ device. Out of curiosity, I got my hands on one and took my first drag and waited. The effects were quick, potent and though the flavors weren’t there, 2/3 wasn’t bad.
I remember thinking that although I’ll always choose to roll over anything else first, this cart would open up a lot of possibilities and was super convenient. I wanted to know how I could get more.
The success of this nameless pre-filled cannabis cart vendor exploded and dispensaries all over the Bay Area were clamoring for their products. At this time, vaping in general was on the rise as an alternative to smoking cigarettes. Other people saw this demand and were quick to jump into the fray but first to market is first to market and it was theirs to lose. And lose they did.
Trouble was around the corner
- The first sign of trouble was that it took too long to get new stock out to the few dispensaries they were able to supply to meet the demand. Patients had heard or seen this product and were driving out to find them but were told to come back or that they’d be notified. They usually weren’t.
- The second sign trouble was that a growing percentage of the carts were faulty, leaked or were not potent, leading to very inconsistent experiences each time you purchased their product. Consistency is key in building a brand and because they scrambled to meet the demand volume they took shortcuts and quality control was lost.
- The final sign was the flood of comparable products being brought in by competitors quick to swoop up what the original people dropped. They introduced a new way to consume cannabis but did not capitalize on the branding opportunity in anyway so people looked for the commodity, not the brand. They just wanted a pre-filled cart that worked and was consistent. No loyalties were formed because there was nothing to be loyal to. No entity. No brand with brand values.
There are host of other factors of course, but it were these three main things that caused a company that, if scaled well and strategically, could have been the dominant vape pen brand. In an industry that is rapidly growing and changing and becoming increasingly competitive in all aspects, it is critical you have a plan for growth, a clearly defined brand position and rock solid infrastructure to provide a consistent experience as your brand grows.
It’s competitive. Focus.
Keeping these three things in mind will help you avoid the mistakes made in the above story at a time when the slightest trip up will result in a wave of competition picking up what you just dropped:
- Safety and Consistency of the product experience is FIRST
- Strong identity and understanding of who your target market really is, what matters to them and how your brand meets those needs to convince them to adopt your brand over others
- A sensible plan for scaling to support your brand growth with consumer experience always at the forefront of your strategy