Sales of legal marijuana in the United States has been growing at a pace that the industry wasn’t expecting.
In 2017, the still nascent industry raked in $9 billion in sales, while it’s expected to generate sales worth $11 billion in 2018.
The addition of California in 2018 to the group of states where recreational cannabis usage has been legalized is one major reason for the growth in sales.
In fact, just the medical marijuana business in California was on par with the combined total business of Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
Birth of the Canna-Tech Industry
Besides generating unprecedented volume of sales, this industry is also creating thousands of jobs. In 2017, the industry employed over 121,000 people.
It’s true that the majority of these are low wage jobs, with bud trimmers making anywhere between $8 and $12 per hour and budtenders on average making about $14 per hour. However, these are actual jobs and not jobs on paper and the number is expected to rise to about 300,000 by 2020-21.
As the legal cannabis industry continues to grow, the role of technology has become more prominent. Since at the federal level marijuana hasn’t yet got the legal stamp, major technology companies have stayed away from the industry.
This has allowed a number of smaller companies, startups to enter the field and develop innovative, useful tech-based services and products to cater to the legal cannabis industry, including point-of-sale tracking service, seed-to-sale tracking software, sales management software, e-commerce management, genetic testing, inventory management and transportation, etc.
With legalization of cannabis, it has become just like any other product. So, customers expect the purchasing experience to be on par with other products.
Thus, whether they order online or visit a dispensary, the responsibility falls of the retailer to make a wide range of products available to them and ensure that delivery options are provided.
The small scale structure of the medical marijuana business can’t be applied here. Retailers need a high quality customer relationship management software to keep track of inventory, manage accounts and build relationships with customers to ensure repeat purchases.
Similarly, growers and distributors need help of technology as well. They need to keep track of inventory, manage orders from multiple retailers, fulfill deliveries, etc.
Challenges Faced by Business Owners
Even though the sales are going through the roof, there are a number of uncertainties and challenges surrounding this industry.
The primary worry for most business owners are the constant changes in regulations that govern sale of recreational marijuana. The other worry is high taxation and how it eats into the profit margins.
These issues have deterred major investors thus far, which is delaying further growth.
Legal cannabis companies are also facing opposition from the big technology companies, including Google and Facebook.
Neither of these companies accept advertisements from cannabis companies, while Google-owned YouTube has also been removing cannabis-related content from its platform.
These are broad ranging challenges, but on a day-to-day basis businesses face other challenges as well.
For a producer and distributor, finding a substantial number of retail channels is the first challenge. And, in the process of dealing with these retail channels, ensuring that the communication is streamlined helps save a lot of time and money.
Similarly, for the dispensaries, the primary challenge is procuring the best quality products. However, the cannabis industry is unregulated, which makes it particularly difficult to gauge the quality of product.
The process of placing an order and finally receiving the inventory can also be quite cumbersome.
LeafLink: Connecting Canna Retail and Wholesale
LeafLink is a wholesale management platform that was founded by Ryan Smith and Zach Silverman. Its original headquarters is located in New York, but they have since setup another “headquarters” in Los Angeles.
Leaflink also has offices in San Jose, California and Denver, Colorado. LeafLink helps retailers, dispensaries and cannabis e-commerce platforms connect with cannabis product manufacturers and distributors, thereby streamlining the process of reviewing the products on offer and placing an order.
Leaflink’s software also simplifies the line of communication between the two businesses. They charges wholesalers a monthly fee to use its platform that starts from $299 and increases depending on the size of the company.
LeafLink doesn’t play any role in the delivery of the product, neither is its platform used in the financial transactions between the brand or distributor and retailer or dispensary.
One of the primary reasons that LeafLink stays away from the actual delivery and transactions related to that is to make itself appear as less of a risk to potential investors.
The company had raised $750,000 in seed funding from a group of angel investors in New York, back in November 2015.
A couple of years later, in November 2017, LeafLink raised $10 million in Series A funding from UK-based global VC firm Nosara Capital, with participation from a previous investor, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Snoop Dogg’s marijuana-focused investment company Casa Verde Capital and others.
LeafLink will be using the funds to expand to nine new states, to hire more people and to build new products for its platform.
Currently, the company works with more than 2,500 retailers and over 750 brands, across 12 states including Colorado, Oregon, California, Nevada, Washington and Arizona.
Smith told Inc.com that between March 2016 (when the company first launched) and November 2017, LeafLink had processed $100 million worth of sales orders. He had also mentioned that in 2018 the company is targeting $500 million worth of annual sales orders.
LeafLink is most active in Colorado and Washington, where it has a near 90% penetration in the legal cannabis market. It’s currently particularly focusing on California, which is expected to become the largest market for legal marijuana in the United States soon.
Opening New Retail Options For Brands and Distributors
For a brand or distributor, the purchasing managers at retail establishments and online stores are the customers.
The vendor-retailer relationship has been mired with multiple texts and emails, uncertainty over availability and the general wastage of precious time that can better utilized elsewhere. This is where a platform like LeafLink adds a lot of value.
As a distributor, you are exposed to over 2,500 retailers and their purchasing managers or sales representatives on LeafLink. And these purchasing managers can place orders and communicate with a few simple clicks. You get access to the platform for monthly fee.
LeafLink offers a single dashboard to keep a track of all orders. You can edit the orders as required, analyze sales data based on it and keep track of sales.
What makes LeafLink even better is that even if the order hasn’t been generated via the platform, you still enter the order details on the platform. So, you don’t need to invest in another order-to-sales software for external orders.
Customer Relationship Management
Customer relationship management (CRM) is vital for all businesses. It has a direct impact on the growth of the company. It also helps in identifying the areas that need more work.
The CRM platform provided by LeafLink lets you store and check customer information at any time, you can check the customer’s order history and keep a track of the overall sales activity.
This will help you identify your best clients and continue building a strong relationship with them. At the same time, you can identify clients who you should engage with further to understand how the relationship can be improved.
How to Get Started?
If you own a brand or a cannabis distribution company, then all you need to do is fill out a simple form and a sales representative from LeafLink in your area will get in touch with you to give you a demo.
The information you need to provide includes your name, email ID, phone number, company name, state, link to the website and type of business, among other things.
Once you have signed up with LeafLink, a client experience manager from LeafLink will walk you through the entire process of setting up an account on the online marketplace, including creating a menu, uploading customer contact information, managing orders, tracking customer relations, etc.
For retail establishments, dispensaries and online stores, a lot of time is wasted in finding out if a particular product is available, then placing order, then following up multiple times to check on the status of the order and finally receiving it.
Another major issue is that it’s nearly impossible to determine if a product is of the promised quality or not, unless you already have a working relationship with the distributor in question.
If a retailer can’t guarantee a certain quality of product, customers will move to the next one. This is a bitter truth all businesses need to contend with. Hence, a platform like LeafLink with over 750 brands on board is a great resource for all marijuana retailers. You check the status of the orders that you have placed with multiple brands in realtime. And the service is free for retailers.
Product Discovery and Samples
There are a few products that you order regularly, but given the pace at which the cannabis industry is growing, new products keep popping up. It’s very difficult to keep a track of all these and at the same time focus on your daily business.
LeafLink plays an important role in this regard as well. It doubles up as a product discovery platform. So, you can check all of the vendor or brand menus and stay updated about the latest additions.
It doesn’t end there. You have discovered a cool product, but how do you know if it’s any good or not. So, you can also request a sample from the distributor and try it out before placing a proper order. It’s a win-win for both the retailer and the distributor as it helps establish robust relationships.
Reordering is one of those monotonous tasks that nonetheless needs to be done. On LeafLink, the task becomes much easier, because you can check your order history and reorder with just a few clicks.
This simplifies inventory management. In addition to this, you track the delivery status of all the orders from the time you place the order till it’s shipped.
How to Get Started?
Since access to the marketplace is free for retailers, you can directly sign up with LeafLink. You have to provide detailed information about the company, including the address, license number, license type and contact info like phone number and email address.
Note that without a valid license you will not be able to register on LeafLink. As of now, LeafLink is available in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and Washington. If you’re based in a region not part of the ones mentioned here, then get in touch via email@example.com.
Even though sales have been growing at a breakneck speed, the legal recreational cannabis industry is still at a nascent stage.
Over the next few years, new regulations will come into effect as more states in the United States legalize recreational usage of cannabis.
This will pose several challenges from a business perspective, as companies will have to comply with the regulations and at the same time meet the demands of the growing retail and customer base in the country.
A number of startups are working on softwares and online marketplaces to meet this demand head on. While traditional venture capital firms have thus far stayed away from these startups, cannabis-focused investors are pumping in money — LeafLink is one of these companies.
It’s been nearly three years since it first launched and in this time it has steadily expanded to over a dozen states and is constantly looking to expand further. It has also raised a substantial sum of money to further build on its wholesale marketplace.
If you are an investor, now is a GREAT time to get in while prices are still reasonable regarding LeafLinks stock shares. This space is often overlooked by investors in favor of farming/growing companies but just like Salesforce is to Fortune 500, LeafLink will be to cannabusinesses.
For new cannabis dispensaries, a platform like LeafLink is essential for growth. And for dispensaries that have been around for a few years and have a loyal bunch of customers, it provides an opportunity to expand.
Brands and distributors need a platform like LeafLink to engage with new retailers and expand to new geographies.