As the cannabis industry has moved to shed the “stoner” stereotype many have held of its consumers, several marijuana businesses are rebranding themselves via name changes and other steps to try to reflect the companies they’ve become.
Whether the decision revolves around an initial public offering (IPO), including Akerna’s, or the acquisition of multiple dispensaries such as Cresco Labs, many companies are working toward creating a unified, professional brand.
Bill Winchester, president and chief creative officer of marketing firm Lindsay, Stone & Briggs, which has offices in Madison, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis, said the following are other potential reasons a marijuana firm might rebrand:
- It has launched new and different services.
- The competitive landscape in the industry has shifted, and it wants its brand to reflect those changes.
- It wants to stress the growing professionalism surrounding the marijuana industry.
“The industry is changing and sort of going from possibly something that’s sort of way recreational and goofy to something that’s a little more serious and medicinal,” Winchester said.
Rebranding and going public
An IPO was the impetus behind the renaming of Denver cannabis technology company MJ Freeway to Akerna, which trades on the Nasdaq as KERN.
The name change occurred when MJ Freeway merged with MTech, a special purpose acquisition firm, according to MJ Freeway’s vice president of global marketing and communications, Jeanette Ward Horton.
The new name was built around “kern,” which she said represents an organic kernel of corn or a kernel of data.
The rebranding process led the team to a better understanding of what the company offers to the market, Horton added.
“We really wanted for the public listing a name that was not so quickly tied to cannabis but would make a more balanced connection between cannabis and tracking systems,” she said, referring to seed-to-sale tracking software.
“It’s really a reflection of the maturation of the space. There is a lot of movement from private companies to public companies and people being acquired by larger companies.”
High Street become Acreage
In March 2018, High Street Capital Partners became Acreage Holdings as part of its plan to pursue an IPO.
Acreage Holdings trades on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE) as ACRG.U and on the over-the-counter exchanges as ACRGF.
Kevin Murphy, the company’s founder, chair and CEO, came from the financial industry and started the company in 2011 as an investment vehicle.
Several years later, he turned his focus to cannabis and invited other investors to participate.
“High Street Capital Partners was a brand for the investment community specifically,” said Howard Schacter, vice president of communications at Acreage Holdings. “Acreage had real resonance in a couple of different places.
“It’s an illustration of the part of the business that’s about growing, and growing is what we looked to do and continue to do as a company. It’s a good reflection of growth in all of its different meanings.”
Creating a national brand
Industry watchers note that as some companies expand their footprints into new areas by acquiring dispensaries, they’re choosing to change their names and remodel shops to convey a unified message to customers.
For example, medical marijuana company Vireo Health International, based in Minneapolis, recently launched its first Green Goods-branded dispensary in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and has plans for two more retail stores in Bethlehem and Stroudsburg, pending regulatory approval.
The name of the umbrella company will remain Vireo, which trades on the CSE as VREO. But going forward, Green Goods will be the retail brand.
Vireo CEO Kyle Kingsley said there is no additional cost to build out new stores under the Green Goods brand, but rebranding existing stores requires a significant investment that could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for larger shops.
“We’re doing this in a very cost-effective way,” Kingsley said. “It’s a marvelous unifying brand for our dispensaries.”
The rebranding effort also involves focusing on Vireo’s e-commerce platform.
Customers can order online to buy products through in-store pickup or delivery, which is Vireo’s largest revenue generator in locations where the service is allowed.
“We’re looking to make it easy for folks,” Kingsley said. “If they do an online refill, it can be a two-minute interaction. Online orders have increased substantially – more than half of our transactions are e-commerce.”
Conveying a happy image
Another example is Chicago-based Cresco Labs (CSE: CL), which owns 31 retail licenses in 11 states and 21 operating dispensaries – all acquired through mergers and acquisitions of other companies.
Cresco is rebranding all the dispensaries it’s acquired as Sunnyside, a name that’s intended to convey happiness.
But the process isn’t simple.
“When you want to change the name of a dispensary, it’s not as easy as other businesses,” said Jason Erkes, chief communications officer for Cresco Labs.
“You’re dealing with the government and regulators and a lot of firsts. It’s very burdensome.”
Margaret Jackson can be reached at email@example.com