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Talley Wettlaufer, Vice President of Retail for multi-state cannabis operator Coralifsays she was one of the few who tried to convince the recruiter that she was not a good fit for her current role.

“I got an email from a recruiter on LinkedIn who just says, ‘Hey, can you talk to us?'” Wettlaufer says. “And I said, sure, I’ll have a conversation.” I was really excited about this opportunity [with Curaleaf ]—This growth, such development. It was really a time to create something and take my familiar retail experiences and lessons from that and put it into a new industry that hasn’t really been identified. After saying that, I was like, “Are you sure you want me? Are you sure you think I’m the right candidate?”

In fact, Whitlover was the right candidate. She has more than two decades of experience in global trading, retail expansion, profit loss and management, and has previously held positions at J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Petco. She moved to California shortly after the state launched legal sales of adult use in 2018 and says, “It’s been an amazing journey since then.”

Here, Wettlaufer reflects on customer experience, evolving retail trends, and the industry’s biggest challenges and opportunities this year.

Editor’s note: This interview has been modified for style, length, and clarity.

Melissa Schiller: Can you highlight some of the lessons from retail in other industries that you’ve taken to the cannabis industry?

Tally Wittlaufer: I think great service is important no matter what industry you’re in. So, it’s a great service whether you’re in a clothing store, whether you’re in a restaurant – it’s common in any industry. Every customer has experience. I think one piece is constantly looking at, how do we deliver a great customer experience? How do we make sure we meet our customers in whatever way they want to meet them in any shopping experience? We all have moments where we sometimes want to be fast and friction-free, and we want to get in and out. Sometimes, we want to browse. Sometimes, we want to have conversations. I think this was an important guiding principle for how I researched the creation of retail stores at Curaleaf. How do we meet our customers wherever they are on their journey, and meet them in each of those scenarios?

[I’ve been] Looking at our team and partners and making sure we give them a positive experience as well. Communication, consistency, and cultivating loyalty to Curaleaf is important. [Our employees are] Our best defenders, so it’s really important that we have teams that have ownership, understanding, support and can talk well and smoothly with our clients and deliver that experience. At the end of the day, it’s really up to our field team to be able to make it happen [that].

Michael: What is something most people don’t realize about working in the cannabis industry?

TW: How motivated is everyone in the industry and how do you need to lead. The ability to truly embrace change, adapt and pivot [is important]Whether you are suddenly transitioning to adult use, to a changing regulatory environment, to new products, or to ever-changing customer expectations. You have to be dynamic, and you have to be passionate about what you do to be successful.

If you haven’t been to a dispensary yet or don’t understand the market, I think that might come as a surprise. I guess people think of it as a secret [industry where] Everyone is upping all the time, and it’s a more familiar retail experience than I think most people understand.

One of the comments is me [receive] is that people don’t understand that all products come from the state. There is no cross-border trade, [and] People are constantly surprised, “Hey, can’t get what I bought in California, Arizona?” or [they are surprised] That everything is actually made there. This is just a way to open their eyes, like, “Why don’t I have the same product I bought here?” Well, you can’t. The law is still illegal federally, so interstate commerce is not available to us. Indeed, all products are local and really based on market dynamics.

Michael: What is the biggest challenge in running a multi-state cannabis operator like Curaleaf? How did you work to overcome this challenge in your current role?

TW: The maturity of the different markets and the diversity of the regulatory landscapes in which we operate. I think you have such differences from the West Coast, whether it’s Arizona or Colorado, to the East Coast market to everything in between, between medicinal use and adult use [market] maturity.

One of my biggest interests is building on commonalities. How do we have a strong foundation [with] People, processes, customer experience and not getting caught up in all the nuances? It’s very easy to just sit there and say, “This market is different. These products are different.” And you get caught up in the differences so that you don’t get a lot of leverage, and it’s hard to change them often. So, this was a big piece for us, building that foundation to be able to get leverage and be able to respond to market changes quickly.

Michael: What are some of the biggest opportunities you see for the cannabis industry this year? Is there anything that particularly excites you, whether it’s retail trends, legislation, or regulatory changes?

TW: I think the use of adults [legalization] In the East Coast markets it is really welcome and it will be really exciting. Hopefully New Jersey will allow adult use [sales] In the next two months. We know we have Connecticut and New York who have outgrown adult use. So, this is very exciting. It’s a huge opening. It’s bringing new customers into this space and really expanding the industry. These are very visible markets, and I think they are really exciting.

In addition to new products – the continuous development of products and more sophisticated

And the diversity that we see in the markets, whether it’s the growth of the beverage space [or] New eater. We have just launched, in most of our markets, [Select] XBites, an extended-release edible. Technology and products, in between [and] Beverages – I think the evolution of products in the market and the new consumers in the space are really exciting and big challenges for us.

Michael: What are some of your short-term and long-term goals in your role at Curaleaf?

TW: Building a common foundation. How do we have systems, processes and people in common?

Then we continue to develop the customer experience. The customer is changing. Our goal is to have the familiar retail experience so that when you walk into a dispensary or enter another retail store, you feel like something you know and have experienced before. Buying cannabis should not be illegal. You shouldn’t feel different. And we continue to do so as expectations change, as products become more refined. How do we talk about it? How do we make sure we have all the opportunities to educate in those places, whether it’s on our websites or in-store [or] Know our team?

Then we continue to grow and develop. Like I said, all the markets are in different places, and that’s the challenge. How do you take knowledge from some of the more developed markets in the West, how do we take those experiences, and how do we put them back into play in some of our most developed markets?

Michael: How does consumer education evolve as the industry matures? Do you find that customers in general are more knowledgeable now than they were, say, five years ago? Is there still a lot of consumer education to be done?

TW: I think it really depends on the market you’re in. I think that’s one of the challenges, where you are. There is clearly a development on the West Coast. I’m in Arizona today, and you’re talking to most people and they’re talking about higher doses, [they’re] More familiar with different products, turbines, different emergence times, and different form factors. There is more competition compared to some medical markets like New Jersey where the vertical product has been brought in to people, much smaller selection, and much more regulated. Or even in Pennsylvania, that doesn’t have foods – I guess those are the nuances you’re dealing with from market to market.

Michael: How have cannabis selling trends evolved during your time in the industry, and how do you envision the evolution of cannabis retail as the industry matures?

TW: I think a great retail experience is a great retail experience whether you’re buying cannabis, clothes, or going to a restaurant. I think service is service, I think the foundation [is] Make it more familiar, make it a place where people feel comfortable, that it doesn’t feel illegitimate, that it is a warm and welcoming place with great hospitality, empathy and great understanding of the customer, and then continue to provide that. This will not change. The customer will change, and our job is to keep moving, evolving, listening and adapting. You go to some of the old dispensaries, and they feel a little dark and feel a little illegal compared to the newer dispensaries that are much brighter [and more] filled with light. You have technology at work, whether it’s ordering on tablets or with an open concept, display cases, storytelling, different pieces of screen and video – I think that all just kept evolving, just like any other retail business.

And that’s really our focus, to take our cues from other industries and bring them back to where hemp is. The nice thing is that we don’t have much of a legacy or history that guides us [and] We are forced to put imprint or squares. We have a blank space to create that and listen to our customers, which we are good at. Guiding someone on their cannabis journey is all about listening, understanding what the customer needs and wants, and recommending products. A lot of people are new to this space, so she’s taking advantage of that and putting that into our retail experience.

Michael: What advice would you give new or existing cannabis operators who want to succeed in this industry?

TW: Don’t overcomplicate it. I’ve said this to the team before – it’s really easy to get immersed in the organizational environment, which, don’t get me wrong, is complex, and all the nuances can be overwhelming. But I think again, what’s the best service you’ve had? What is the best publishing experience you have had? Let these things guide your decision making, and really focus on the customer and what’s right for them.

and understand [that] It will evolve and change. One of the things I always say to my team is to focus on immediate and incremental improvement. How do you keep improving and listening to your customer?

I think the Cannabis and Curaleaf space has been very exciting, growing and just continuing to evolve and deliver beyond customer expectations. I think it’s a great place to be.

Editor’s note: Tally Whitlover serves at Cannabis Conference 2022 Advisory Board, made up of growers, dispensaries and business professionals handpicked for their industry leadership, experience and passion for advancing the commercial cannabis market. The Cannabis Conference 2022 will take place from August 23-25, 2022 at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.

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