Welcome to our recap of the MJ Unpacked Conference from Las Vegas. MJ Unpacked is the first cannabis event connecting retailers, THC CPG brands, and investors with opportunities to connect, collaborate, and get access to capital.
We spent our time walking the floor and attending a wide array of seminars. We learned what a number of cannabis business owners are doing as ambassadors and educators facing a myriad of challenges. We also got a deeper understanding of what is and isn’t working across the industry, and found new inspiration along the way.
In the first part of this episode, we dig into everything MJ Unpacked: the good, the not-so-good, and what has us most excited for the future. After that, we’re talking to Thomas Winstanley, VP of Marketing at Theory Wellness, to explore the differences between the cannabis, alcohol, and pharmaceutical industries.
- Why the cannabis industry still simply doesn’t feel as mature as other fields we’ve worked in.
- The insurmountable gap that makes a cannabis trade show different from any other.
- Why marketing laws regarding cannabis are so difficult to work with (and around).
- Why Thomas believes e-commerce and delivery systems for the cannabis industry are lagging behind.
“Everybody’s in the same boat. There’s a lot of talk about the industry lifting itself up, a lot more camaraderie, and less rivalry.” – Rick Kiley
“We’re part retail, part wine shop, part apothecary, part pharmacy, or kind of this amalgam that has yet to be defined.” – Thomas Winstanley
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Rick Kiley: Hello, everyone. Welcome to our day one recap episode of the MJ Unpacked Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, of The Green Repeal. We’re here. We’re sitting. It’s now five o’clock. The cocktail hour guitarist is here.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: We can start here in the background, and we just finished up a full day of walking the floor, attending some seminars. Some good, some average, but some really good stuff. And I just thought we would do a little recap, Jeffrey, on our first thoughts of the day.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I think are we going back to yesterday or are we really focusing on today?
Rick Kiley: Let’s start at the beginning, man, a very good place to start.
Jeffrey Boedges: I would say that, yeah, we got here yesterday. We went to a reception and the reception was quite nice. Met a lot of good people in the industry. I think very pleased to see, I thought, a very equitable breakdown of both men and women. It wasn’t quite as male-dominated as I’ve seen in the past.
Rick Kiley: The women were all better dressed.
Jeffrey Boedges: Oh, by far. Yeah. It looks like a weird meeting of beer distributors and supermodels here.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I kind of felt like every guy who was here, it was like walking in and the stuff they were in college when they got stoned and every woman was like went and got done it up.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, for sure. And I think that actually speaks to the talent level and what each side is bringing to the equation.
Rick Kiley: This is coming from two guys wearing t-shirts and flannels and jeans guys.
Jeffrey Boedges: Exactly. Well, we’re in college character at the moment. Yeah. So, last night was really short but nice. And then this morning we were very fortunate enough to be invited to a private party.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. So, Andrew Deangelo, who we had had on the show a while ago, his people reached out and he was hosting something actually offsite as our only offsite event, having brunch and just bringing people in his network together. I actually thought that event fostered the most productive and interesting conversations for the day for me. Would you agree?
Jeffrey Boedges: 100% from a conversational standpoint. Just the number of really interesting and really smart people in that one room was pretty phenomenal. Although we did get to go to a lot of different presentations over the day or throughout the day, and I thought the last one was almost as intellectually stimulating as that first one. So, I thought like if I looked at the day as a bookshelf, the bookends were fantastic.
Rick Kiley: It was like a sandwich with really great bread and the meat was maybe just nothing special.
Jeffrey Boedges: Just a little bit weak past due. So, I think that’s probably one of the other things that I think we both felt was that there weren’t a lot of super-keen insights from some of the stuff that we heard. And I don’t want to be critical because these are all people that are our peers, and I think there’s a lot of right now sort of free flow of information but not a lot of hard questions going into the insights behind some of that.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I think what I took away like macro scale on the day is that the industry as a whole is not nearly as advanced as any of the others that we work with, with our core experiential business. So, spirit’s much more mature. Any other sector, CPG, banking like just a lot of sophistication and understanding. But there’s one thing that I can see here is there’s a ton of passion and a ton of progressiveness already built-in. The amount I think of tech advancements that have been made that people were talking about will help them create their business. I think everybody’s getting a real head start if they’re putting any sort of concern out there, be it from the manufacturing side to the dispensary side. The tools that are now like off the shelf that are really impressive are definitely helpful, I think.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Necessity being the mother of invention is very apparent in this industry. You know, it’s just so highly regulated, so highly hamstrung by the hodgepodge of state legal guidelines that these guys have had to be, these companies have had to be super creative in the way that they address those. So, in a weird way, it will eventually put them in a more competitive position than some of these organizations or some of these industries we’re talking about who are more sophisticated. So, you can see the seeds of a future sophistication are being planted now, although they’re not quite there yet, and it’s not just on tech. It’s on their social equity standpoint. So, we just finished a session on social equity, and I think that they were really nailed on the head that there was one gentleman in particular whose name escapes me but he was talking about the fact that you cannot separate social equity and business performance. They are not separate issues. They are one and the same. And I thought that is a much more enlightened approach than a lot of companies who were like, “Hey, we have to have a social equity play because it’s good for business.” It’s not a flag you hang in the window. It’s a part of the DNA of your organization. And organizations that embrace it now will be healthier and more profitable down the line. And I think that is another something that I thought was really more forward-thinking.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. The social equity piece that we just went to was, I thought, super inspirational. I mean, I walked out of there like wanting to clap my hands, jump up and down and say, “Yes. You guys have found the recipe.” Actually, and this is a bold statement that I’m going to say but I feel like the social equity work being done in cannabis right now and some of these community agreements that this group has started to put in place in Chicago, in Illinois like I think is going to help lead not just the cannabis industry but other industries to follow in a real meaningful way like I thought that that was just tremendous. And for me, really the most inspirational thing I left thinking about what we should be doing in our business, what we should be doing with our podcast, and how we should be helping in it just really sparked a lot of desire to make change. And I love when bringing people together does that. I think that’s why we come to have those moments.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I agree. I think I’ll change the topic a little bit now, and I would just go into the experiential side of what we’ve seen here because this is really it’s an experience, right? This is a big event. So, there are some things here that I would probably do a little differently and that I would make recommendations to evolve. But then I think also hearing a lot of the owners of different companies, especially on the retail level, talk about what they’re doing from an experiential standpoint, what they’re doing from an ambassadorial standpoint, what they’re doing from a brand education standpoint. I feel like there is an admitted desire to improve all of those facets of what these guys are doing. So, for me, that was really exciting to hear because I feel like, “Oh man, we are in the right place. We are at the right time.” But it’s almost like the number of challenges are so myriad. I’m almost like I don’t even really know where to begin.
Rick Kiley: And I think a lot of them, though, we’ve been talking to people on the podcast about and I felt like there was sort of nothing that came up that I was like, “Oh, this is really a new challenge.” And I think that I loved hearing some people. There was a great question in one of the sessions we saw where someone say, “If you could do something today from a marketing and advertising standpoint that you can’t do because of regulation or whatever, what would you want to do?” And there’s one woman I think was from Flow and she said, “I wish that I could bring everyone out to Humboldt, Mendocino and see the farms, see how we make it.” And that resonated so much with me and sort of creating that authentic connection to the brand. And I think that’s right and it’s great that people are thinking that way because it’s really going to unlock that education and that experience that comes along with what will unlock I think the loyalty and understanding that everybody needs from the consumer base. So, I thought that was really, really great. But, yeah, I agree with you in general. In terms of the assessment, I feel like we’ve gone and produced a ton of trade shows over the years or parts of trade shows, not all whole trade shows, but booths and there’s room for interactivity. It’s not here at the moment. I think there are compliance issues with people being able to sample their product. You know, I think everybody would love to be able to try things and you can’t like that’s a big problem. And I don’t know how you get around it.
Jeffrey Boedges: Even in the metaphorical stance, I mean, we have made our careers out of being able to take a brand and extrapolate its brand benefit beyond what the actual benefit of the brand is. So, it’s creating metaphors, creating personification of that brand benefit from other experiences and that I kind of feel like it’s probably the most apparent lack here because this is an industry that by design is supposed to be either calming or it’s supposed to be energizing. It’s supposed to be fun and we’re going to the fun thing tonight. But I think there are some of that that could be easily more on the forefront of what I’ve seen from the breakout sessions to what’s on the floor right now. And I think that’s someplace that, again, as marketers, I can look at it and say, “That’s something that’s broken and needs to be fixed.” Or I can look at it the way I think we should be looking at it and was like, “This is an opportunity for us to help this industry in the way that we can, in a way that we uniquely can.” And it’s not just you and me but it’s our experiential industry helping a nascent cannabis industry to become better than it is right now.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I think that’s all right. That’s all true. I do want to know one thing that I felt and I’m just curious if you agree with it. But in a lot of industries, if I go to a trade show or even just talking to folks like competition is thick, like there are companies that want to dominate, pull you away from others. They want to crush the competition. And I do get a sense here of that like everybody’s on the same boat. There’s a lot of talk about the industry lifting itself up, and I feel like a lot more camaraderie and less rivalry. And I’m just curious if that’s a sense that you pick up, too.
Jeffrey Boedges: No, it’s a really good point. It reminds me. So, it’s weird. When you’re in the United States and you’re working in wine and spirits like you and I have been for so long, there is a real dogged competition between any particular brand, especially in the same category. So, if we were looking at cognac, if we’re looking at vodka, if we’re looking at tequila, those brands are fighting tooth and nail for every point they can get and share. But then it’s weird. You go to Europe or you go to Mexico and where these places, where these fabulous brands are made, and that competition is not nearly as apparent. There’s a real cooperation between distilleries, between manufacturers. They look at themselves as the industry, as being the product, not as the brands being the only thing. They take an approach that says that all boats float on the rising tide. That is the same vibe you get here among cannabis of all these folks. They all want the industry to rise and to do well. And I hope that that’s not something that they ever grow out of. I hope that’s just endemic to, look, let’s face it, if you’re sitting around smoking bowls with people, you probably have a slightly more socialistic sort of approach to life in general.
Rick Kiley: I agree with that. And I think someone else was speaking today about how she was talking about, this might have been the same woman from Flow, about how like the dairy industry, for instance, would get together and launch the ad campaign around Got Milk because it benefited all of the dairy farmers across the country. And we might be in a position now because these companies really have a hard time existing with a nationwide footprint like it’s so complex that that’s hard to do. But you have to imagine that there’s a brass ring or mantle or a baton to be picked up by some group that really creates a nationwide kind of cannabis advocacy group that promotes the industry as a whole. That’s an idea that I think I’d like to see come to fruition.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, I think in general, that’s the statement and that’s the idea between the NCIA. It’s just I don’t know that they’ve got it yet.
Rick Kiley: Well, and they can’t put out a Got Milk ad campaign on TV, of course, right? Like so none of that can happen yet. So, it’s a lot harder and I think it’s hard to be seen and there’s a ton of grassroots efforts around that.
Jeffrey Boedges: You’re full of clever wordplay today. I think you said grassroots, resonates. Yeah. There’s been a few that I…
Rick Kiley: Resonate.
Jeffrey Boedges: Is it live resonate?
Rick Kiley: Yeah. So, we actually did. The last thing I’m going to say before we sign off like at this thing we started off this morning at breakfast, there was a gentleman whose first name is my last name, Kiley, and his last name is, of course, Stoner, and he invented what it looks like the most high-tech resin vaporizer machine in the world. And it’s super elegant. He’s got him set in furniture, and it was the first time I saw a piece. I was like, oh, here’s like something that like if someone would display their fine wines or their whiskeys at home, it would be like this is a showpiece. That’s so interesting to see that that’s happening. And I can envision so many uses.
Jeffrey Boedges: This is for those of you audiophiles out there who have a $3,000 turntable to play your like heavyweight vinyl albums on, that’s what this was for people who partake. It was the finest machine playing the finest vinyl, if you will, metaphorically speaking that you can find. And I will say that those who know appreciate the difference.
Rick Kiley: So, just using that music segue, we’re off tonight to go to a benefit concert for The Last Prisoner Project, which of course we always want to shout out about because they do great, great work. And there’s a lot of talk about different organizations. There are a ton of organizations here trying to get people out of prison who have been incarcerated for cannabis use in a nonviolent way, and it’s really great to hear about all of it. The Blues Brothers are performing Jim Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and we’re going to that show. Hopefully, it’ll be a lot of fun. I imagine it will be. And we’ll report back on you on that when we wake up in the morning.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, the reason we’re recording this now is because we don’t know just how lucid we’ll be tomorrow morning, but we have high goals.
Rick Kiley: We might have to edit that last part out. Okay. Anyway, signing off.
Rick Kiley: Good morning from Las Vegas.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Good morning, Vietnam.
Rick Kiley: Morning of day two. Right?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yes. Well, it feels longer.
Rick Kiley: Well, we came in two nights ago. We had an evening and then a whole day yesterday.
Jeffrey Boedges: We had a well-behaved evening on Wednesday night.
Rick Kiley: Sure.
Jeffrey Boedges: And a not so well-behaved evening last night.
Rick Kiley: What do you mean by well-behaved? I think we don’t want to give anybody the wrong impression. Yeah. We participated in a very fun event.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yes, we did. For a good cause.
Rick Kiley: Oh my God. The best cause, The Last Prisoner Project, which we talked about a couple of times, had a fundraiser at the House of Blues featuring the Blues Brothers with some also spectacular fabulous Las Vegas musicians.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. The backing band they have was clearly of the upper crust.
Rick Kiley: Star caliber. Yeah, it was great. I mean, it was a packed house. Everyone paid, donated at least $150 a ticket so we raised a bunch of money for Last Prisoner. I’d say the collective community raised that much and I thought that was really cool. Steve DeAngelo, who was one of the co-founders of The Last Prisoner project, and I think he’s considered basically the godfather of the industry. He reminds me of Willie Nelson but without the guitar and the voice, right? Like, he’s got those long braids.
Jeffrey Boedges: The long gray braids with a cool hat.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. And he’s quite the character. And they brought out two gentlemen who had been serving time for 30 and 26 years, respectively for nonviolent cannabis-related crimes. The crowd could not have been more enthusiastic about seeing them on stage.
Jeffrey Boedges: And they were very emotional, super emotional. And It was definitely touching in one of those things like you think, “Oh, it’s a good thing and they’ll be happy.” But I mean, these guys have been out of prison now for a little while and it’s still so raw and I guess, yeah, if you flush 26 and 30 years of your life down the toilet.
Rick Kiley: No. It’s ridiculous. And the conversations that have been happening around social equity, I mean, I really get the sense that this industry, nascent as it is, is seemingly better positioned to help change some of the social inequities more so than any of the established businesses that are out there right now.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s certainly on the forefront of everyone’s agenda here. There has not been one breakout where it hasn’t been mentioned. I mean, it’s on everybody’s minds.
Rick Kiley: But also connected to the way of like commerce. Like, I get the sense that if you are going to try to build a cannabis brand and you are not going to involve members of the legacy market, potentially people who have been incarcerated but definitely hiring employees who are from neighborhoods that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs that your brand won’t succeed. And I think the industry is like, forgive the pun, but weeding out I think those who can’t sort of tell that authentic story and really be super proactive with their work in this space.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. There was the CBA, which is the agreement that was crafted by some of the guys we saw yesterday. And it’s an agreement that says that you will endeavor to undertake a number of activities specifically aimed at somewhat curing the injustices formerly visited on these groups. It’s really an impressive thing. And I think you’re right. I think people who are companies that have that endorsement or have a similar endorsement are going to be the places where people want to go. And I think there will be a strong movement at some point to avoid those shops and brands that don’t embrace it on some level. I don’t know that everybody is going to be. The numbers in the agenda they have are very aggressive on the CBA but I think, in general, you’re going to see some approximation of that. And I think that’s important and I think people will, again, I think you’re right, I think people are going to choose the brands that support those initiatives.
Rick Kiley: I mean, there were things on that agreement that I don’t think I’ve seen any company in America put out. There are two things that jumped out at me. It was like 75% of the employees hired are going to be people from impacted neighborhoods. The minimum pay for anyone working there is $20 an hour and we have people fighting just to get $15 an hour in certain states right now. And this, by the way, in an industry where you have no tax write-offs like you’re being taxed for every dollar that you spend, too. So, these are real economic decisions. But I do think that it’s going to separate out the authentic brands that are making a difference versus the MeToo brands that are just paying lip service. And eventually, while I think there’s a ton of product differentiation right now, eventually like potentially wine and even tobacco and some of these, there’s a potential for commoditization here. And when you’re going to the dispensaries, you have a choice of do I want this box of gummies A or this box of gummies B and…
Jeffrey Boedges: One of them has the CBA endorsement sticker on.
Rick Kiley: Exactly. What are you going to choose? What are you going to choose? And I think that that’s great. And so, funny, when I started talking about the concert and we keep coming back to this thing and I think that that work is just so important. But the concert was just, I mean, it was a fun party for everybody that was there to celebrate. But I was surprised like sometimes you go to these things that are fundraisers and people they have to take care of business. Someone always makes a speech, someone that always tries to raise more money. It’s something like that. People kind of tune out. They’re like, “Just get to the main event. Play the old stuff already.” That kind of thing happens but I didn’t get the sense at all.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, they did have that impromptu auction, which I think some people were bidding on unknowingly because the people they pulled up on stage looked confused as to why they were there.
Rick Kiley: Dan Aykroyd puts on his auctioneer’s voice and I didn’t even know what they were auctioning, but they were like, “I had $10, $50, $100, $200.” We got to $12,000, and two people bid $12,000, I guess, and the prize was getting to be up on stage and sing Soul Man as the finale which, you know.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. It was interesting.
Rick Kiley: I guess it’s a memory to last a lifetime, right?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, well, for sure.
Rick Kiley: “I was on stage singing…”
Jeffrey Boedges: “Remember that time you accidentally bid $12,000 and you had to pay it?” Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Maybe they’re paying it in weed. I have no idea.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s evidently how the cabs are getting paid these days in Las Vegas.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. There is a weed currency market.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s probably a cool idea. I mean, I could go with that.
Rick Kiley: Weed coin? Should we issue our own coin?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Nonfungible buds.
Rick Kiley: That’s all right. We’ve already missed the boat on that. There’s nonfungible weed all over the place. It seems pretty strange.
Jeffrey Boedges: NFW. Yeah. NFW sounds cool.
Rick Kiley: NFW?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Nonfungible weed.
Rick Kiley: All right. We patent that trademark. Trademark Green Appeal 2021.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. But the show was great overall. I mean Akroyd is pushing 70 so we found out last night and I guess Jim Belushi…
Rick Kiley: Still could move and sing.
Jeffrey Boedges: Oh yeah, man. He could still bend.
Rick Kiley: He was playing the harmonica.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yep. Played that mouth harp quite well. They had a couple of other guys that were doing the same, so there was plenty of wall of sound last night. But overall, I would say the show was definitely so far pretty much the highlight of the week as far as like entertainment value goes.
Rick Kiley: Sure. Yeah. And so, today we’re going to do a few interviews. One thing I’ve learned about this conference is logistics. Logistics management is key and flexibility. We’re getting a lot of meetings moved around. A lot of shifting. So, we’re trying to go with the flow
Jeffrey Boedges: And just about half of the vendors here, half of the exhibitors here are the best at what they do. They manage logistics. It’s a big logistical show.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I think right now, there’s no shortage of logistics managers and software programs to help you run your business. You could definitely find a vendor for that and a ton of interesting-looking products and brands, which again, no one can sample but a lot of interesting innovations. We’re going to be talking to somebody that I think has the most interesting innovation I’ve seen. I don’t want to give it away today.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s going to be hard to beat the $3,000 vapo that we saw yesterday.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. No, I mean, that is a lovely innovation in a different way. But I think we’re going to be interviewing two women who started a company, Hello Again, and you’ll hear what they’ve come up with and who their target market is, and it’s going to be quite fun.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yes.
Rick Kiley: We’re just going to leave it there.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yes, I’m going to be an adult now and not say anything.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Well, so we’ll be doing that and we have two other individuals we’re going to talk to as well. And we’re looking forward to doing this and we’re enjoying the show and thanks for listening.
Rick Kiley: All right. Hello, everyone. Welcome to another special episode of The Green Repeal.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. A very special episode, especially those after-school things.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Blossom’s not here but we are. We are here with Thomas Winstanley, who is the VP of Marketing at Theory Wellness, which is a vertically integrated multistate cannabis brand leading legalization across the East Coast. He’s got a decade of strategic marketing and advertising experience across a whole extensive portfolio of brands and industries. So, he’s worked in pharmaceutical with Pfizer, you can correct me if I’m wrong in any of this, consumer packaged goods, Tampax, some apparel, Under Armour, and adult beverages, which I think we’re going to talk about a lot. We’ve all worked on the Remy Cointreau portfolio. That’s a nice commission to be made there.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. He should hang out for this for the last guest, too, with the Tampax experience there.
Rick Kiley: Oh, we’ll see. That’s our next guest. We’ll talk about that in a second. But at Theory, Thomas oversees all marketing and branding, including digital, social, package design, PR, media buying, customer service. I’m sorry your team is not larger. Sounds like you’re a busy, busy man. Welcome here to The Green Repeal.
Thomas Winstanley: Awesome. Thanks for having me.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, our pleasure. So, we’ve crossed paths.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. We’ve figured it out.
Thomas Winstanley: Amazing.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. And your memory is fantastic, though, because you’re like, “Yeah, I’ve worked with you guys,” and we’re like, “Oh, cool…”
Rick Kiley: “Where?”
Jeffrey Boedges: No. I think our question was, “Did we do okay?”
Thomas Winstanley: You guys actually taught me a lot about – I’m actually drawing from the Remy Martin playbook now for B2B strategy. I’m going back through all of the old work.
Rick Kiley: Oh, that’s so nice. That’s nice to hear. So, it’s funny because I think one of the things we wanted to talk about and it’s like a constant threat through our podcast is we come at this industry from an alcohol beverage view. And we’re often talking about the similarities and differences between the industry. So, we can jump right in and talk about that because I think that’s a meaty subject. And I think because you’ve been working I think on both sides, I’m curious like what is…
Jeffrey Boedges: All sides, I think. I mean you got CPG, pharma, booze, and now weed.
Thomas Winstanley: The trifecta is complete.
Rick Kiley: The trifecta is complete. But in terms of alcoholic beverage because we talk about that a lot, what would you say is the thing that’s most similar and least similar? Like, I think we got to like set the guardrails on the conversation.
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah. I mean, I think probably what I would say is the most similar to some extent is the challenges of 21 plus. I mean, 21 plus represents a litany of potholes in the road in terms of your marketing, your communications, your audience reach. And it adds a certain level of gravitas and responsibility where you don’t want to market to anyone who’s not 21 and older. You know, it’s a pervasive interest, but…
Jeffrey Boedges: I could tell by all the THC lollipops that are available here that show that this…
Rick Kiley: The DISCUS for cannabis doesn’t exist yet.
Jeffrey Boedges: It doesn’t. Yeah.
Thomas Winstanley: Sometimes you got to shake your head at some of those products that you see. I think the difference is probably just accessibility at this point. So, you guys can throw parties. You know, I remember going to the Empire Hotel with Charlamagne tha God for Remy Martin party. And you know, that was awesome because you could go, you could enjoy the product, you could hang out, and you could create a real atmosphere of consumption. You don’t have that in cannabis. We’re not there yet. So, I think that to me, becomes the biggest differential between the two.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, we got to a pretty big celebrity party last night.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, but it wasn’t branded by a cannabis brand.
Thomas Winstanley: That’s true. You’re probably gifted the cannabis. Those probably wasn’t free or something.
Jeffrey Boedges: We’ve been gifted a couple of times.
Rick Kiley: But not last night.
Jeffrey Boedges: No.
Rick Kiley: No. Last night was not a gift. Yeah. Okay, cool. And then how about what’s the thing that’s like least similar in your view?
Thomas Winstanley: I think the regulations are overwhelming at times to the extent that they never were with alcohol. I actually laugh because I think actually a lot about my days in New York, where I was working in pharma, and where cannabis is today is very similar to 2011 pharma industry when I was working in it when there’s no digital advertising at that time. You had to do all traditional channels and really you’re operating in such a restrictive box that makes it so different from alcohol in a lot of ways because it’s almost treated just so severely that it’s really hard with a product that feels like you want to have fun and be exciting but it’s like, yeah, you have too many guardrails on this that you can’t be fun and exciting.
Rick Kiley: You can’t be fun. Yeah.
Thomas Winstanley: And that it still hurts.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s better than Canada. I mean, Canada, you kidding me? They have like a brand image I don’t think. I mean, it’s like crazy.
Rick Kiley: But at least in pharma here, you can run an ad of like two people slow dancing like, “Are you feeling out of it? Try Exapicataton” and like all the list, all the things that you can do that. You can’t do that in cannabis.
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah. I mean, you can to an extent but even still like nothing is sacred. We were running billboards in Connecticut right now for our Massachusetts operations and, ironically enough, I got a news alert last night that those billboards are being threatened by the State of Connecticut because they don’t want billboards. They don’t think they should be advertising on billboards for cannabis. And so, nothing is sacred. And so, that challenge is kind of Sisyphean in a lot of ways. You’re just trying to figure out how do you get a brand forward.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I mean, I guess it’s probably different interpretations in every single state.
Thomas Winstanley: Totally.
Rick Kiley: And there’s no clear set of ground rules that are universally accepted. I think, you know, I said DISCUS, which is this self-governing organization in alcohol that doesn’t exist in cannabis.
Jeffrey Boedges: Distilled Spirits Council, and I don’t know that there is a Grown Weed Council yet.
Rick Kiley: I think there’s a need for it, though.
Jeffrey Boedges: For sure. I think there’s a lot of things that the industry is too nascent to have embraced yet. But I mean, clearly, like you said, even just the legal situation is so fluid. I mean, from state-to-state but also within the states themselves. It’s very difficult to figure it out. It’s the first I’m hearing about the out-of-home. We actually heard somebody kind of slandering out-of-home yesterday anyway. It’s not a good use of money.
Thomas Winstanley: I mean, are you going to drive a direct ROI on a billboard? No.
Jeffrey Boedges: I said, “Not without an arrow pointing down at your shop.”
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah. I mean, even that is like somewhat passive, too. I think a lot of it just comes back to federal legalization. Because there is no stickler. And so, are we breaking Connecticut rules or are you breaking Massachusetts laws? The boards are 85% of age 21. We have disclaimers from both states on it but if you’re doing something in one state, can you get penalized in the other existing state? This is where things really start to get messy when you start to look at all of the interstate marketing that is starting to happen. It’s challenging.
Jeffrey Boedges: Are the regulations clear on what you can and cannot say on out-of-home? Because I would think sometimes like, I mean, I’ve seen some of the more clever advertisements I’ve ever seen, you have no idea what they’re actually advertising. And that you’ll be like, “What the heck is that?” And so, there’s a part of you that wants to has to close the loop and so you’re ready to scan the QR code or to go to a website to find out.
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah. You know, it’s funny. The unbranded campaigns, we think about those a lot but it’s really, really difficult. I mean, the ways that regulations are starting to shape out, it is really hard to interpret some of these rules. And so, when in doubt, like from my pharma days, I’m like I’ll go to my compliance officer and be like, “Hey, can I do this like really strange thing?” He’s like, “No.”
Rick Kiley: The answer is usually no.
Jeffrey Boedges: We’re putting advertisements on the side of cats.
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah. Actually, that’s a good one.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, that’s a good idea.
Thomas Winstanley: Well, catvertising.
Rick Kiley: Sweet. You should trademark that too.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. That’s a t-shirt.
Thomas Winstanley: And a new business opportunity.
Rick Kiley: Well, you’re here. We haven’t even talked about your business. So, Theory Wellness, fill us in. What’s Theory’s role in the whole cannabis ecosystem?
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah. That’s a great question. I don’t know that I’m the right person to answer that aside from we’re still learning. I think we’re trying to figure out exactly where does Theory land within the emerging marketplace. And so, today we have six retail stores. We’re vertically integrated in Mass and Maine. We’re one of the few MSOs that’s privately owned and independently owned and operated And so, that’s really it’s interesting for us because we’re right in the middle of the new wing in the East Coast legalization movement. We got Connecticut. We got New Jersey. We got New York. And I think Theory’s role in kind of how those markets start to shape up is actively being discussed right now and defined. I think we’re still so early on with the legalization process that there are going to be a lot of learnings in these states. The place that there’s no question in our end that Theory is going to be involved to some extent but how that manifests could be entirely different. And I think that’s something that we’re really, really interested to see but ultimately, we want to be a big brand. I mean, we want to be national. We want to maintain kind of this hungry startup mentality that really has gotten us to where we are today.
And that’s kind of the special sauce that I think we’ve had in the industry where right place, right time, opening our first rec store, the closest one to New York for a long time. And that really set us into a place where we capitalize on a lot of traffic. We capitalize on a lot of opportunity. We started to self-fund in our expansions and so we didn’t anticipate the growth that we saw in the initial first year or two. And so, now we’re at this inflection point of we’re seeing all different roads being taken right now in cannabis legalization. We’re seeing a lot of opportunities for ourselves but we still just want to make sure that whatever we do moving forward is going to be incumbent of the brand, the people we work with, the consumers we share. And ultimately, I think a lot of it comes down to some of the regulations on how this all shakes out. It’s a race.
Rick Kiley: Now, wellness is in your name. So, I mean, and if I hadn’t known you were in some Middle East states, I would say you’re maybe a more medically-focused brand. Is your positioning, I guess, more medicinal and more formal-like than it is fun and to really get ripped? Or is there room for both? Like, how are you approaching how you want people to view your brand, let’s say?
Thomas Winstanley: That’s a great question. So, I think by sheer virtue of the legalization in Massachusetts, we started med. Medical was the opening salvo in the legalization of Mass. And so, we started there, but obviously adding ReCon changed things for us. We have some medical licenses out in other states, too. And so, we’re kind of in the middle, but I think part of it, I don’t really compartmentalize, or we have med company or rec company, I mean, we’re a cannabis company. And at the end of the day, like we believe that cannabis access should be for all. If you’re dealing with some sleep issues or anxiety, and medical cannabis helps you there, like, that’s great, but also, if you like those products, too, to get baked and watch a movie with your wife, like you should be able to do that too.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Thomas Winstanley: And so, I mean, we take care to cater to the audiences that are coming in. If you are a med patient, we give you top-notch service. We give you every access to, the top minds help find the right products for you. And so, it always is a little bit of duality, but one of the great things that allows us to do that by comparison to most other kind of industries is that when you go into a cannabis dispensary, you don’t know, if you had to kind of take a blindfold test and walk into a dispensary, right out of the gate, you may not know if it’s med or rec, or both. And I love that.
And I think actively, we are having discussions about what does the future of a retail experience look like because kind of living in Brooklyn, in Bushwick in 2010, everything was like steel and beams and really rustic. And every bar now kind of has that look and feel, and now, you see cannabis dispensaries very much a living in that natural, earthy space. And now, we look at retail, too, is like, what is the evolution of that? What is it really sort of look like?
Jeffrey Boedges: I think the amplification is, like, to call it also happened that were huge where everything started to look clean and white.
Thomas Winstanley: White and clean, yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Exactly. From clothing stores.
Thomas Winstanley: In our stores. I mean, in our stores are just that. And part of it was the insight was we want to change from black market and make it as white as possible. And like we’re part retail, part wine shop, part apothecary, part pharmacy, or kind of this amalgam that has yet to be defined.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, it is again, fluid. It’s just evolving. I think we will see more specificity as the types of accounts sort of start to define themselves and the brand starting to find themselves typically.
Rick Kiley: And I think on-premise consumption, I think it’s huge, and it will just like completely catapult this into real true lifestyle brand, like a category for lifestyle brands. It’s missing when you feel like, even if as open as we are here, it still feels a little bit on the DL all the time, and I think on-premise piece. Did you have plans around that at all?
Thomas Winstanley: So, not at this point. I mean, we can’t do everything. Although we want to, there are certain things. And honestly, a lot of those licenses are going to equity applicants, which is kind of awesome too.
Jeffrey Boedges: Which is spectacular, yeah.
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah, and I think that’s really, really great. I mean, do we have, like no pun intended, pipe dreams of buying bowling alleys and turning them into consumption lounges? Absolutely, but is it going to be part of our roadmap? Probably not, but we’ll have some affiliation, obviously, just by sheer virtue.
Rick Kiley: So, what you’re saying is if I have a bowling alley for sale?
Jeffrey Boedges: Alright. Bowling alley, how about one of those old theaters? It’s only got two things.
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah, two screens.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: And you’re just showing kung fu 24/7.
Thomas Winstanley: I love that too.
Jeffrey Boedges: Kung fu films and then, like, anything that is just slightly outer spacey.
Thomas Winstanley: 2001 Space Odyssey.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Or the bad outer space stuff.
Jeffrey Boedges: Plenty of mine from outer space.
Rick Kiley: Well, cool. Look, this is a shorter than usual interview.
Thomas Winstanley: Sure.
Rick Kiley: And I think I’d love to talk to you some more. And actually, what I’d love to do, I’d love to like, come to you. I’d love to like, go on site and see some of these things. And we just haven’t done that very much.
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: COVID has locked us down, but I think you’re close enough to New York where you can pop up and see something.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, we’d love to have you guys up here for sure.
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, I go up to Maine every year, and I keep trying to find a rec dispensary there.
Rick Kiley: It’s tough.
Jeffrey Boedges: It never happens.
Thomas Winstanley: Up in Maine?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, it’s kind of like…
Thomas Winstanley: Where do you go?
Jeffrey Boedges: We go to Boothbay every year and…
Thomas Winstanley: Got it.
Jeffrey Boedges: So yeah, and I’ve been looking to see a moose in the wild for my entire life. I’m going to be…
Rick Kiley: So, if you can help me. Yeah, he’s 23.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, I’ve been looking for a moose and I’ve been looking for rec weed all in Maine.
Thomas Winstanley: Swing by our South Portland store.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, yeah. So, I need to go way north, I guess to find both.
Thomas Winstanley: Bangor.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, Bangor.
Thomas Winstanley: We have a Bangor store.
Jeffrey Boedges: Alright.
Rick Kiley: Cool. So, look, I just want to ask one question before we close out, and it’s one that I’m stealing from a panel that I attended yesterday because you’re a marketer in this industry. If you had one thing that you could use in your quiver here to help market your brand, but you can’t because of industry regulations, like what’s the wish that it’s like this is the thing, if I had this would really, really help?
Jeffrey Boedges: And don’t say cartvertising.
Thomas Winstanley: We already got that one. It’s so right out of my mouth, damn. Yeah, that’s a really hard question. I think that technology and software systems aren’t quite to where they need to be in this industry.
Rick Kiley: Okay.
Thomas Winstanley: And I’m talking about e-commerce, I’m talking about delivery systems, I’m talking about kind of all of your traditional development for really, e-commerce for folks’ websites. Don’t get me wrong, like the guys at Dutchie and I Heart Jane, which are two of the largest, many brands, they’re getting really far out, but we’re kind of always thinking one step ahead of where the technology is from a functional perspective. And that’s tough. We’re building towards eventualities that we’re placing bets on that we know we’re going to come better just available in traditional models for retail and e-commerce.
Jeffrey Boedges: Social media, stuff like that.
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah, I mean, in social, it’s like a good one, too, where it’s like, damn, I wish our Instagram posts have like beautiful buds and colors didn’t get flagged.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, someone yesterday just said, I wish I could put my prices on Instagram.
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah, I think that’s a great one too.
Rick Kiley: It’s so funny, but…
Jeffrey Boedges: You can put up anything you want to make up about anything in the world. That’s okay, but don’t put…
Rick Kiley: We’re getting into a different subject, a different podcast.
Jeffrey Boedges: I just find it hypocritical.
Thomas Winstanley: I agree with you on that, for sure.
Rick Kiley: Well, Thomas, thank you for– that was the gong.
Jeffrey Boedges: There’s the gong.
Rick Kiley: I guess that means it’s time.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yep, time’s up.
Rick Kiley: That was karmic. It was really good to talk to you. I think we’d love to come see you in person and talk again and…
Thomas Winstanley: Totally.
Rick Kiley: Thanks so much for stopping by.
Thomas Winstanley: Yeah, appreciate it. Thanks, guys.
Jeffrey Boedges: Thanks, man.