The Herbal Verbalist: Branding for the Win!

THIS IS A TALE OF TWO POT SHOPS. I highly recommend both. Only one, however, has positioned itself to become a household name. This cannabis retailer has honed its brand to a fine point, its signature red beckoning from billboards and print ads throughout Los Angeles.

When I decided to get into cannabiz, I got a doctor’s recommendation so I could go into a dispensary. I’d read about Med Men – Pot Shop #1 – in the L.A. Times, which reported, “One inspiration for the shop was the Apple store.” Sounded perfect for my first time. It has since become my regular joint (so to speak).

Around Christmas, my husband said, “We better stock up before the dispensaries open to the general public.” I responded noncommittally, figuring I could pop into Med Men (a mere two miles from home) any weekday, when the general public was at work.

My First Clue

On New Year’s Day, I saw pictures of folks lining up in Oakland at the venerable Harborside Health Center, which I thought was cute, like lining up for “The Last Jedi.” It never dawned on me that this would happen at MY pot shop.

Meanwhile, a childhood friend had gotten in touch after I came out as a cannabis enthusiast. He said, “Come to Santa Monica and we’ll smoke a bowl.”

The night before that reunion, my husband and I headed over to Med Men. Six or eight people were standing outside. When we approached, one pointed and said, “The end of the line is over there.” Across the side street. Behind, like, 100 people.

My shock immediately turned to outrage. “I’m not standing in line for pot like some ’80s-era Soviet schnook,” I snorted. I’d just swing by in the a.m. It was on the way to Santa Monica.

My Second Clue

In the a.m. the line was even longer. AT 10:15 ON A WEEKDAY. OK fine, I thought, I’ll go to that other dispensary I’d been to a few blocks west. I wasn’t crazy about the place, which had a distinctly Cannabis 1.0 air about it, but I figured any pot port in a storm. It didn’t open until 11:00. I was due at my friend’s at 11:00. Still, I didn’t want to arrive empty-handed.

Waze to the rescue! It found another dispensary a block away – Pot Shop #2 – with no line. There was a single shopper ahead of me at the check-in.

The sales floor at Pot Shop #2 is smaller than Med Men’s, but it’s thoughtfully laid out and attractively well appointed. A nice young man in white-boy dreadlocks appeared immediately to help me. Much to my delight, this place had the entire line of Bloom strain-specific disposable oil-vaporizer pens in stock (which Med Med never seemed to). I bought two Jack Herers (one for my friend), a Blue Dream and a Granddaddy Purple.

I also got a free gram of flower for being a first-time customer and a preroll, the latter of unknown origin (our policy with prerolls of unknown origin is to smoke them at home; if we turn into werewolves, at least we’ll be home and not out in the woods somewhere).

I had to pay in cash – Med Men takes plastic – but the cash machine was steps away.

Properly provisioned, I took Santa Monica Blvd. the rest of the way to my friend’s house, marveling at our modern world.

This Place Really Was a Find

When I got home that evening, I discovered that the Blue Dream vape wouldn’t draw after a couple of puffs. Can you return something to a pot shop? It’s not like I’d gotten a receipt …

It took more than a week to get back to that dispensary. But when I did, they cheerfully exchanged the faulty vape with no questions asked. This place really was a find.

Not long after, I had lunch with a friend across the street from Med Men. She told me that if you’re in their system as a patient, you don’t have to wait in line to get in. And if you don’t mind paying cash, you don’t have to wait in line to check out. (I didn’t mind paying cash, but I do customarily leave MM with a credit card receipt, anticipating the glorious day the IRS allows me to itemize my cannabiz expenses.)

My Third Clue

Inside, Med Men was a madhouse, at noon, on a weekday – a full three weeks after adult-use legalization, when you’d think the novelty would be wearing thin. You’ve heard the expression “minting money?”

From my point of view, the fundamental difference between the success of Pot Shop #1 and the success of Pot Shop #2 is branding. Med Men has clearly hired branding (and marketing and advertising and PR) people of the highest caliber and are surely paying them what they’re worth. And MM laid claim to the territory at least a year before adult-use legalization – that L.A. Times article I’d read? Dated Jan. 16, 2017.

Pot Shop #2, on the other hand, apparently not so much.

No matter how superior the product and service, how seamless and positive the experience, if you don’t take your branding as seriously as, say, your location, design and distribution, you will not have them lined up down the street.

I’ll continue to spend money at Pot Shop #2, but in the long run – when the better-branded cannabis concerns are acquired for zillions or profitable enough to remain steadfastly independent – I’ll put my money on Pot Shop #1.

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