It started as a medical marijuana company. But when the Lansing, Michigan-based company, Skymint—one of the largest in the state—opened its first dispensary last year, little did anyone know the precedent it set. One of those pandemic defined "essential businesses," Skymint's goal is to give its employees and customers the "best in life" treatment. It starts with the product. Homegrown in the State of Michigan, Skymint offers that farm-to-stash freshness with value. Treating its customers like artists, the retailer is changing how its customers shop and act.
We sat down with Jeff Radway, Co-founder & CEO of Skymint, to get a his take on what may be cannabis' new retail leader.
Give us a snapshot of your brand?
Skymint is Michigan’s leading premium cannabis retailer, with 10 dispensaries currently open around the state and many more on the way. As purveyors of exceptional cannabis, we offer customers a variety of great products for daily wellness, healing and just getting high on life.
What type of consumers are you targeting?
To us, cannabis is for any adult seeking a little mental or physical relief, or someone who just wants to kick back and have a good time. Destigmatizing our industry is one of our top priorities. Helping make more people comfortable through our shopping experience is a big part of that mission.
How does the overall design of your shop cater to what today's consumers are looking for?
We are working hard every day to change the way cannabis is sold, with each of our dispensaries featuring an inviting atmosphere and discovery-driven retail experience. To us, getting rid of the intimidation some shoppers—myself included—feel when they walk into an unfamiliar dispensary for the first time is critical. One of the ways we have found success is by making the store look and feel more like a traditional fashion retailer, which many of them are not only familiar with, but comfortable in.
What kind of adjustments are you planning to cater to how customers shop in this new landscape?
We are doing our best to stay as flexible as possible. We were very quick to institute safety and convenience measures for our customers and team members alike—primarily, online ordering and curbside pickup. We are in the process of launching our delivery service and implementing touchless transactions through ACH paperless payment methods.
Was your operation deemed essential during the lockdown? How does that help the category's standing in the marketplace?
We are so grateful cannabis was deemed essential in Michigan. We have heard first-hand what an impact cannabis has made in people's lives during this period of uncertainty, from daily wellness to stress relief.
Stores need to provide amazing service, including a visual and educational experience—while offering other popular and emerging options in this industry, such as curbside pickup and delivery.
What type of areas do you look for when seeking store locations?
Securing locations is extremely competitive, from real estate to licensing and everything in between. We evaluate each potential location independently based on the local market, and the wants and needs of the people who live there. We also look for communities and municipalities with whom we can forge strong, long-term partnerships.
What is your short-term strategy? Long-term?
In the near-term, we are focused on staying flexible and providing the safest, most convenient cannabis shopping experience possible as Michiganders grip with the new realities brought on by COVID-19. Ultimately, we look forward to growing our footprint in the state to reach more people looking for quality cannabis, a great value and an unforgettable shopping experience.
What is the best piece of advice you can offer to other brands on how to deal with what is happening today?
Even prior to COVID-19, volatility was a given for cannabis. It is critical to be ready to change directions quickly and confidently to meet new customer needs, supply chain considerations and policy fluctuation.
What makes your location engaging to today's cannabis customer? Have you added any in-store features?
A big priority is introducing new customers to the cannabis industry. The key to accomplishing this is by providing first-time customers with an inviting, informational and unforgettable customer experience. Our stores are designed to be beautiful, explorable and unique. We provide the opportunity to learn about cannabis through art installations, browse product information using our digital kiosks or have a one-on-one conversation with our expert sales associates. We combine beautiful aesthetics with open interaction to create a best-in-class customer experience that turns first-time shoppers into lifelong fans.
Securing locations is extremely competitive, from real estate to licensing and everything in between.
Walk us through how and why your shop(s) is designed the way it is?
We wanted to create a 21st Century retail space. We saw most cannabis shops stuck in a cross between a smoke shop and an adult bookstore, and we did not think either was particularly inviting to the cannabis consumer of the future.
The space should be modern, inviting to all, browsable, and merchandised by category and brand for consumer ease. The floor should also be dynamic, as you would find in any leading 21st Century retailer. Most importantly, checkout lines and stanchions should not be the focal point.
Give us a rundown of your market's layout.
Our statewide footprint means we are poised to serve adult-use customers across the state. That presents benefits, particularly as people look to take safe, in-state road trips and vacations—during which they are likely to find our familiar storefronts. Michigan’s overall adult-use market continues to grow rapidly and shows no signs of slowing. We are thrilled at the opportunity to serve more and more of our friends and neighbors.
What is the biggest issue today related to the construction side of the business?
Speed and quality are critical. Quality represents the ability to fully deliver on the look and feel objectives we have outlined. Speed is critical, but often presents our biggest challenges due to the highly regulated environment of cannabis, and the many permits and licensing sign-offs required to open.
Talk about sustainability. What are you doing?
Product packaging is one area we spend a lot of time on, both in terms of aesthetics, but also as it pertains to sustainability. We are regularly evaluating sustainable packaging materials as they become available.
Additionally, cannabis and retail are both fairly energy intensive. We have worked closely with local power companies to explore ways to reduce the load and find other ways to offset our needs, such as installing solar panels where possible.
What type of opportunities do you see moving ahead?
Truthfully, the opportunities are endless. As we continue to draw new customers to our industry and dispensaries, we will continue to learn, adjust and adapt to their needs. Another area of opportunity is the continued destigmatization of the industry and everything that comes with growing positive public opinion.
As part of that movement, we are proud to support groups like the Last Prisoner Project, which is working day and night to address criminal injustice for those unfairly punished for nonviolent cannabis crimes under old, obsolete laws. Through partnerships like this, we have a real opportunity to improve lives in the communities we serve.
We are driven by the opportunity to continue surprising and delighting customers, as well as changing the public conversation and opinion of the cannabis industry as a whole.
What trends are you seeing/expecting?
Omni-channel retail has been affecting brick and mortar retail for well over a decade, and we expect that trend to continue. Stores need to provide amazing service, including a visual and educational experience—while offering other popular and emerging options in this industry, such as curbside pickup and delivery. We continue to believe that there is a need for stores to fully meet the needs of our customers today and tomorrow.
What is the secret to creating a "must visit" location in today's competitive landscape?
As I mentioned, for us it is about getting out of the “dispensary experience” mindset. Instead, our stores are designed to offer exciting and surprising retail experiences, regardless of what products we sell.
What is today's consumer looking for?
Our customers come from such diverse backgrounds, including their experience with cannabis. That is obviously a challenge, but one we relish the opportunity to solve when we wake up every day. We have seen that by offering exceptional products, great value and an unforgettable shopping experience. We have continued to win loyal fans.
Tell us what makes your brand so unique?
We are driven by the opportunity to continue surprising and delighting customers, as well as changing the public conversation and opinion of the cannabis industry as a whole. The plant’s benefits in our lives, from each individual to our broader community, are unbelievable, and we will continue to shine a light on all the ways cannabis can help people.
Jeff Radway, Co-founder & CEO, Skymint
Describe a typical day.
This business feels like a 24/7 ultra-marathon challenge on most days. Our co-founder and I often joke that it has been a hell of a week by Tuesday or Wednesday due to the volume of work, communications and data that comes at you in the course of a day. My days start early, normally around 6 a.m., and typically end with emails and catching up on reports around 7 p.m.
I spend most of my time working on the future growth of our business from a capital perspective, as well as evaluating brand collaboration and acquisition opportunities.
I also try to stay close to the market by visiting our facilities (now at 13) and our competitors’ stores. In my past life as an apparel company owner, we virtually lived in stores, so that is something I will never get too far away from. There is no substitute for being in the market.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love talking with our team and hearing stories about what brought them into the cannabis industry, their passion for the industry and the people they know who have been helped by cannabis.
I believe strongly that this plant can help to change the world—and our business can act as a catalyst for that. It is a “rising-tide-lifts-all-ships” concept. We are renovating dilapidated properties, hiring talented individuals at our retail stores and manufacturing facilities, and paying well above typical retail salaries, all while offering very competitive 401(k) and health insurance programs. It may sound like a stretch, but I truly believe cannabis can help rebuild the middle class in our country, and improve the comfort, pain relief and overall quality of life for everyone.
What was the best advice you ever received?
My grandmother gave me a start-up loan on a lawn mowing business when I was in high school. She matched the funds I had available. Of course, I was super grateful, and while thanking her, she said, “Just make the business a success and remember to help someone else.” She was an amazing woman who helped start a coffee roasting and manufacturing business during the Great Depression with her husband. That business, Paramount Coffee, is still thriving today. She believed in the power of a successful business to help bring others up.
What is the best thing a client ever said to you?
Again, I will pull from my lawn mowing business when I was in high school. My partner and I had about 50 customers and would sometimes mow into the evening (with flashlights taped to our mowers so we could see).
One evening, we were mowing a lawn belonging to an older gentleman who owned the largest chain of dry cleaners in the mid-Michigan area. He walked out and told us we were doing a great job and wanted to pay his bill. I told him we would leave an invoice in his mailbox and not to worry, we could collect next week. He looked at me very seriously and said, “Never give credit.” He went on to explain how difficult it is to make a profit in business and one customer not paying would take a long time to make up.
It was a great lesson at age 17. It taught me to pay careful attention to the accounts receivable collection cycle and overall finances of my business and not just the sales generated.
How do you like to spend your down time?
I love traveling with my family on a boat, a beach or on a bike.
Story by Michael J. Pallerino, editor of Commercial Construction & Renovation magazine. Over the past 30-plus years, he has won numerous awards, including the "Jesse H. Neal Editorial Achievement Award," recognized as the Pulitzer Prize for business-to-business magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.