Throughout history, local businesses have been a hub for interactions and conversations. Decades ago at the local mercantile or yesterday at the coffee shop, these businesses serve as a platform to share experiences, knowledge and community. It is now time for the smoke shop owner to realize that they are an integral part of this community platform. The value of the smoke shop has increased significantly over the past few years, moving beyond a retail outlet and into a venue to connect and serve the communities they cater to.
In 1966, the role of a smoke shop was to act as the single source of ancillary products for the tobacco industry. The objective, like that of any retail business, was to succeed – to profit from their efforts while, at the same time, create an inviting environment to encourage repeat customers in an arena that was strongly regulated. They stood out in their communities and were often unwelcomed. Despite a harsh business climate, store owners persevered and set the tone for the smoke shop industry and helped shape the smoke industry today.
In the early days, smoke shop owners were bound by laws including posting “intended for tobacco use only” on their walls or on each product package. Business owners and customers risked prosecution if any link was found to counterculture usage including marijuana or other illegal drugs. Their outreach and involvement in organizational activities was extremely limited, and, in many states, still is.
Today, however, as the trend toward marijuana legalization takes a stronger foothold in the United States, the role of the smoke shop is evolving. There is a substantial increase in brick and mortar and virtual smoke shops across the country. This boom in smoke shops is a sign of times and changes in the industry as a whole. Shops that open in the legalized states are not hindered by the “tobacco use only” rule – and therefore can reach their community in new and exciting ways.
As the marijuana movement continues to gain strength, consumers aggressively seek information and desire to connect with others. The smoke shop has become, in a sense, the “water cooler” of the industry. Virtual smoke shops are especially equipped to handle the informational needs of their clients. The ability to post news or relevant information to a website is relatively simple and a great way to drive traffic to your site and gain credibility with the community. By allowing website visitors to post comments, questions or concerns via open forums or related directly to a posted article, the virtual smoke shop becomes more than just a retail store, it becomes a “virtual community.” The openness of communication allows for educational and informational discussions while the use of a moderator can ensure that the forum doesn’t get out of control. For a brick and mortar store, this convenience is lessened slightly, but the power of a good conversation cannot be matched. Hiring knowledgeable, friendly employees will encourage conversations and information sharing.
While many dispensaries or retail marijuana shops will carry a handful of products, the product variety and price brackets can often be limited. Sales reports indicate that consumers prefer to purchase their ancillary merchandise through a smoke shop outlet. As the industry continues to develop, an abundance of new manufacturers emerge each day, leading to a significant increase in the products across the world. The increase in the variety of products available to consumers allows smoke shop owners to cater to a wider variety of clientele. Store owners have the ability to choose their demographic and cater to it with precision.
With the industry continuously gaining momentum, smoke shops are an integral part of the front lines for the marijuana advocacy movement. This is clearly demonstrated through shops that enroll in their local chapter of industry associations, such as NORML or NCIA, which demonstrates to their audience the importance of involvement and participation in the marijuana industry. In addition, by promoting and attending events or activities related to these industry associations provides smoke shops with an opportunity to connect with their customers on a much more personal level outside of the sales atmosphere.
The results of the 2014 midterm elections have the potential to increase the value of smoke shops even further. Regardless of whether the smoke shop caters to the tobacco industry, marijuana industry, or both, the importance of community involvement and awareness will only continue to rise. Step up, smoke shop owners, and become the next great local business to draw in the community and raise the bar for the industry. SSA
About the Author:
Megan Greene is the Director of Acquisitions for CannaJuanaBuy.com, a virtual smoke shop specializing in the marijuana industry. Over the past few years, Megan has been heavily involved in sales, marketing and vendor relations for CannaJuanaBuy and is dedicated to creating a foundation for community and education in addition to the CannaJuanaBuy storefront. Megan can be reached at (720) 398-6421, via email at [email protected], or visit the website at www.cannajuanabuy.com.