Marijuana pop-ups make a comeback in retail stores after disappearing amid pandemic

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Image of Tasteology tarot cards

(Photo courtesy of Jushi Holdings)

(This story has been corrected to note that the April 20 “lucha libre” wrestling match was held at People’s California in Los Angeles.) 

What do tour buses, tarot cards and Mexican wrestling have in common?

They’re popping up at medical marijuana dispensaries and adult-use retail shops across the United States.

They involve brands – think marijuana producers and edibles makers – setting up temporary venues at stores to promote their products and stand out from the crowd.

Pop-ups – a mainstay of the cannabis industry’s marketing efforts – all but disappeared during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as people were ordered to mask up and stay 6 feet apart to prevent the spread of the virus.

But with the worst of the pandemic seemingly in the rearview mirror and mask mandates lifted, pop-up events are returning bigger and better than ever.

And they’re being held both inside and outside of stores.

“Every pop-up is that little event which tells your story,” said Andreas Neumann, chief creative director of Jushi Holdings, a multistate cannabis company based in Boca Raton, Florida.

“You have to be very creative. It’s better to have a magician than somebody standing there at a table with a tablecloth on it.”

Take Bertha, for example.

Bertha is a gussied-up Airstream that is spreading the word for California-based Garcia Hand Picked cannabis by way of a dispensary tour.

Launched by the family of the late singer-songwriter Jerry Garcia as well as Holistic Industries, a Maryland-based multistate operator, Garcia Hand Picked offers flower and pre-rolls in eco-friendly packaging.

The Airstream, which is full of “cool merchandise,” has been making stops in Oregon and California, and additional locations planned.

A stop at Jushi’s Beyond/Hello dispensary in Santa Barbara was so successful that Garcia Hand Picked is still one of store’s top-selling brands, Neumann said.

Wrestling matches

California-based Luchador, which bills itself as “The Heavyweight Champion of Cannabis,” holds free Mexican wrestling shows at dispensaries to promote its line of THC-infused gummies and drops.

The shows are known as “lucha libre,” a term in Mexico used for professional wrestling.

The company held one such match on 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday, at Los Angeles cannabis retailer People’s California. About 1,500 people reportedly attended.

“Join us for an insane night of lucha libre and live stand up comedy at People’s in downtown Los Angeles from 7-11 PM April 20th,” Luchador said in an Instagram post promoting the event.

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How do the pop-ups come about?

In Jushi’s case, the company orders a certain amount of product from vendors such as Garcia Hand Picked in exchange for the pop-up events to take place at its dispensaries.

For one of its own brands – Tasteology – Jushi is offering tarot card readings at its Massachusetts dispensaries.

The company rebranded its gummies with a tarot card and astrology theme to appeal to Gen Z consumers, nearly 30% of whom regularly read their horoscopes, according to an N26 survey last year.

“Gen Z is very fascinated with astrology,” Neumann said.

 Using word of mouth

Neuman likens pop-ups at marijuana stores to mainstream companies, such as electric automaker Tesla, that haven’t spent money on advertising but instead rely on the quality of the product and word-of-mouth recommendations from customers.

“Word-of-mouth is really where it’s at,” Neumann said. “You have to create those stories that people talk about at home. You cannot advertise cannabis. It’s like music – you have to come up with the goods, and you have to provide good product. It doesn’t matter what category it is.”

While many dispensaries and brands are just getting back into hosting pop-up events, Boulder, Colorado-based Wana Brands brought them back last summer with events that kept people socially distanced outdoors.

Designed to promote the just-launched Wana Quick gummies, the Summer of Quick Tour van stopped at multiple stores each week, set up a bar serving mocktails, a wheel customers could spin for prizes and a seating area.

The lesson Wana learned was that the setup and breakdown of the pop-up wasn’t feasible for putting on multiple events each day or week.

This year, the edibles maker is focusing on full-day events such as music festivals.

Indoor events

But even if cannabis retailers and brands don’t create elaborate events to promote their products, pop-ups inside the stores are still an effective way to educate budtenders and consumers about their products.

“The biggest piece is that it provides our team education directly from the horse’s mouth,” said Buck Dutton, vice president of marketing at Denver-based Native Roots. “When there are not customers lined up, our budtenders are engaged with them.”

Nevada-based Deep Roots Harvest selects one of its six stores to host the actual event where brand representatives set up tables to distribute swag and educate customers about the featured products.

While only one dispensary hosts the pop-ups, all six offer that vendor’s promotional deals, said Mike Martinez, the company’s director of retail operations.

“We have the most diverse menu in Nevada in terms of carrying third-party products,” Martinez said. “That’s huge on the sales side.”

Combine the informational aspect with a promotional deal, and most businesses see sales of the featured brand spike.

“Doing these pop-ups has been a great entry point to building strong relationships with our vendors,” said Alex Parker, head of marketing at Ohio-based Terrasana Cannabis Co.

“I look at our vendors as an extension of our brand and being able to add value by meeting with our patients.”

While Terrasana experiences about a 17% spike in sales of the products featured at in-store pop-ups, it doesn’t view the events as revenue drivers.

“We see it more as a value to our patients,” Parker said. “People come in and buy things they wouldn’t otherwise have purchased.”

If the key to a successful event is customer engagement, Denver-based Seed & Smith has what could be considered a permanent pop-up.

The company offers a free, 40-minute guided tour of its cannabis cultivation facility that lets visitors see how cannabis is grown, harvested, extracted, processed and packaged.

“It’s one of the best things our industry is offering in terms of education,” said Robbie Wroblewski, Seed & Smith’s director of marketing.

“There’s not any dispensary out there that’s opening the doors to their grows and labs like we are.”

Beyond its facility, Seed & Smith is focused on pop-ups at events that can educate consumers about the company and drive them to the tours.

Teaming with community groups

Many cannabis companies also partner with community organizations, donating a portion of sales to support the cause.

Wana, for example, is partnering with the League of Women Voters to drive voter registration.

Last year, the edibles maker teamed with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at its pop-ups to offer COVID-19 vaccinations.

Once a month, Terrasana selects a charity to benefit from Day of Giving events it stages at its dispensaries.

In April, Terrasana raised $11,000 for WomenCann, a nonprofit that gives women a voice in the cannabis industry.

In May, the Last Prisoner Project will be the beneficiary.

“The approach we’re taking is we don’t want to have a blanket statement for community giving,” Parker said.

“We’re going at the store level and asking what’s important to patients, to the city and to the community.”