Podcast Retail

MedMen on overcoming the barriers of selling cannabis

Cannabis consumers are not as black and white as medicinal versus recreational, says MedMen CMO, David Dancer, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global.

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This cannabis retailer is currently valued at over $1.5bn. Its challenge however is to design an experience that removes the anxiety of consuming cannabis that the majority of casual users still carry, as well as appease local authorities hungry to ensure strict legislations.

The consumer piece can be easily facilitated by knowledgeable store associates, who Dancer refers to as sommeliers and who play a huge role in demystifying the experience, from branding to education. “We want to make sure that people feel comfortable and can ask the questions they need answers to,” he explains. It also helps that curiosity around consumption is at an all-time high, largely thanks to the wellness movement.

But the bigger challenge for the retailer is dealing with legislations even stricter than those reserved to selling alcohol and tobacco. Although there may be an intentional Apple-like design sensibility and minimalism to MedMen’s 17 stores nationwide, much of it has to do with regulations: many products have to be displayed under locked casing – hence the beautiful display tables – while it is not allowed to have any signage or marketing on its windows. It is also restricted on locations due to zoning, such as near schools, and instead chooses areas that are friendly and feel safe, including LA’s Santa Monica Boulevard and New York’s Fifth Avenue.

The MedMen experience then becomes a clever ballet of branding and communications, combined with a retail experience that aims to allow customers to discover and try at their own pace, or to meet their own individual needs.

As the US audience begins to become more at ease with cannabis becoming a common part of their everyday lives – from smoking to CBD-infused cocktails and spa treatments – the retailer continues to navigate challenges by listening intently to what its customers and staff have to say. During this conversation, recorded with Liz Bacelar at this year’s NRF Big Show in New York, Dancer also shares the retailer’s heavy investment on the education piece, which includes a published magazine, and how the ever-evolving, and hyper-local, legislations pushes it towards constant innovation.

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by The Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

business Editor's pick Podcast Retail technology

Retailers are holding back real innovation, reveals departing leader of Neiman Marcus iLab

The head of the Neiman Marcus iLab, one of most established retail innovation programs in the world, no longer believes internal teams can deliver the results needed to drive the industry forward.

Incubation units dedicated to innovation through technology are held back by the culture of the legacy organizations in which they have been built, and the cumbersome procurement processes that surround them, Scott Emmons highlights.

Emmons is backing his statement by departing the lab he founded in 2012 to take up a new position as Chief Technology Officer at TheCurrent Global, a consultancy transforming how fashion and retail brands intersect with technology.

“Corporate innovation programs seem to start strong and sharp, but over time, they are devoured and diminished by surrounding day-to-day business processes, making it nearly impossible to maintain momentum. It’s one thing to talk to agility and risk, but when you’re not built for either, measured by cost reductions and operating within a silo, results tend only to be incremental. It’s time for that to change. For fashion and retail brands to succeed, they need to shift from an internally driven culture to one focused on open innovation with the world’s top technology and talent,” says Emmons.

The move marks a new era for retail innovation. Traditional businesses introduced internal innovation teams at a time when digital transformation was the primary goal. Increased competition from nimble digital players, or those willing and able to take risk, resulted in a need for experimentation.

The promise of these incubation units was around driving change from an operations, marketing and corporate culture standpoint in the context of toughening market conditions and ever-increasing consumer expectations. But with the majority of retailers focused on solving and building solutions internally – instantly limiting them on resource and breadth of expertise – successful results have been relatively sporadic.

Neiman Marcus has always been a frontrunner in the retail innovation space, largely thanks to the work Emmons has done. This has included a memory mirror, 4K touch table lookbooks, store associate IOT communicators, intelligent mobile phone charging stations and new fitting room technology.

But Emmons now believes corporate culture and processes are counterproductive to recruiting, onboarding and maintaining relationships with startups or innovative solution providers. He joins TheCurrent Global to focus on that aim alongside founders Liz Bacelar, Chief Executive Officer, and Rachel Arthur, Chief Innovation Officer. Founded in 2017, TheCurrent Global has worked with clients including Gucci, Burberry, Tiffany & Co, Mulberry, Shiseido, Swarovski, LVMH and the British Fashion Council to bring open innovation and actionable insights to fashion and retail brands.

“I am honored to join the team at TheCurrent Global to integrate top technology solutions from around the world into a multitude of retail and brand partners. This methodology is what the industry needs – an agile workforce that can act as an extension of your team,” says Emmons.

Liz Bacelar, CEO, TheCurrent Global, comments: “Real innovation can only happen today by tackling problems in a new way. We all know it is insanity to expect different results using the same approaches. With the help of outside experts, businesses can achieve growth in a new way, with both speed and efficiency. What TheCurrent Global brings is the ability to take the incredible work Scott has done at Neiman Marcus and take it to CEOs who want to lead the innovation conversation. We do that by relying on our industry expertise and access to an ecosystem of thousands of curated startups, technologies and entrepreneurs from around the world.”

UPDATE: Emmons’ story has hit headlines this week, including in WWD, The Business of Fashion, Glossy, Fashion United and more. Before this amazing press coverage, we sat down with him for our Innovators podcast to discuss his reasons for leaving Neiman Marcus, and exactly what he’s going to bring to TheCurrent Global. You can listen to it here or via the links below.

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