Head Magazine was excited to attend the VIP opening of Planet 13 California, the largest marijuana dispensary in the state and second largest in the world. (The world’s largest is Planet 13 Las Vegas.) At fifty-five thousand square feet with fifty – yikes! – cash registers, these people mean business and expect business.
There are some really cool features. You enter the store to a huge video waterfall with an interactive sand floor that washes away your footprints as you walk. Just for fun, guests walk past an old time VW van with smoke billowing out, an homage to hippie culture and the golden age of pot.
The vast space itself is quite impressive and colorful with a large multicolored octopus and bright umbrellas lining the ceiling. There is also a large outdoor area that will be expanded later into a concert venue.
The party was a blast with VIP’s from all areas of the marijuana world. There was plentiful good food and drink with a generally good vibe all around. It seemed people were just delighted to be at a wonderful, happy event after being cooped up for so long.
We had a chance to meet the brains behind this ambitious enterprise and learn all about the Planet 13 brand- how they got here and where they’re going. Following is a talk our Editor and Publisher Charlotte Parker had with Co-CEO Bob Groesbeck.
Charlotte: Hi, Bob. Thanks for talking to us today at HeadMagazine.com.
Bob: Hi, Charlotte.
Charlotte: I was just recently at the opening of your 55,000-square-foot Superstore in California, in Santa Ana. It is incredible!
Bob: Thank you very much We’re very excited. It’s so unique and so different.
Charlotte: For good reason. It is amazing. How is the Planet 13 California different from Planet 13 Las Vegas?
Bob: Well, obviously they’re both very large facilities, they’re both the largest in their respective states. Santa Ana is just so different. It’s very bright colors, lots of light tones, unique features -like you saw with the octopus in the giant video wall.
Charlotte: Like the ocean and the footprints in the sand.
Bob: Like the ocean in California. Exactly. That’s what it’s all about.
Charlotte: Very California.
Bob: That’s what it was designed to do, really pay homage to the California lifestyle and that vibe. Vegas is Vegas. Vegas, it’s just designed to be a Vegas attraction.
Charlotte: You mentioned that you’re looking to have this be a total experience. How is it going to be different than a regular dispensary?
Bob: We do everything in phases, given the size of these facilities. For the next phase we’re looking to incorporate some type of outdoor space like an amphitheater-type feel under glass in the giant atrium area that we have out there. We have about 15,000 feet of open space that we want to put to use, whether that’s in consumption or a concert-type venue. We’re not sure yet. The whole idea is really just palm trees, moving water, a wonderful sound system, great seating, and the ability to enjoy actual events. Also, we envision a stage platform of some sort and then tying in food like we did in Las Vegas facility. Of course we will be working with the city and getting their approvals.
Charlotte: Will there be food then in California as well?
Bob: Yes, that’s the plan in subsequent phases. We’re not sure exactly how that will look. Right now we’re playing with a food court concept. Again, the whole idea is just to tie it in the California lifestyle and make that a part of an attraction.
The beautiful thing is it’s a canvas, that’s continuing to evolve. Every day we’re considering new ideas.
We’ll have a production facility, albeit probably smaller than Vegas, but something behind glass where customers can actually watch products being manufactured in front of them. That’s been a huge draw here in Las Vegas. Customers really gravitate toward that. They can watch production runs. They can actually get familiar with the products.
We’ve got monitors throughout the hallways where they can touch things as they’re being manufactured in front of them. We envision a similar experience in California.
It’s all about augmenting the experience. There’ll be many more features coming online, some of which will be experiential and things that the customers can touch, really to make this an experience. The whole idea is if you want to spend ten minutes to come in and get product, we want to accommodate you, but if you want to spend a few hours, or the better part of a day, we want to accommodate you there as well.
Charlotte: I understand that you have fifty cash registers, five zero, which is just a shocking amount, amazing. How do you train your budtenders and your sales force? They’re going to have to be a very knowledgeable group of people. Are there qualifications? How are you going to deal with that?
Bob: It’s interesting that you say that because, yes, it does require a very unique person. To work for us, you have to have a lot of experience with THC products. We’re one of the few employers out there that, if you check the box on your employment application that you know about marijuana, that’s going to probably move your application forward much quicker than would otherwise be the case. We want that experience and that knowledge.
Of course we’re continually training our employees. Before we open on July 1, our employees have been training upwards of a month – running through transactions, running through product testing. We have full-time trainers and staff that are continually reviewing products with them We encourage our employees to try products and to give us feedback. It’s very important.
Charlotte: That sounds like a fun job for many.
Bob: That’s the job.
Charlotte: If, let’s say, some of our readers are interested in working there, are there other qualifications? Do you train them?
Bob: Typically, we won’t put a person on the floor to interact with customers without pretty significant experience in marijuana products. Now that doesn’t mean if somebody has a great deal of expertise, has a lot of personal experience, and maybe they haven’t been in a dispensary environment — It doesn’t mean they’d be disqualified. It’s a case-by-case basis. We’re just looking for the best of the best.
Charlotte: Do they get experience with the different types of products?
Bob: Absolutely. They’re tested. They literally will take examinations to test their product knowledge. We’re looking for the best of the best.
Charlotte: That gives a person a lot of confidence when they come in because when I buy something, I want to know what kind of effect, how much THC, what is going to happen versus the CBD. They’ll know those things.
Bob: It’s critically important, particularly for the new THC user. The whole idea is to make them comfortable and really to gauge their knowledge of the effects of various products and different delivery systems. Obviously, inhaling product is different than ingesting product. There are some significant nuances that need to be discussed with the customer.
Charlotte: I’m wondering regarding the different kinds of product like the edibles, flowers, tinctures, are they going to be sold in separate areas or is everything being sold together?
Bob: Great point. Given the size of the facility, typically we’ll break out product in zones. You will be able to buy, for instance if you’re looking for a vape, and maybe a concentrate product, you can get it all through one transaction, that’s not a problem.
Typically, they’ll break the floor out into zones so you can see those products in multiple areas, so you’re not running across the entire floor. What’s unique in Santa Ana is we have the store within a store concept.
If you’re a diehard connoisseur of a select product, you’ll just go up to that storefront, and they’ll accommodate you there. The whole idea is to make it as seamless as possible for the customer, and to get them engaged in looking at products on the floor. That’s what it’s all about.
Charlotte: Are they separated by brand, or are all the brands together and you can just talk to the budtender and say,” I’d like a product that does this or that for me?”
Bob: Typically, it’s by product category. For instance, drinks will be clustered in drink areas, vapes, etc.
Charlotte: Right with the tinctures or the edibles. I understand that you grow and cultivate as well. How is that going? What are your plans for that?
Bob: Well, in Nevada we’re an integrated operator. We’ve got cultivation and extensive production facilities. Our goal is to be integrated in California as well, to really come in, because we like to control that process. For us, we want our customers have a wide array of products. Also, we want to carry our brands in the California market and other markets we’re going into. In order to control that quality, that consistency, it’s imperative that we control that process. We don’t license our genetics out, for instance, to let others grow for us. We only do it ourselves.
Charlotte: Do you sell your own brand currently in the stores?
Bob: In Nevada, we do, yes. In Nevada we’re probably in seventy dispensaries statewide of the roughly 75 or 80 that are open.
Charlotte: Your brand, is it called Planet 13?
Bob: Oh, no. Great question. No. All of our brands, our flower brands, for instance, are sold under the Medizin brand. We have a line of gummies, HaHa Gummies, HaHa beverages. We’ve got infused sparkling waters, we’ve got infused sugar drinks, we have chocolate bars, Dreamland Chocolates….
Charlotte: That’s interesting.
Bob: We will carry all those brands into California.
Charlotte: Did you learn things from the Las Vegas store that helped you in opening California? Did you learn things that were helpful in starting the next big one?
Bob: We did, yes. We learned a great deal from Las Vegas. The design of Santa Ana incorporates a lot of that. We learned from Vegas that the entry has to be as large as we could make it to accommodate a lot of traffic and really position customers in such a way that we get them into the dispensary very quickly once they’ve checked in and provided their credentials.
The traffic flow down there is going to be much, much better than it was here in Las Vegas initially. With our automated queuing systems and things of that nature, we can really manage traffic to a much higher degree than we originally could do in Las Vegas.
Charlotte: Yes, because in a lot of dispensaries, you have to wait to get in and it takes a while.
Bob: Yes, we try to keep that wait period as short as we can. The whole idea is to get you into the dispensary floor so you can enjoy that experience without waiting in lines.
Charlotte: Why choose Santa Ana as opposed to let’s say Los Angeles, Santa Monica, the San Fernando Valley? Was there a reason?
Bob: Yes. Well, because of the location, it was ideal. Larry (Larry Scheffler Co-CEO) and I, before we found this location, looked at probably a hundred opportunities from San Francisco all the way down to San Diego. For us, there’s a pretty significant set of criteria that we require.
For instance, proximity to freeways, proximity to major arterials, size of the facility, adequacy of parking, rooftops, tourist draws, all those things factor into identifying a location that would work. Santa Ana was really the first one that hit our radar screen. It really checked all the boxes – and we found a city that was very supportive of the concept.
The city has been just tremendously supportive. They were a partner for us, which is very refreshing. They really embrace what we’re trying to do, and worked with us to get this facility open in just a very timely manner. That means the world to us. We’re very grateful for that. We couldn’t have landed in a better city.
Charlotte: What are your plans for growing the brand or having other superstores in other locations?
Bob: We see California as really ripe for maybe another two or three superstores. Perhaps San Diego, and even the San Francisco metro area, it’s just, again, finding the right location. Now, that said, we’re also looking for what we call our traditional neighborhood stores. We’ll look at other operators that operate like we do, that share our vision. We could easily see a rollout of a number of stores that aren’t superstores necessarily, but really fall under our branded product mix. We’re looking in that avenue as well. We’re excited at what we see out there, and we think there are some good opportunities.
Charlotte: Not every store that you’re going to open is necessarily going to be a superstore?
Bob: Oh, no. Superstores are unique. Again, you must have unique market, and they take a lot of work to get permitted, as you know. It’s quite an ordeal, but for us, it works well. It’s worth the time and it’s worth the patience. Again, we’re looking at other opportunities as well outside of the superstore context.
Charlotte: The east coast, do you think you’re going to go there as well?
Bob: That’s our plan. We’re looking in the east coast, upper Midwest, we even like Florida. Although it’s a medical market now, we see some great opportunities when it converts to a direct market. Got some fabulous tour cities, for instance, Orlando, Miami, really a lot of upside there. For us for the superstore to work, it needs to really be a recreational market.
Charlotte: Do you think the banking is going to change? Right now, you can’t use a credit card, you can only use cash or debit. Is that a federal situation or is it state?
Bob: It’s almost exclusively federal. I wish I could predict what they’re going to do. Every time we take two steps forward, it’s like we take three steps backwards. It’s unfortunate. Congress needs to do something. They need to take the cash component out of this industry and really allow us to engage in traditional business and traditional banking. It’s imperative for the industry. It’s unfortunate that we got a number of people back there that just aren’t forward-thinking, I’ll leave it at that.
Charlotte: I hear you. How did you get started in this field?
Bob: Purely accident. I was sitting at a county commission meeting, of all things, waiting on my item to be called. Then, it was a land use issue. I did a lot of land use, zoning and development. I was zoned out because they’re incredibly boring meetings, for the most part. I thought I heard somebody mentioned the word marijuana.
Nobody said anything for a bit, so I thought I misheard what they were saying. I went back to just reading whatever I had with me at the time. Then they started talking about marijuana again and about adopting a regulatory framework to implement medical marijuana in the state.
I was completely captivated by that. I actually walked down to the front of the chambers and grabbed a hard copy of the agenda and went back and sat down. I thought, “This is incredible. I had no idea we did this. I lived here. I don’t remember us voting for it in the year 2000.” Larry and I started talking like, “What do you think about this? How many times in a lifetime do you get a chance to be engaged in a new business that has gone from the underground to legitimacy? I can think of alcohol after prohibition.
Charlotte: Alcohol right after prohibition. Yes.
Bob: We started thinking, this is fascinating. Now, of course, at the time, we have a lot of vigor, but we didn’t have much smarts. We really didn’t have an understanding of all the complications associated with business. I had no idea what 280E was, for instance and the tax penalties associated with that. I really didn’t know anything. The banking challenges. It was really a struggle but it was exciting, and it’s still exciting. Every day I wake up, there’s a new challenge. Just in hindsight, the last six, seven years for us feels like two years, because time seems to move incredibly fast in this industry. It’s just been a lot of fun.
Now, with that said, people ask me all the time, “What advice would you give to newcomers in the industry?” I really tell them point blank, “You need two things. Two things are imperative before you do anything. Find a great accountant that understands 280E, and a very good lawyer that understands the regulatory environment, and particularly marijuana, because it’s a challenging path, and it’s imperative that you got really good counsel in each area.” Because, like I said, it changes daily once you have people that can navigate that for you.
Charlotte: The industry is still very new and fledgling. The growth opportunities are great in this industry, but sometimes it’s a rocky road.
Bob: It’s very rocky. The other thing that I caution people that aspire to get in the industry is be real careful on debt. It’s one of those things that can really get you in a hole fast. It can really change the trajectory of your business, and not in a positive way.
Charlotte: Well, now that the pandemic is waning, do you think that’s going to make a difference for the industry in terms of more sales, or do you think the fact that people were just buying it a lot because it helped them through the pandemic with a lot of emphasis on delivery and things like that? Do you think it’s going to affect it in any way?
Bob: I see nothing but positive coming out of the pandemic. The pandemic was disastrous for all of us in many ways but I think in this space, in particular for us, our company– because again, we focus on the experience. You don’t get the experience unless you come to our stores. For us, as we see Vegas reopen for instance, it’s been a real positive. We see the numbers stick up every day the town opens up. There’s a massive pent up demand across the country just to get out and live life again.
We’re seeing that, and we expect we’ll see that in Santa Ana as well. We’re excited about that. I think, overall, I think there’s a lot of upside as you mentioned earlier. I think as more and more people get accustomed to marijuana products, and the stigma starts to go away, and more and more states legalize. I think it’s going to become another commodity at some point.
Charlotte: I agree. I think it’s at the bottom of this curve that’s about to go up.
Bob: I think you’re right.
Charlotte: Question is how quickly, but it will.
Bob: I think you’re right.
Charlotte: Anyway, thank you Bob. I really appreciate you talking with us today.
Bob: My pleasure, Charlotte, always good to talk with you. Please let me know when you get to town. I’d love to show you behind the curtain soon as–
Charlotte: I absolutely will.