CBD Emporium's Andrew Young Turns to Virtual Platforms for Product Sourcing  4/16/2020

Andrew Young is the Vice President of Product Management and Vendor Relations for CBD Emporium, a retailer with stores across Arizona that offers a full range of branded and store brand CBD products. Its associates provide a very consultative approach to customer interactions, making them the go-to spot for first timers as well as veteran CBD users.

In this interview, ECRM's Joseph Tarnowski and Andrew discuss the retailer's approach to selling CBD products, as well as how he discovers, vets and partners with new vendors. And due to travel restrictions from the Covid-19 pandemic, he's increasingly turning to virtual meetings to accomplish this.

In fact, he was a buyer participant in ECRM's recent CBD Beverage Efficient Supplier Introduction program. He relates his experience with the ESI, and even offers some tips to suppliers on how they can crush it in their virtual presentations.

For more information about ECRM's Efficient Supplier Introductions and a list of categories covered, click this link

Listen to the podcast here


ECRM: Hi Everybody, Joe here with ECRM and I have with me today Andrew Young, the Vice President of Product Management and Vendor Relations for CBD Emporium. I, Andrew, thank you for joining us.

Young: My pleasure, Joe. Thanks for having me.

ECRM: So you've been really busy over the past few days opening stores, huh?

Young: That's right, yeah. Last week we opened up our newest store here in Phoenix. It's a beautiful location. We're really excited about it. It's got great exposure in an ideal area.

ECRM: Great. And your stores are currently open now, you’re essential businesses, correct?

Young: That's correct. Here in Arizona, all of our store locations are able to operate. We have been deemed in the state of Arizona as an essential business.

ECRM: Okay. And what about you? Have you been traveling a lot to these stores during this process? And how are you doing personally? 

Young: Well we have taken some steps to mitigate or reduce the amount of exposure of everybody here in the company utilizing additional resources as much as possible. I was a main contributor to the merchandising and the design of our newest store, so I did spend a lot of time there last week. I do work with in store messaging, working with all of our brands and all of our vendor partners to represent them as best as possible. I work with our managers and merchandising on in-store messaging marketing, and we're really in close contact with all of our vendors and I'm kind of the go between, between each one of our particular stores that are representing each of our vendor partners and the main point of contact and a part of the design of all those implementations.

ECRM: Wow. So you're wearing a lot of different hats.

Young: That's right. It's a startup. But it's nothing new to me, I've actually been in a lot of different positions here since I've been with the company for just over a year. The company's just about a year and a half old, and we've grown quite rapidly since our first store opened in late 2018 and we're looking forward to future expansion here in the United States.

ECRM: Well, there’s a lot of demand for CBD. So for those who may not be familiar with CBD Emporium, could you give an overview of the company, the types of products that you sell?

Young: Sure. The name I think really speaks for who we are as, as a company. We are a retailer that specifically features CBD based products. We do represent multiple different brands and vendor partners as we really believe that choice is important for our clients. Choice for our stakeholders that are looking to be able to have access to various different options. So they have something that fits directly into their lifestyle. We feel it's really important to carry different categories and subcategories to be able to really have a little bit of everything. So when our clients and customers come in, we ask them a lot of questions to be able to find a particular product that will fit into their lifestyle. We've set up our retail environment to be very comfortable for the general consumer that may not be experienced with hemp and CBD. I know that there's a lot of taboo that's kind of around it because of the particular a plant that it's derived from, which is happens to be the cannabis sativa plant.

So a lot of people have preconceived notions to that, but what we do is create an environment that really makes people feel comfortable. And you know, we really take that high end approach where we look for people in higher demographics. We set it up in a way that is reminiscent of say, a beauty store or health and wellness focused store. So people do feel comfortable. It's not like walking into a smoke shop. It's not like walking into a dispensary and it's not like walking into a big box store. We really take a consultative type of approach to the way that we work with our clients and customers, since there is a lot of learning that still needs to happen in this particular industry. So we do spend a lot of time educating our consultants, which is what we call our retail staff, who are really specialized into all of these products and in the industry so they can share their knowledge with customers, so they feel comfortable in making these purchases and establishing a relationship that can span a long time.

ECRM: You bring up a great point and I think it's something that may be a bit of a sticking point for the retailers of fast moving consumer goods that depend on a quick turnover of customers may not have the time or resources for a consultative approach. You need to have someone with the time and the patience to field whatever questions the consumer might have. It’s a different kind of sale.

Young: It really is. It’s definitely a different beast. A lot of these particular aspects that are present in the CBD products themselves really need a lot of explanation and it could be very high level where depending on the, the breadth of the person, what they're really open to learning, to the person that really wants all the details and a lot of these vendors and a lot of these brands out there put a lot of time and effort into the products that they're creating. And so a lot of times that isn't necessarily easily understood by just looking at a package and a lot of those finer details or even terminology may be beyond the general consumer. And so it’s beneficial to have that specialized consultant to help walk people through this to be more familiarized.

Because a lot of people will just walk away if they don't fully understand it or maybe purchase the cheapest thing, not knowing that it may not be best for them or give them the best benefit. So really where we specialize is in creating that environment and giving that attention and consultative approach to those people, and representing the brands in the way that they feel that they need to be represented which really converts and translates into a lot more sales for the brand and creating long-term brand loyalty, as it's really important for the consumer to fully understand the products that they're consuming and to find a product that's going to work for them because everybody's lifestyle's different. And finding something that, you know, they will want to take every single day since that's really important in this particular industry, and something that we feel very strongly about.

ECRM: I agree 100%. That's going make you the go-to place for CBD. They know that any questions they might have, they're going to get an answer and you're going to take your time. Have you seen more of an interest in CBD with this whole coronavirus thing, as part of a greater focus on wellness?

Young: In certain aspects, I think people's awareness of their own health and wellness and herbal aspects that they can implement in their diet is definitely growing. People are looking at immunity based type of products to implement into their lifestyle. We've seen people really taking a more serious look at the way that they treat their bodies, the way that they live their life. But you, I think specifically the, the major elements for which people utilize CBD are pain, inflammation, anxiety, and the biggest growing trend, which is sleep. But the one that really translates in today's society is anxiety. And, you know, this is something that people struggle with. And even in today's heightened stressful type of situation, people are finding great relief from implementing this into their daily routine.

We’re definitely finding a lot of people looking for a product that will help provide them a natural way of dealing with heightened stressful environments and finding great results utilizing these particular products. So I would say that that this particular environment has certainly increased people's awareness and increased the volume that people are purchasing. 

ECRM: That’s great to hear. Tell us about you're offerings. You span a lot of different categories and you also have branded and store brand products, correct? 

Young: That is correct. We are really looking at all the different categories for which the CBD industry has created products, and every single day there's new subcategories that are coming out and new evolutions. We're really looking to find what categories work best for our general consumer and finding what they are really desiring and what they are looking for and coming back and purchasing time and time again.

As it’s a relatively new industry, we're all learning. We don't necessarily have a lot of data to go off of every year. There's more and more data coming out. It's more of a hands-on research type of aspect and we're always trying new, different things to find out what's going to work, what's going to sell, putting out questionnaires, getting, getting feedback from our clients and customers, what our CBD consultants are hearing all the way to our vendor partners. It's definitely been an evolving process here in the retail side of the CBD industry. And I've been in this industry for about over five years now and seen it evolve so much in that timeframe. And you know, where we're at right now in society I think is fantastic and I'm really excited for the future because it's growing exponentially right now. 

ECRM: The stigma is definitely shedding, and even on the mass retail side of things, they are understanding it much better than even just a year ago. 

Young: Sure. There's a great amount of people out there that have had personal firsthand experiences or friends and family that have had personal positive experiences that have changed a lot of people's minds. This particular industry in the retail environment has definitely been a journey. And so we've seen people coming in just to get information and being able to go back and research that to find out for themselves if what we've conveyed to them is accurate. And after they confirm that, they usually come back. We have an extremely high conversion rate at CBD Emporium, but there are those people out there that made a decision before they even walk in that they're in there just to do research. But what we find is that nine times out of 10, those consumers go home, find the research and then come back in and make a purchase.

The journey usually starts with topicals, which are my favorites. It’s how I got into this industry and why I'm sitting here. I've got carpal tunnel from a career in my drafting architecture industry and it was so painful for me, and about eight years ago I tried a topical for the first time and it changed my life. And before that I just knew of the psychoactivity of cannabis; I didn't understand the true properties that this plant actually had beyond that. Once I experienced that for myself, it lit a passion in me to bring this to the world and scream it from the hilltops because this is something that everybody needs to know about and to try as their first line of defense against pain and inflammation.

And that's just one caveat to this particular industry with these products. Topicals are something that people can utilize and find benefit instantly and it's not invasive, so it's not something people would shy away from. They can put it on. And you know, what we're also finding is some of the most apprehensive people turn into our biggest advocates because they're really against it originally, and then they try it and it actually works and then they just tell every single person about that. And once they try topicals and it works for them, it opens them up to exploring the other benefits of CBD. And it's the same thing with maybe a pet product because sometimes people will purchase things for their pet that they didn't want to try themselves.

The great thing about pets is that they are very unbiased. If you can see a pet having benefits, you know it's not lying, you know it's actually working and then they'll afterward the consumers will go out and try it for themselves. So this industry is definitely a journey. It's people warming up to these products, to these compounds, implementing them to their lifestyle and really seeing benefit as they gradually warm up to this hemp plant. And it's definitely something that is continuing to grow. Something that we've definitely seen over the last 16 months is that full spectrum is definitely on the rise and people are more open to the trace amounts of THC than they ever have been before, and the entourage effect is something that people are experiencing and are more understanding of how that complex chemistry actually works and plays out.

ECRM: So you have those two lines of entry products, the topicals and the pet, but you're right, they see the results and then that will make them more comfortable to explore additional areas. Now are you also providing education through digital? I know there's a lot of restrictions with advertising, but are you leveraging those resources as well to get the message out?

Young: As much as we can. You know it's been very difficult being in this particular industry. I kind of at times feel like our hands are tied behind our backs. And digital has been very touch and go. We're always finding what is being accepted and what is easier for, for people in the industry to utilize for messaging. And because of the compliance side of this particular industry and compliance is something that we extremely seriously here at CBD Emporium, we really double check everything that we do online because you know, that's really permanent and that's really what's being compliance checked more than anything else that's out there. And so we're very careful, but we do utilize our membership base that we send out periodic emails and, and monthly newsletters, keeping everybody informed on what's going on at CBD Emporium.

We have our social media channels that we utilize as well as various different forms of, of advertisement and marketing. And we're looking into starting a podcast here in the very near future as well as various other different forms of blogs and informational type of tools that we can offer to our consumer base and really give a voice to the vendor partners that we work with to be able to distribute the information that people really want to hear. So we're always exploring new avenues of releasing that type of information. And we're really excited for the future of you know, the online platform; we've seen that grow exponentially over the last couple of months and we're really doubling down on that. But we still feel that having a retail setting for this particular industry is extremely important for people.

ECRM: Definitely because you can get into those details and you can have those deeper conversations with the customers.

Young: That's right. I think the biggest aspect is a lot of people that are coming in and seeking out CBD have a very personal story. They have a very personal reason why they're seeking out these products and compounds. And by sharing that with somebody that is empathetic and knowledgeable about these particular products, it really creates that trust in that relationship. And I will tell you there's no better feeling than helping a client or customer and having them come back in and tell you how impactful it has been for their life. And the same goes for the customer; having that in person experience and having that relationship, that one on one with a person who you can see. That's something that you can't get over the phone, you can't get on the internet. And I think it's very valuable for this particular industry.

ECRM: Definitely. And that's a good segue into the next question I had, which was about how you are making use of digital platforms for your sourcing of products. But before we get into that, what do you look for when you are considering working with a CBD supplier? 

Young: Our vendor evaluation process is something that we've been putting a lot of effort into recently as we feel that the brands and vendors we work with are representative of CBD Emporium. And so I myself have a great passion for CBD products and the brands and the vendors. What we've been doing is putting together in conjunction with RangeMe a questionnaire form that really allows us to have the information firsthand to be able to utilize during that brand and product evaluation. We also have a CBD handbook that kind of outlines all of the different elements that we look for in brands and all the different policies and elements that, that we utilize in our onboarding process.

So the brands and vendor partners have a really good understanding of what, how the relationship works. Right off the bat, there's nothing that we hide. We really look for brands that are taking science driven product and brand manufacturing and formulations seriously. Compliance is something we're really mandating our vendor partners take seriously. We're looking for more organic type of formulations and ingredients. I think branding and having a specific demographic that they're reaching is very important. Having, you ideal packaging as well as lengthy shelf life stability are also important, as well as niche products, as we really try not to have competing products directly as it doesn't make an easy shopping experience for the consumer.

They should also have manufacturing facilities that are CGMP compliant and ISO compliant, as well as lab-certified testing procedures and QR codes on their packaging that go to that documentation is also very important. And we're always finding new niches that we feel are important to our consumer base and want to bring the highest quality products and brands to the clients so they have an experience that's very positive and want to come back. So creating brand loyalty is really important where a lot of people don't necessarily have that at this particular time. And so our, our initial launch strategy is really tailored to creating a new consumer that has brand loyalty to those vendor partners that we do bring up.

ECRM: Gotcha. So in your role, before this coronavirus pandemic, you met with a lot of suppliers in person, either at industry events or maybe or sessions or them coming to you, correct?

Young: That is correct. I mean, having that in-person exchange is always ideal when I'm kind of in this deciding process on whether we want to work with each other. And we've really valued that and it's been great that a lot of the vendor partners value that as well. They would fly out here and meet with us, take tours around the stores, come to our headquarters and be able to sit down in person and really hash out the details. That's changed quite a bit since, over the last couple of months.

ECRM: So now digital has been the way to go with virtual meetings. And so you recently participated in our Efficient Supplier Introduction for CBD Beverages. How did you find out about it? What were your initial thoughts or reasons for signing up as a buyer?

Young: RangeMe has been a fantastic platform for us. Our, our RangeMe representative is extremely helpful. Harrison's been able to really walk us through the whole process and be able to customize it to our needs. Since we have been a retailer on range me various different people have reached out to us for opportunities. And I got an invitation through email to join this new endeavor, the Eficient Supplier Introductions. And I was already pretty familiar with some of the other platforms that RangeMe and ECRM provide our industry. And I'm a big fan being able to understand more about brands, and having this digital resource where I can sit in my office or at home and be able to get firsthand information straight from the brands and vendors themselves was extremely helpful and enticing. And so I jumped all over it as soon as I heard about it.

ECRM: That's awesome. So what was your experience like? Take to take us through the process. 

Young: It was extremely easy, actually. Once I read the email with the overview, it asked me if I would like to participate and of course I said yes. They informed me of what the next steps would be, that they would take care of the signup process and email me the instructions on how to log on and send me a calendar invite. And it really was that easy. I received an invite to the ESI and an instructional email that I read through and was able to easily log in on the day of the event. It was conducted very professionally and very smooth. I mean, I couldn't enough good things about that whole initial process because it was so smooth and so easy. And the platform itself when experiencing the event was fantastic and it was well coordinated.

ECRM: Excellent. And I know our client success managers who are involved, they're moderating it and making sure every supplier presentation starts and ends on time. And how many suppliers did you get to see? 

Young: About seven or eight. And that particular category, CBD beverages is something that we are recently exploring, finding out more elements of how it might contribute to the demographic that we serve. And finding out more of the various options in that particular category was extremely helpful for myself and finding out various different takes and different perspectives that each brand has really created for themselves. And seeing what would be ideally suited for, for our particular retail environment was extremely helpful. And it was a much more fruitful experience than just kind of going on a website, as we were sitting down with the founders and really getting the potatoes straight from their mouth, which was extremely helpful.

ECRM: And you were given all the information about those suppliers so you could follow up with them via RangeMe or directly afterwards, correct?

Young: That's correct. RangeMe makes it easily accessible to follow up with their profiles and, and reach out to them. You know, I did give permission to the client success managers that those particular vendors could reach out to me directly. So they have since then and we've started talks and communications and they're going to be sending samples for us to evaluate.

ECRM: So has this experience kind of opened up your eyes to more opportunities of these virtual platforms for sourcing?

Young: Yes. I mean, I'm a big fan of trade shows. I’ve been going to various cannabis hemp and natural products, trade shows for many years and found a great amount of benefit from connecting directly to each vendor and their vendor teams, getting the sales sheets and being able to try the product in person. Having this digital platform was extremely convenient because I was able to not, you know, take the expense or the time and traveling and, and having the expensive hotel rooms and meals and be able to sit in the comfort of my own home or the comfort of my own office and be able to focus in on that and be able to follow up. And, you know, I got the same amount of information and experience from this virtual event that I would have from a typical trade show.

ECRM: Awesome. We are going to continue our face to face programs; those aren't going away, but we are going to include the digital platforms as a compliment to them. We're actually going to expand on the digital side by creating something that is more like our in-person program experience with Virtual Programs. We're finding that with everybody at home they were forced to embrace these virtual meetings. And now that they see how effective they are, it kind of changed the mindset of a lot of people so that when we did launch the Efficient Supplier Introductions, a ton of buyers across categories were receptive. And some of them were asking about having a more individual one on one experience virtually personal experience. So we're going to continue with the ESIs for those supplier introductions and then we'll have the Virtual Programs for a more two-way interactive experience. It'll just compliment everything that we do on a person.

Young: That's very exciting. I think you nailed it when you said it was, it's complimentary and there is something to be said about this. In today’s digital age, some of these tools that have been developed, you know, they are extremely effective. There's a lot of people working remotely. I actually love these type of platforms and I often say to my coworkers, it's almost sometimes more convenient to do a virtual meeting even within the office than it is to come into my office because I can share a screen and you know, we can both be up to speed rather than having a crowd around a small computer screen. And I see a lot of people right now utilizing these technologies for things like yoga classes and you know, getting a lot of experience from that. Usually you have to have that in person meeting, and these technologies are being utilized for so many different things at this time and still delivering the same amount of benefit as in-person, or close to it. And it's opened up a lot of people's eyes, and inspired a lot of people as well to invest more into their content creation and their setups. And I think we're going to definitely see people level up and their digital creation over this.

ECRM: Yes, myself included. Previously most of my content I got from going to our in person sessions and I would do in-person video interviews with buyers and sellers and industry experts and it would basically be a fireside chat style, but I would kind of limit them to like 10 minutes because we didn't have as much time. And what I'm finding is because this quarantine has forced me to do it virtually, we launched our podcast, and are doing these longer form Zoom video interviews. And I'm learning a ton because I have deeper conversations, and we explore more too. It gives me so many assets to work with, content-wise. I have the full length video I can put on YouTube, I can rip the audio and make it a podcast. I can pull out snippets to use to promote the longer form stuff. It just gives you so many different things to do. And like I said, my favorite thing is to be able to have these more in depth conversations like we just had because I just learn a tremendous amount and you just can't do that if you're rushed. So it's been really, it's been really good for me too. And I agree. I think everybody's going to be stepping up their game because they realize we could all do this.

Young: That's right. It's very exciting.

ECRM: Well, great. Well any before we go, last question for suppliers who are making a presentation to you in a virtual setting, what are your recommendations?

Young: I think they should treat them kind of like an expo booth, I've seen people that have really gone the extra mile to creating a kind of backdrop and really representing their brand, taking the time and effort to create that type of experience for buyers like myself. And especially when making a first impression, the little details do go over very well. And so taking that time to set yourself up in a way that best represents your products and best represents your brand is extremely important. And also having a kind of a pitch put together and rehearsed and making sure that you have bullet points that you can really highlight during that time you have with those buyers is really important to staying on point and keeping a flow, and to ensure that you can cover everything you want in that amount of time.

I know some people can get a kind of cavalier and casual with virtual meetings. We do a lot of them since we have a lot of different stores across the United States and across Arizona, we do a lot of interviewing online and we definitely take the same methodology when evaluating vendors that we do with interview candidates. So think of it just like that. Certain people like to dress up over the phone and some people don't. And you know, that really kind of distinguishes somebody from just maybe a consultant to a manager is the attention and care and just the awareness of the gravity of the situation. Don't let the computer deceive that.

ECRM: What about visuals? Should they hold a product up to the screen or should they have 3D renderings that they could share on the screen?

Young: It depends on the technical capabilities of the person. The more technical, the better of course. But having those particular products featured there is really important. I think the content was really more important than anything else. It's hard to really convey a product over the, the camera. I think having full sized retail-ready samples sent out is ideal as well as having links provided so people can go to the website or be able to an analysis for the research and having that readily available. But I think more importantly is having your pitch and having your content and creating a backdrop and an environment. I think it's really important to do some different dry runs or experiments in advance.

If you're going to utilize some PDFs, makes sure they're all there. You don't want to have any background information that's not going to be utilized. That way you can easily flow through your presentation and you don't have any you know, dead energy or dead space, which always disinterests people they can lose their focus. 

ECRM: Andrew, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it and I look forward to eventually meeting you in person one of these days. 

Young: Likewise. Thank you Joe. 


Joseph Tarnowski

VP Content

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