Business

How retail buyers see the Calif. market

By Alex Halperin
Jan 7, 2022
Embarc purchasing manager Ivy Merriman, Courtesy: Embarc

High taxes, complex regulations and a still strong illegal market have leading industry voices saying the California market is on the brink of collapse. While many pot snobs downplay THC and emphasize terpene content, retailers say price and potency, far more than anything else, is what moves product. 

With that in mind, WeedWeek spoke to two retail execs, Embarc purchasing manager Ivy Merriman and Josephine and Billie’s CEO Whitney Beatty, about what they look for in brand partners.

“I have to make sure I’m answering to my demographic,” Beatty said. Josephine and Billie’s in south Los Angeles is modeled after a Harlem Renaissance “tea pad” and aims to be a store where women of color feel comfortable. These days that means respecting their budgets. 

  • Hot products include $12-$15 eighths from Honey Dew Farms and infused tea bags from Kikoko
  • “You really have to have a value proposition and gear up that customer base if you’re going to get a premium price,” Beatty said. If she can’t explain to a customers why an eighth costs $60, instead of $25, “I don’t want to have it on shelves.” 
  • She cited Ball Family Farms, as a premium brand that does well. “Their strains have a strong following, a very good consistency. The packaging is great and people come back again and again for it.”
  • Meanwhile, premium brands that might have cachet in whiter parts of the city don’t necessarily interest Beatty’s customers. If [the brands] want to reach a new demographic, they need to do the work through in-store promotions and other marketing efforts, she said.
  • J&B’s price tags also incorporate the state 27% excise tax to avoid sticker shock at check out, Beatty said.

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‘It’s so heartbreaking seeing where the industry is at right now,” Embarc’s Merriman said. She’s seeing longtime brands struggle against newcomers that are just cutting prices. “It’s a race to the bottom.”

Merriman said she has been thinking about how to offer brands more support so it isn’t “such a one-sided relationship.” 

  • Embarc tries to promote the brands it carries on social media, as well as through email blasts that highlight legacy farmers, women-owned brands and equity brands.
  • She spent Hall of Flowers, in December, meeting with select brands about deepening those partnerships. While she’s bullish on beverages she says she didn’t see too much new or exciting at the conference.  
  • How does she pick the brands to support? Sometimes they have a pre-existing relationship. “My go-tos are the people I know and for lack of better words vibe with well.” It helps when the brands have aligning values.
  • As a NorCal chain with plans to grow from three to eight shops this year, Embarc is also looking to get its name out there.
  • While customers are mainly interested in potency and price, she said that by building relationships with customers Embarc can promote other products as well. “It doesn’t work for everyone but it does work for some.”
  • She described budtenders as the “linchpin” for building those relationships.