Alexis Mora  0:00
The complexity changes a little bit. You know, we have retail footprints, we also have our own farm. We’ve done self distribution. But key if it’s a proper brand, it should have legs across the state and not just at our stores. That’s a completely different side of the business getting ready to kind of get your product or CPG product distributed out to other retail locations. Were running into the same issues I was just mentioning, which is I don’t own those retail stores. How do I support this product in a way that’s actually going to move the product and the brand within those other locations. So that’s another kind of side of the business as well that if you are setting yourself up and gearing that way, you really need to wear several different hats.

Announcer  0:59
You’re listening to two B one B podcast for cannabis marketers, where your host Shayda Torabi and her guests are trailblazing the path to marketing, educating and professionalizing cannabis light one up and listen up. Here’s your host Shayda Torabi.

Shayda Torabi  1:17
Hey y’all. Welcome back to the podcast. I’m your host Shayda Torabi, Today is April 26 2021. It is a Monday and I want to start the episode by highlighting a very, very special event that I’m participating in that is taking place today until Thursday, April 29. The event is called luck summit planting the seed and it is put on by none other than the Willie Nelson. Yes, you heard me correct. Mr. Willie Nelson is putting on a cannabis summit. It’s going to be virtual this year. It is the inaugural event by him and his team. And it’s kicking off today. And I just couldn’t be more thrilled to be a participant of it. I am going to be moderating three panels. The first one is going to be all about cannabinoids so diving into CBD versus THC and touching on CBN CBG Delta 10 an array of other cannabinoids. The next panel is going to be all about terpenes. So really kind of breaking down into cod versus sativa which is so limiting and really identifying and articulating the true effects of the cannabis plant. And the last panel will be on hemp 50,000 uses from textile and fabric to animal feed and building materials. There’s so much more to be learned and implemented about the hemp plant. And so we dive into that in that final panel and these events are taking place throughout the week. Kicking off today going until Thursday and you can find out more information at Lux Tickets start at $10. Again, the event is virtual and all the proceeds are benefiting headcounts cannabis voter project. So please take some time look into that. But now shifting gears we are going to touch on today’s episode, I am joined by the head of marketing of harbourside group. Her name is Alexis Mora. And what makes harbourside group really special is they were one of the first operating dispensaries in the state of California. And since then, they have grown to be a leader in cannabis in California and beyond, and have evolved their business model to be vertically integrated. Now I know we talk a lot about vertical integration on this podcast. But today’s episode will really put a focus on what it’s like to be a vertically integrated business and how do you vertically integrate the marketing efforts as such, and so without further ado, we’re gonna let Alexis take it away and let’s welcome her to the episode. My name is Alexis Mora

Alexis Mora  4:21
and I’m the Head of Marketing at harbourside. harborside is actually a vertically integrated company. So we do have retail locations across California,

including the first drive thru dispensary in Southern California, which is super exciting for us. But we were established back in 2006. So we’re one of the oldest dispensaries in California, which has really been a treat, to kind of see how the market has changed over time. When we were established, we were actually established as harborside Health Center, really focusing in wellness and at that time, the focus is really bring medicine to the people, right. We really started to try to serve as our local community To fight that negative stigma of cannabis help legalization throughout California. So we were actually the first dispensary to sell the first legal gram of weed, which was really exciting. And so many things have kind of changed since then, I mentioned we are vertically integrated. So we do actually have harbourside farms in Salinas, California as of 2016, and produce our own in house products, which are harborside, farms and key. So we do a little bit of everything here. But today is really kind of focused, I think, for me on how to relate in terms of regional marketing, how to kind of operate as a CPG product and kind of work within a vertical integration within California. We also have another license in Oregon, by way of Turpin station as well. So we are a multi state operator. And yeah, it’s been an incredible ride. Thus far, I’ve been with harbor side since January of 2020, which, you know, was a great time to start a new job.

But you know, prior to that I had been in legal cannabis since 2015. So really looking at the transition of medical cannabis through adult use, and what that looks like today, lots of changes, lots of volatility within the industry, as I’m sure a lot of folks in cannabis can attest to, you have to love to creatively problem solve all the time. That’s literally what you’re doing in this kind of startup industry in the startup environment. And so it’s been very fun. And you know, I can say I’ve met incredible people in the industry thus far, I probably will continue on in cannabis marketing. But prior to that, you know, my, my kind of entry into marketing was really working in the agency world. My first agency gig that I did was at the small agency called good Solutions Group in Pasadena 316 marketing agency, really focusing on active lifestyle, natural products, and kind of community oriented products and brands. And so that’s kind of where I found my niche, you know, story of how I got into it was literally, we had an ex Coca Cola executive who was retired. And, you know, since 2015, he’s like, hey, I’ve got a couple of million that I want to invest. I have a, you know, partner that has their own grow in California. And I’m super interested in learning more about the space. And so you know, my agency took it upon ourselves, we kind of looked into it, it was still in the really early stages. At that time in California. Like brands weren’t really as a thing. You had maybe a handful of quote unquote brands like Kiva, Kiva is an Ojai, California brand. Blue farms, who I eventually became the director of marketing for they were one of the earlier brands. And at that time, the bar was and people weren’t really thinking about cannabis in that way. It was like, hey, these medical dispensaries are open. You can get your weed in these giant jars, you’re going to come in, you’re going to pick out your nug you’re gonna look at it under a microscope. And and that was about it. And there’s so much power in the bud tenders who were undertrained, really not kind of oriented and more of like an educational space unless it was their prerogative unless they were super passionate about the plan. And they had personal experiences that they were willing to share with, at that time, patience. And so when I kind of came into the space, I saw a huge opportunity for cannabis marketing, cannabis branding, and the growth of the industry. You know, at the time I was working with, you know, Nestle Red Bull, you know, Tommy Bahama, these kind of really big companies. And what I found was, oh my gosh, there’s so many similarities in let’s say, even the natural product space, I mean, even that alone, active lifestyle and wellness translates so well into cannabis. Then I’m like, if we were to take this information and apply it to cannabis, this really could become something and lo and behold, you know, however many years later it is and is continuing to evolve at a rapid pace. Nearly every cannabis marketer or person I’ve talked to you will tell you a year and cannabis feels like dog years. You know, I mentioned earlier we have to love creative problem solving. It’s not meant for the faint of heart. Like you have to really love what you do and mind you working in cannabis. Not a bad gig at all. Like it is it is fun. It is exciting. It’s really because you’re you’re at the forefront of something really amazing. And so, I think kind of finding myself where I am at heart side, which is such a powerful platform, you know, is considered an industry leader just because we’ve been we’ve been around the block, we’ve done a lot of things before, we’ve tried a lot of different things we’ve learned and kind of grown, as you know, over time, and really kind of taken this like group of like rowdy rebels, who are really just trying to bring medicine to the people, and figuring out how to develop a sustainable business around that, while still keeping the core components at heart. For me as a marketer, and particularly for harbor side, I feel very protective of the brand. There’s like, so many different things coming to the market now where it is ultra competitive. And you see these brands kind of develop over time. I think like, you know, when I came into the space, it was like, there aren’t really any brands. And were kind of selling quote unquote products to the same type of consumer which you would consider you know, your your quote, unquote, stoners. I hated that narrative when I came in, because I didn’t identify with that stoner mentality. I’m like, I know so many people, who are some of the hardest working people incredibly knowledgeable, incredibly talented, that are in this space working in the space and smoke weed. So I think a huge part of it too. And my interest in coming to the table, but so many other people too, is how do you normalize something that should be as acceptable, socially acceptable as a glass of wine? And so it really kind of started from like me saying, this narrative is wrong. This perspective, we have a perception we have about what a cannabis consumer is, what a dispensary is, what a cannabis product is, and what it will do for you, is too limited. And so how can we expand that? And so just over time, I mean, you’ve seen all of these different things, you’ve seen a lot of calls to action, and bringing on what we would call let’s say, like a can a can a curious person, or you know, a new candidate, customer, if you will. But almost the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, where you can’t alienate the people that got you where you are today. And so it’s been super interesting watching the industry evolve, watching how kind of different brands have approached the space. You know, you look at, let’s say, harbourside, where, you know, for me, I always want to be protective of our mission. And I think that was something that really differentiated us from the beginning, beginning, which was really this authenticity to help people. There is a way to do this, you know, we in my last role in life, non cannabis, right, it was always like the big three of like having the customer win, having the community win and having your organization when there is a way to do all three. Now, not every brand will go that direction. For me, it was always really important to find something that I’m personally really passionate about really invested in. And there, it’s totally doable with the platform we have at harbourside to do those things. And so you know, as we’ve kind of, you know, we say like, out of the shadows into the lights, right, let’s normalize it, let’s see it, let’s talk about it. Let’s have these kinds of conversations. But also let’s be clear that there are different reasons why people are drawn to cannabis you can you can be a brand that’s really trying to be that entry point. dosis as an example, right there a good example of positioning to a new consumer, very simple effect based approach. You see this, you know, again, cannabis isn’t reinventing the wheel, you see these things in so many other industries. So sometimes I joke with these different brands like oh, who’s in the natural product space, like who, who worked with this because you literally can translate these trends over into cannabis but it’s completely something new hasn’t been done before in this space. So you can take that approach of Hey here, you know, new cannabis consumers. This is you know, potentially what you’re looking for in the entry point of your cannabis journey. But then how as a brand as a dispensary as a cultivator, are you kind of nurturing that relationship and and nurturing that kind of consumer lifetime value over time. And so we’ve taken a very kind of pointed approach of really being like your local neighborhood dispensary. It is a place where you can come in, you can ask your questions that we’re all dying to know. And it’s also totally okay to not know everything because new information is coming out as a system we have not been set up to to have those answers, right. If we can’t test cannabis, we can’t test we’d do actual research on the effects of medical benefits and things like that there are limitations to what we can say, that is a challenge 100% some of the best things about this plant, right, like my personal anecdote outside of the business side of things like my partner at the time had Tourette syndrome. And so this was like back in college, before I was even thinking about getting into the industry. And I was just kind of like, casually smoking, and it was, you know, whatever. And then my partner was like, Hey, you I want to tell you about, I’m using cannabis medicinally, I do use it. And mind you, again, nothing wrong with using it recreationally at all, but I use it medicinally I have these motor tics. There, it is the only thing that’s going to help me not tic in public when I’m stressed when I feel triggered when I’m dealing with stuff. And that honestly changed my world and my perspective about what I thought about this plan. And so you kind of see these people using these things in different use cases. And it’s really a phenomenal thing to kind of see. And so, you know, even as somebody that has been in the space for a very long time, I still come to the table, and I’m like, what’s that? what’s what’s new there? as a marketer, you should look at this, you know, it’s a two fold thing. And it’s perspective, perspective is very important. Are you looking at it as a problem are you looking at as an opportunity, if you’re looking at it as an opportunity, you’re probably in the right place. If you’re not, you might not be truth, you know, truthfully, because it takes stamina to kind of consistently be on the ball consistently be creating. But these opportunities are your kind of options for positioning your narrative, your brand. Like I think at its core, the I would describe myself as like a brand marketer, like I love building strong brands, because it isn’t an ultra competitive space, talking about an ultra competitive market in California, in particular, where you see brands pop up and disappear. You know, the kind of running joke would almost be like you have these, like b2b shows, right? You’d see trade shows, you’d see all these people, hey, you know, what’s up, what’s up, there is all industry, sometimes these brands, you would go to one show and say, Okay, I’ll see you next year. And then the next year, those brands are gone. And those people are still in the industry just in other different places.

And so that kind of volatility, forces you to be very pointed about your brand, your positioning your customer, the kind of trick I find is really dialing back a little bit and figuring out what is a true assumption versus what is happening. That is a thing in cannabis where because it is a new industry. It’s not like in my previous life, where I’d be like, oh, oh, I’m gonna launch my millions energy drink. Let me just look at Let me see what Red Bulls do it really quick, let me look at monster, let me see kind of what they’re doing, who they’re addressing all that kind of stuff. Like it hasn’t been done before. So there’s a little bit of forgiveness that you have to have when you’re kind of building that and tests like testing and learning and testing. And learning is like a constant thing that you’re always doing. new brands are coming into the market, new things are coming to the market, new regs are coming into the market. So that’s always been like an interesting thing that I think if you’re kind of drilling down, following your gut, really identifying what that is, you’ll have a path forward in terms of what you think your inputs and outputs can be. And I say input and output because I find that marketing, right? We talked about strategies or kind of takes in other industries applying that into cannabis. A lot of the formulas if you’re a marketer are the kind of the same, right? Like your channels are the same. You got your out of home, you’ve got your digital, you’ve got this, you’ve got that, then you layer in your complexities of reg like regulations. But if you understand what your North Star is, and how you’re going to track those things, that’s almost The trick is making sure that like because you don’t have outside information to give you your best guess moving forward. A, do your due diligence, do your research, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t there are resources available, they are limited comparatively to other industries. But you should have a good gut sense on Okay, based off all of this given the data. This is what we think we can expect with this. And then you kind of tweak and refine as you go through. So that in an ultra competitive space I think is super, super important from a brand positioning perspective. Which you know, kind of going back to my original thing, it’s like, you know, harborside as a wellness center as a place Like I think of it almost if I’m gonna compare it to like grocery it’s like you’re kind of your Trader Joe’s you know i mean like we’re not your Walmart’s like we’re not like mass market like anybody cheapest everything and here you go and there you are. We’re also not like you’re kind of like nice little apothecary you know where you have like your, your curated wax candles and you know it, which is like no shade on that right like totally I love a good apothecary like that’s, that’s totally awesome. But it’s kind of your middle ground where it like first and foremost is a safe space. It is a safe space, we are your homeys right like think think of like when you got into cannabis for the first time you tried weed like you’re not rolling into your local dispensary. Like you’re trying it in a safe space with friends that you trust. And so I think at its core, like, you know, if you’re going to ask me what harbor sighs positioning is right, it is its quality, its choice, it’s trust, were one of the oldest companies in the day, we’ve seen a lot of stuff, we are very protective of what comes into our doors, because we want to make sure that we’re servicing our core community, which, you know, I talked about, you know, your stuff, know, your positioning, know, your brand, know, your consumer, all that kind of stuff, harbor sides, community and consumer very different from a lot from what you’re seeing across the board. In most states, we find ourselves in a really unique position where we service like, predominantly across the board, it’s men, and that’s just in cannabis period. Right. So that’s something as a female marketer, I would love to see more women coming into into the space. But there are barriers of entry for for those women. But there are certainly, you know, things that we can do to kind of curate to our demographic, which is like slightly older we see. And I think that has to do with, again, our holistic routes, if we’re saying, Hey, you know, you don’t want to be on all these pain meds, and you don’t want to have to deal with the side effects. And you don’t want to have to deal with all that. This is your alternative. This is a place where at minimum, I’m never gonna force anybody to do anything, I don’t believe in that, like, I don’t think that it serves the brand well to try to like trick people into buying their products, you have to say, Hey, this is my value proposition for you. And here are your options, you can trust us, we will take care of you. And so we base our recommendations off of that we build curations off of that. So you know, talking about I guess, like retail marketing, specifically in harbor side, that’s one of the ways that we meet our customers needs, which is coming out with curated selections for those things. If we’re running a campaign, let’s say like asleep temper, which you know, sleep is one of the biggest reasons why people are drawn to cannabis and mind you right? These are self reported surveys. So it’s also like, Oh, yeah, that’s why I smoke weed. To sleep. Right? Like, so part of

Shayda Torabi  23:06
it again. ailable answer like, yes. Sleep. That’s the one.

Alexis Mora  23:10
Yeah, like, it’s, that me know, aches and pains, right? Because we have like, these flashbacks of when we had to get our medical cards and you met with like this, this doctor which now you know, you can just go on like nug MD and like, have a virtual consultation. You’re like, yeah, my, my ear really aches. prescription, you know? Yeah, totally right. Um, but like, if we’re doing something around like sleep timbre, and we’re focused on sleep products, it’s like, you’re gonna build ways to deliver that messaging to your customer. And so in that kind of way, it’s like creating these funnels that are very sticky that are basically meeting the customer where they’re at, in cannabis is unlike other industries, where you, they’re so reliant on the industry to be transparent and to give them information. You don’t go to a bar necessarily and go, Hey, what do you like to drink? It’s like one of the only places where I go and like, you know, I’m in our flagship store quite frequently, I still get stopped by like, people asking me questions, I’m more than happy to spend that time with them. Because they don’t know now as as a marketer, I think people are like, drooling over that, like, Oh, great. This is like, our opportunity to like, sell someone something right. A couple things like in my previous life that I can think of is like palm wonderful is a good case study. pomegranates have been around for a very long time. What they did was say hey, pomegranates functional beverage, heart health, drink this your he will have better health, right? Like all these like press juicery rod juice, blah, blah, blah. That’s, you know, that’s considered a functional beverage that is taking a huge space and then now taking it and kind of breaking it down to certain niches and that’s what ends up happening with kind of brands. The issue that I see sometimes with cannabis is like it is a pendulum that sometimes swings in opposite directions, you really find that sweet spot and that balance and that is, you know, we’re a cautionary tale to all of us marketers were as an example, like, you’re like, Okay, you know, we’re gonna we’re gonna differentiate ourselves how do you differentiate ourselves if you’re looking at let’s say product development and bringing new products to the market let’s talk about like live resin. You know, raw, I would say here in California, like raw garden was a really great brand an example of someone come into the market as my baby was like two years ago, and blowing up in the category like they grew exponentially, right and like live resin had been a thing before but then it was popularized. And then like a year later, all of these different people started coming out with like resin. Now you have liquid live resin HTV that it had that you have all of these things. And honestly, it’s like, what the hell like what what is this? Like? It’s the the kind of differences are too minimal. Like it’s too confusing. So now we found ourselves in this like buzzword era, where it’s like, ooh, live resin, this that the other in an era where people are still confused about like, Can we like pause and just be like, what’s the difference really, between crumble batter shatter, like pressed rosin, like, you know, I mean, like I get, I see this being in a space and having tried all of those things, but really not being able to have a clear distinction and value proposition for a customer at times on why you should choose this form factor over another?

Shayda Torabi  27:03
Do you find that they’re creating those because they’re looking around? And they’re like, this is maybe like one, let’s say, degree different than a wax shatter crumble, and it’s now this new kind of category, but same same, but different. Do you think it’s a branding play? Or is it really because, I mean, you highlighted it and I’ve, I’ve obviously had some conversations specifically with California cannabis operators, like yourself, where they’ve identified, you know, there is still kind of that old school customer who wants the next hot new thing. And so it’s like, are these businesses creating it? Because they’re trying to fit a niche for that customer? Or is it just Same, same but different? It’s a way to rebrand the same thing?

Alexis Mora  27:44
I think it’s it’s almost twofold. I think, if done well, product innovation is a real thing. If done well, if you say like, Hey, we’re going to combine these different things like back when I started, a vape pen was like mind boggling for me. I was like, what you’re taking this, and then the narrative at that time was like, it’s like the essential oil of the plants. You know, it’s, it’s distilled, it’s potent, but you still getting those flavor profiles and the terps and all that. So product, innovation certainly is a thing. But we have to be mindful that we’re not just slicing smaller, like slices of the same pie to where it is one degree of separation where one brand is like, Oh, well, we’re liquid live resin. And another one’s like, Where’s this live resin, they’re both proprietary, they both do different things. To me, that’s a that’s just a positioning and a branding play. But sometimes it does that disservice to the customer in terms of like these categories are already difficult to understand and explain. And the funny thing about it to read is like you look at the top three categories in at least this state which is flour, concentrates, edibles, then you have like all of these other kind of ancillary or like niche type of things like you know, there’s this new product from select that we’re launching soon called squeeze, I for sure joke with them on who was in the natural product space, because that’s a page off of the book of like Gatorade and Meo right, the little squirt bottle or you see that with kind of other things. So that’s that’s the thing, but then you also have to think about like, what percentage of that category is actually like is actually the buy that product? Like, I’m not going to personally speak like, that’s not my day to day thing, right. And so there is a certain thing about being very like going back to Red Bull. Red Bull had one skew for ever. And then they were like a lifestyle brand which a lot of cannabis marketers with. I think almost every brand would argue they’re like a lifestyle brand in some way, shape or form. But lifestyle brand, they had one ski, they built Red Bull TV, they did all the stuff. And then they had the sugar free version, right. And that was like, oh, Red Bulls, changing their colorway and you know, diversified things, there is power in doing one or two things really well, especially in a hyper competitive market. So that’s one of the things I would say too, is like, he shouldn’t want to be everything to everyone. People really from a business perspective, like I get it right. And when you’re on this side of the business, we have to be very mindful, when we talk about customers. For me, there’s three buckets, there is the b2b side of things on both, you know, I mentioned, we’re vertically integrated. So there’s the b2b side on retail, of my relationship with our brand partners, and kind of what partnership and like affiliate and co branded marketing looks like, on that end. There are my consumers and my customers that are also, you know, folks that we have to drive into the store or Bri buy our branded products. But I’m also beholden to our stakeholders and our investors. That’s the secret customer that we don’t really talk about that is so real. And I say this, because every year so but this has been highlighted because of the pandemic. There’s like this exodus of marketing people around q3, when we have to announce our end of year numbers. That’s because marketing, you know, sometimes we have the difficult job of quantifying emotions and experiences. A good marketer will say, like, I made you feel something I made you remember me it is you don’t buy a product, you’re buying an idea you’re buying into these these values, it’s less about the product itself, the product still has to be consistent, safe quality, it still has to have like any of those core tenants. But you’re really selling an idea. And so when you’re coming back, trying to negotiate your budgets and trying to get investments and quantifying what your marketing dollars really did, it’s hard, like it is hard to do. And so you also have to make sure that you’re setting up these things in a way I’d mentioned earlier, of like creating sticky funnels, where you’re being very clear about how you’re servicing those, you’re meeting the customer where they’re at. So, you know, if I’m running, let’s say, a full 360 campaign, and we’re doing inbound traffic, I want to make sure that the people that are seeing the product, like you know, what we’re currently doing right is like, Okay, how do we know flour concentrates slash vapes edibles top three categories, that’s what I’m pushing out, I’m not going to push out like, here’s this Petra mint, or here’s this like low dose, blah, blah, blah, that only like 5% of my customers buy once every four weeks or months, you know. So I’m going to, I’m going to make sure that my inbound is touching on the categories that are of most interest, but I’m also making sure that they are even interested in cannabis, or they’ve even heard of a dispensary and those things. So you get that kind of like inbound funnel, once they’re there, you want to build that relationship, build that conversation on our end. And I think, you know, I was listening to a couple of other speakers on your podcast as well. But I think like I’ve talked to a lot of folks about this to just some cannabis where it is so education oriented, because there’s a lack of consumer knowledge to a certain degree, there are certainly people in the space that are like, I’ve been buying weed for a long time I’ve been growing it I like this that it allowed. So for sure, and you will have those people in the space that are buying those products that you know are really looking for those things. But more often than not, you’re also allowing people to explore like another thing we know in cannabis is like there’s very little category or brand loyalty. Very little also having to do with the amount of people like the amount of brands the amount of market saturation that’s there the fact that these brands pop up and then disappear. The fact that like supply chain there’s like a lot of things that I think consumers don’t always understand where it’s like your favorite brand like you know i can i love lush products, I can go to a lush store and buy lush products and they pretty much will have the same supply through and through. This same is not true in cannabis. Like I couldn’t really love the small brand. But it’s a it’s a crop. And so sometimes things happen. We’re in California, the wildfires as an example like That was a direct influence on the market where we had a flower shortage. You know, it was like around like crop tober. So any outdoor grower was struggling with their supply chain. So there’s so many different inconsistency that you see there. But yeah, it’s you know, when we’re kind of like building these things, we were also trying to like, have the custom like not have the burden fall on the customer either, like Oh, I’m so sorry, it’s a compliance thing. Like you can’t say that to the customer. You just have to work around it and problem solve and figure out how the customer gets the least amount of burden, while still making sure that you are being profitable and your advertising dollars to your core stakeholders which includes your customer but also your investors as well.

Shayda Torabi  35:55
quick break to say thank you to restart CBD for sponsoring this podcast, restart CBD is a brand my sisters and I founded in our hometown in Austin, Texas, we operate a retail location as well as an e commerce store and you can browse our wide range of CBD products at restart CBD calm. Again, thank you to restart for allowing me the time and resources to put on to be blunt. I hope you’ll check them out for your CBD needs. Let’s go back to the episode. I love that you’ve highlighted that though, because I do think that there’s so much obviously that the consumer is driving it’s funny that you kind of you know, reference Obviously, these are the major categories of products concentrates flower edibles, but then yes, you go to dispensaries and whether you are vertically integrated, or a dispensary retail. Obviously, if you’re a brand only who’s trying to create Sq CPG product, you want to create something different that will be more enticing for the dispensary to want to carry you. So yeah, I forget what the name of the brand is. I’ve seen it in Colorado, it’s almost like little sugar packets that you just put on your under your tongue. And so you’re even talking about you know, observing, you know, just different industries and people who have come over into cannabis. And it’s like, Oh, that looks like this other, you know, protein powder that I’ve taken in X, Y or Z capacity. And now it was just put on with a cannabis spin. But so yeah, it’s like observing that there are brands that are doing that, because they’re trying to differentiate themselves in the market. But then also, if you are more of your own brand, you are just trying to control that conversation to the consumer. But the consumer doesn’t always understand all these complexities, let alone the regulations, let alone the supply chain understanding. And I reflect on my time, as you know, before I got into the industry of I just want to be legal. And obviously now it’s more or less legal in most places. It’s just created so much more of a bunny rabbit hole of Wait, what goes into this industry. And so you’ve been very generous and articulating a lot of the things that I think people observe about cannabis, specifically from the marketing side, but maybe don’t quite fully have confidence and how to actually navigate it because you said earlier stamina. I think it does require stamina. And it does require you to as a marketer, use the data and influence that back into what you are presenting in front of the customer. But you’ve been mentioning vertical integration. And so I really want to understand how that looks for harbourside vertically integrated kind of you know, the high level for everybody listening obviously, maybe they know maybe they don’t know would mean you have to control every component of that supply chain. So you are growing it, extracting manufacturing, and then retail or distributing. So knowing that you are your own dispenser, but you obviously also do create products. Is it solely flour? are you creating edibles as well, you know, kind of what’s that breadth of the CPG side of harbourside that you’re you’re kind of presenting. Yeah, so

Alexis Mora  39:01
we have two brands. One is key. I love key it’s my little funky brand, right I we’re coming out with another skew called funky very soon. It’s your playful brand. And we have another brand called harbourside farms and so they’re both supplied from our farm in Salinas. And then there are a couple of kind of white label products like vapes and concentrates that will come down the line having the retail footprint and the brand is very exciting because you really do get to control it from seed to sale. That being said, the complexities are also there as well because to grow a product is very different from packaging and marketing a product and so the kind of control factors are there. As a business you should make sure that you are knowledgeable and you have the support on both sides of the business before you start doing those things. Because again, if the product quality is not there, you know that you a marketer can put lipstick on a pig type of thing, and it’s only going to go so far. But what we do get the benefit of doing is because we literally grow the product, I can work with our head at the farm and talk about strain selection and talk about positioning, branding, and really how the product matrix is going to grow over time. So you do get the benefit from a product development perspective of like, Hey, harborside Farms, we’re in a sunny Salinas, we are a greenhouse grow, we have one of the smallest carbon footprints in the industry, because of our growing techniques, where we can say this is going to be single origin, it’s going to be curated, we’re going to try to get more landrace strains that are native to that environment. Versus you know, key, which is more about the lifestyles, it’s still quality product, but it’s more about what you do with it, are you going to go on a hike, we’re going to create music, we’re going to do all this stuff. So you’re unlocking these different experiences with this product. So those different takes are a very different approach to this product. But we’re able to really curate that now for me, I was on the brand side for five years. And it is hard, because you’re going to these retailer partners and you’re saying, Hey, I have this awesome product. And he’s awesome point of purchase in your field or trade marketing person has spent a lot of time and a lot of investment on it. And it doesn’t always fit within the retail space, or there are more complexities there. So for me, I get, you know, the joy of having to release this product and say, Okay, we’re going to do this with packaging, we’re going to create all of these branded assets, these build outs as an example. But then I get the footprint in my own store. And so because of that, when we’re talking about like harbourside and how we’re merchandising, everything, it’s very important for me to create points of engagement within the store. You know, the way we think about it is like, okay, here are like your categories, right, your flower, blah, blah, blah. As an example, in January, we had our wellness center, we had our cannabis as wellness campaign, which touched on harbourside core values. So we’ve been doing this like rotating quarterly campaign, cannabis is diversity, cannabis is wellness, where we create footprints within the retail stores that have wellness products that are doing kind of these educational pop ups where we’re letting people know we launched a whole cannabis concierge program a product matchmaker as a result of it. So you have like areas that you can kind of engage become educated on in the store. We also have that ability when I have my new products. So we had get lucky come out with key which is our seasonal skew. And it was kind of tongue in cheek like get lucky Valentine’s Day get lucky St Patrick’s Day, because you’re hitting on your major retail holidays. And we had this whole like casino theme and the packaging looked like a deck of cards. And it was a pack of pre rolls. And so I got to buy the giant dice and light up lights and you know, do all this kind of stuff, and create this really cool retail experience within our own footprint. That’s not a luxury that as a Brit, like he would love to have that real estate as a brand person. But unless that’s like a key account of yours, you’re like really good friends with you know, the people at that store, you’re very hard pressed to find that unless you’re paying, you know, really crazy slotting fees like 15 20,000 a month or something like that. So that being said, you also have that feedback loop. So when we release a product, we also own the store. So we can say this is doing really well compared to x y&z products and things like that, on the business end of things, a lot of businesses I think, are trying to set themselves up as a vertically integrated company. And I’ll get into kind of the pitfalls of that a little bit. But because you make the highest margin on those products, you know, the cost it takes to grow it to actually sell it is very different when you’re not having to pay for a distributor, you’re not having to pay for all of these different things. And so it’s kind of in our benefit, where we’re like, Hey, we produce really great products. We know our customers, we’re going to make products for our customers. Now the complexity changes a little bit like what we’re at right now, which is we are, you know, we have retail footprints. We also have our own farm. We’ve done self distribution, but key if it’s a proper brand, like it should have legs across the state and not just at our stores. That’s a completely different side of the business getting ready to kind of get your product or CPG product distributed out to other retail locations where you run into the same issues I was just mentioning which is it don’t own those retail stores, how do I support this product in a way that’s actually going to move the product and the brand within those other locations. So that’s another kind of side of the business as well that if you are setting yourself up and hearing that way, you really need to wear several different hats. One is like a retail marketing hat of how do I present the brand in a way in our own footprint, and in our third party dispensaries, then there’s like, Okay, how do I position the brand and be a brand marketer and making sure that I’m driving foot traffic and brand awareness? Because like, Who’s gonna buy your product? If no one knows about it? And how do you kind of split those resources across the board with your own retail location and these other things. And then kind of the last part of it is like the cultivation side, the product development side, and things like that we had mentioned, and it just kind of made me think of like an analogy of like, when you’re thinking of positioning and suddenly CPG products, like how do you differentiate? I almost think of it like, you know, instead of replacing ingredients on the same pizza, like, oh, our live resin has pepperoni and are live resin has mushrooms, make a kill zone,

like make it something else to where it is still hitting on that product innovation thing. But it’s still something that addresses what people want. And the other way that you can do that too. And the benefit of kind of having your own thing and also playing like, you know, back in the day, when I worked with a lot of energy drinks, I found myself in this weird like energy drink niche. But we literally would have a build out and it would be Red Bull drinks, it would be a Red Bull branded fridge, Red Bull drinks next to a monster next to these things because you’re seeing how these products like when you’re a consumer and you’re coming in and you’re looking at, you know the price and the you know, five different brands toe for toe, which one are you going to go with? One of the things that I would recommend to people is also think about just you know, disruptive marketing. I actually saw this on the fire fest documentary, right, where they’re like talking about their social media strategy. And I’m like, actually pretty smart. Because you live in this day and age where you’re scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, their whole thing was Whoa, like, what is this it makes you stop it’s disruptive because like the kind of word of caution I would give to people because cannabis channels and advertising are so restrictive. Be wary of market saturation. Like if 50 million people this is an example our desert hot springs location in Palm Springs. I’ve never seen anything like it where they’re so cannabis like you can tell like the billboard people they’re like, Oh, no, people haven’t been spending 2020 like the snowbirds aren’t coming in, we need to generate revenue dollars. So there’s like cannabis, or cannabis billboard, I fluid, mind you, we have a billboard in Palm Springs airport, there’s like six, just like six out of the gate. And you’re like, what, like, what, I’ve never seen anything like it. So you have to be very careful to like not saturate, even though you’re limited to the amount of areas in which you can advertise. If it’s not going to hit the mark, it’s not going to hit the mark. And so think about different ways you can do that packaging is one of them. Like, what’s your unique selling proposition what makes you different than any other brand, people are literally going to pick your product up, look at it, look at the packaging, put it down, you’re going to be limited on the collateral you can have out there the messaging you can have out there. It allows you a almost like a test space within your own store to pilot out certain things to try different things out. Also being very realistic about what your restrictions are. So for me to transfer from like just CPG brand marketer to this side on retail CPG vertical integration. I was like, oh, okay, that makes a lot that makes a lot of sense. Like, I spent a lot of time making these, like, displays for stores that were like, yeah, we’re not gonna take it. Yeah. And that was like $50,000 with the budget and I see this happen on a daily basis brands will say, hey, look at these really cool assets, look at all the cool things we’re doing. But as a brand marketer for my retail location, it doesn’t fit with my aesthetic, it doesn’t fit with my merchandising strategy doesn’t fit with a lot of different things. So you just have to be a little realistic about what’s actually on the table and what’s really going to move the mark for you.

Shayda Torabi  49:46
You literally painted like the most beautiful picture of like I’m literally like I’m like mentally taking notes because I think when people want to get into cannabis and that’s always my hope for these conversations is not to scare people. pull away. But just to be realistic, of this is how you can lean in. And this is kind of what your options are. And obviously, you can kind of take other industries and use it as influence. But unless you are in the middle of it actually putting it into action, it’s a completely, you know, nebulous thing. And so, obviously, state to state there are different regulations. To my knowledge, California does not require vertical integration. So you can be a brand and kind of an I’ve had people on the show who have come from California, and they represent a pre roll brand, or they represent a live resin brands are their farm, but then they’re obviously working with different distributors or different dispensaries to get their product in there. adversely. I’ve also talked to them, the dispensary side where maybe they aren’t vertically integrated. So I talked to someone in Arkansas, where you can’t be vertically integrated. So they’re at the mercy of the growers, the extractors, the brands, and so obviously, every market is going to be different. And so, again, I’m really emphasizing for the listeners, everything that you’re saying is like spot on gold. I’m so glad you’re saying it. But for you guys, it’s Where do you live? What can you actually do? Can you get a license? Can you be medicinal recreation? Do you want to be a brand? And like, ultimately, what do you want to do? And so I think you’ve just shared a lot of really good, good, like, you know, perimeters boundaries for people to realize that they can kind of play within. I am really curious to get some better understanding from you on just what California has been like, were you vertically integrated upon Inception? What was that process, like knowing how saturated California is? Obviously, the history of you know, some of herbicides, founders. They’re very notorious and well respected in the cannabis industry. And so obviously, there’s some personal branding that has helped influence the growth of the brand. But it’s like, I think sometimes, just because you’re a legacy brand, doesn’t mean you’re always going to be around either. So just like you were kind of highlighting, you know, you’re going to these trade shows, you’re seeing people are coming and going. It’s obviously a part of the industry, but y’all have stuck through it. What has kind of been that progression from a high level that you think has allowed y’all to stay a leader? Is that really, you know, listening to consumers is a particular marketing tactic. Is it kind of right place, right time, you’re kind of throwing things at the wall, like, Oh, well, that thing actually did work. And that has been really successful for us. Because obviously, I’ll have built a really great brand. And it’s clear to see that there’s a lot of strategy behind it. But given everything that you shared so far, I just kind of curious what the journey has been like, since the beginning really being one of those first brands operating in illegal market. Yeah, no, I mean, that that is really well said,

Alexis Mora  52:47
I think that’s something that is top of mind for me in terms of just because you’ve been a market leader doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll keep that market leadership. What I’ve, you know, I’ve thought about this a lot as it relates to kind of Steve right, he’s this presence in the space, he’s really been an advocate, it’s it really what again, like it was like a group of like rebels, right? There’s a little bit of like a rebel heart, you have to have cannabis of like, you know, especially at that time, it wasn’t cool to do it, you would go to jail. And they did right like that, that was a sacrifice that that they put in. So when I think of it now, I’ve always been a really mission oriented person. I think the people that harbourside attracts people that are very mission oriented that care genuinely about the plant, but also are minded in a way of, we can’t continue to do this unless we keep the lights on and make the business profitable. And that is like, sometimes can be a point of contention, because there are changes that there’s changes that are just happening in the space to allow us to stay competitive. So with Steve, what I’ve kind of thought is like, the harbor side of today, started with Steve’s mission and dream. But cannabis has always been in this mission has always been bigger than one single person. I almost feel like it’s like us taking you know, taking the torch, if you will, and kind of continuing to drive that Ford. You do this in a way that is very operationally sound, that you get the mission, but you also get the operation side of it, where like, you know, we started in 2006. We didn’t open the farm until 2016 for various different reasons. Since then, the farm has improved on its operations. But like I hadn’t even mentioned to it has taken time to have it’s a completely different business model to add these different things. But from a strategic perspective, we’ve kind of created this ecosystem, if you will, it is the way I am able to continue to manage and scale things, which is building an ecosystem building foundations building processes. Because we are now getting to the point where we’re some of this information, like back in 2006, btsa, had said any of these analytic companies like did not exist. So we at least had the benefit of the work of the last, you know, couple of years. But I’m always thinking about scalability and how you can kind of repeat some of these things while still being flexible enough to change your inputs to adjust your outputs. And so, you know, when we’re kind of thinking of these things, again, it’s being very clear on from a business perspective, what’s your priority, my priorities of today, because with all these businesses, right, our retail locations have been the bread and butter of our business. CPG has been a fantastic addition, our new products, we also do wholesale at the farm, as well. So that’s been really great to supplement that is now taking a front seat again. So I’m kind of managing the retail operations and marketing and CPG businesses. The distribution side of it is kind of the third baby, if you will, that is still in its infancy, it still needs to grow. But your priority still has to be a like for me, it’s you know, during COVID? How do we adjust for things in a COVID era? And in just retail? Because brick and mortar retailers? or retail locations are struggling? Like how do I continue to just bring people back to stores? And that’s not just cannabis that’s across the board? And then it’s okay, how do I build these products and these brands that are going to be really desirable from some of these customers? And then how are they going to be desirable with a distribution part of that in other people’s stores? And how do you get that kind of brand consistency. So I think like, because it is the startup environment, the challenge for a lot of us, again, is to Yes, you are a marketer, but you have to make sure, like if there’s only so many resources that you’re getting fed that the rest of the departments are getting fed as well. And you guys are being ultra clear and working towards one common goal. In my day to day, I work very closely with our head of retail and our head of Ops, and we’re like the, we’re like the golden three, we’re the ones that are kind of really in the business working those things, we’re also keeping that kind of feedback loop consistent, we are able to kind of grow and scale these things, and make sure that we’re not going or falling on one end or another too heavily. And we’re consistently kind of adjusting what those strategies look like. So I think that’s essentially like how we’re trying to kind of keep the business up while still thinking about what’s what’s ahead, you know, on the on the horizon, right, I think a lot of these companies to where we’re thinking about, okay, there will be a point in time where federal legalization is on the horizon. And the operators that are existing in the space now where we’ve kind of harbored it to the point where it is now need to kind of make a decision on what we’re going to do when these new players come in, and they’re far more funded, and far more invested, if you will, into this space, because it is already hard enough, like, you know, you kind of mentioned to some of the listeners, like it didn’t get a completely separate conversations to write of like, just the struggles of owning your own business and cannabis, like access to capital access to real estate. And let’s not even I mean, the issues for folks of color to get those things and limited resort, like there’s so many things that are stacked against you to begin with. So we’re gonna have to kind of make a decision on like, do we kind of band together as like an industry to protect from, you know, when these companies come on board. So you know, mergers and acquisitions is another thing, too, if you’re a growing corporation or growing company, of like, do you kind of band together and do that. And so these are kind of other things in terms of like, forward facing stuff that you know, as an organization we’re going to consider, but we still have to make sure that the core business is doing well, and that we’re still, you know, holding true to Steve’s mission. So, again, while while I am very interested in the business and revenue and sales and how my marketing is driving ROI, blah, blah, blah. I’m also still interested in that humanistic factor to, for me, I see us when we grow up when our platform grows, my ability and our ability to do impactful things also grows as well. And because that is a core business or core, I would say competency of ours. It’s I think also one of the reasons why we’re still in business today in terms of being a market leader because

Shayda Torabi  59:56
because we are very aware of

Alexis Mora  59:58
like hey, we’re going to be this But we’re still, like, we’re still in your corner. You know, I mean, we’re not I don’t foresee harbor side being this like big corporate entity and that the, because the people that I work with on a day to day have so much heart. And so when you’re coming, it’s also Hey, you’re coming to a place where we are going to make room on our shelves for bipoc products for LGBTQ products for women owned brands, we’re going to call out those founders, we’re going to talk to them, we’re going to educate, we’re going to create that space for your community, we’re going to give back to your community. So you feel like your dollar is worth something outside of just your product is from a brand perspective, I’m very protective of that. And I still feel like that is one of the reasons why we are a market leader is because there are so many different things. Yes, it’s a business. But as a brand, it’s always been about bringing high quality product to our customers and meeting their needs. And how we do that. Like for me, in terms of like retail 2.0 You know, a lot of my time, you know, it’s kind of retail marketing, it’s brand marketing. It’s also like experiential marketing, that basically went away and was a huge, I would say feature of cannabis,

Unknown Speaker  1:01:15
you couldn’t like

Alexis Mora  1:01:16
do like a Google display ad. So you had to like go out and do demos or do your go to farmers markets and do stuff in the world. pop ups and things like that. And it’s very Mind you, it’s kind of tired. Like I’m a little you know, like I mentioned disruptive marketing, right, I’m kind of like bored of that format, we need to figure out different ways to do it. But for me, again, the benefit of having like a retail location is like our flagship store, I get this fantastic pop

Unknown Speaker  1:01:43
up room.

Unknown Speaker  1:01:44
So when we have

Alexis Mora  1:01:46
like our wellness campaign, I was able to transform that room into a concierge and that was fully customized products. It was you would go in, you’d set an appointment, you talk to a specialist, who would basically go through all of your things, you have like a dedicated hour with someone where you’re like, Hey, I don’t, I need help. And like, please walk me through. And it’s like all these products that are curated for, you know, the reasons why people are likely to use cannabis for the first time or are drawn to it. So I’m able to create those experiences. We’re in, grow season right now. So we have our greenhouse in our Oakland store. And it’s all these clones, that’s another cool feature of being vertically integrated. It’s like, hey, buy our clothes, like the flower that you buy here. And that was intentional, right, I wanted to stay as you know, was harvested farms as close to the plant as possible. So here are clones. But here’s the final product if you don’t want to go through, you know, all of the, the hurdles of growing understand exactly. And so we were able to create this like greenhouse in our store. And it’s this really cool visual of like walking in and you’re seeing a completely different angle, a completely different side to this product that most people you know, have just smoked out of a bomb pre roll what have you. And so, you know, it’s it’s being I think, very having that attention to detail. And just making sure that you know, we’re doing things that are new and fresh within the business, both from an experiential perspective within the store, to going out of the store. I can’t wait until events are a thing like I’m, I’m hearing they’re saying June 15, California is opening up. So I’m like, you know, at some point in time, we won’t always be in this and what is that going to feel like? Like we have our store that’s going to be opening the end of this year in San Francisco, in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood,

Unknown Speaker  1:03:46
which is like,

Alexis Mora  1:03:47
so cool because it’s right across the street from Golden Gate Park. hippy Hill typically happens there every 420 the historical significance of harborside opening in that neighborhood and that neighborhoods history with like cannabis, makes it a very special place. So yes, we leverage that history to still be a leader in the space. But you’re always going to need new innovation in retail in product in

Unknown Speaker  1:04:17
the way

Alexis Mora  1:04:18
you talk to people as innovation is happening around you right like clubhouse

Unknown Speaker  1:04:24
like, that was like that was like alright, cool.

Alexis Mora  1:04:26
This is the thing now right like now we’re now I’m on these like marketing clubhouse conversations and we’re doing this and like, Who knows? Like is it gonna stay? Who knows? But like you all you just have to always have like your your finger on the pulse and be a participant and not just like bury your head in the sand and cannabis because we’re all talking to each other. But you know, my goal always whether or not it’s in cannabis or not, is to just have a strong brand period. Wow, I

Shayda Torabi  1:04:57
think Alexis painted such a great picture. of what it’s like being a marketer for a vertically integrated brand. And she brought so many points to the table for us to be considerate of especially as we start to lean in and navigate what vertical integration looks like in our respective corners of the industry. And so that’s always my hope is just to leave you with information to encourage your curiosity. And so I appreciate you taking the time to listen to this episode. If you have any questions, please don’t ever hesitate to reach out you can find me on social media. And if you’re enjoying this podcast, I would like to make a quick plug to head to iTunes and leave a subscribe a five star review any comments or thoughts about how this podcast has impacted you and your cannabis journey? It’s always appreciated. And I thank you guys for spending this hour with me. So I’ll catch you next week on a new episode of the podcast. And hope to see you later this week at the luck summit. Bye y’all.

Announcer  1:06:03
Love this episode of To be blunt. Be sure to visit the Shayda slash to be loved for more ways to connect new episodes come out on Mondays. And for more behind the scenes follow along on Instagram at V Shayda Torabi

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