Heading in to the first day of adult-use cannabis sales in Illinois Jan. 1, the team at Illinois Supply & Provisions estimated that they would have five to 10 times more customers than a typical day at their two dispensaries, which were founded under the previous state medical program four years ago.
The crowd was even larger than anticipated, as nearly 3,000 eager consumers from places as far as Kentucky, Oregon and Florida stood in line starting before sunrise and past sunset on Jan. 1, some waiting as long as five hours, says Kim Kiefer, chief retail officer for Ascend Wellness Holdings. Ascend, the parent company of Illinois Supply & Provisions, also operates retail and production facilities in Ohio, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
“You have to be overprepared because you really don’t know what’s going to happen. We knew that there were going to be long lines, so we did everything we could to entertain folks. We had food trucks, we had a DJ, we handed out coffee and we had hand warmers,” Kiefer says, adding that 30-degree temperatures did not deter the enthusiastic patrons. “That first day, thee customers were absolutely amazing and had a great attitude. I just think everybody wanted to be part of the moment.”
Kiefer was on site at the Collinsville location, 15 miles outside of St. Louis, and met with customers who were anywhere from 21 to 80 years old.
“It felt historic. What surprised me about the day is how amazing the customers were and how excited they were about … the end of prohibition,” she says. “Some people waited in line for five hours just to buy one item, but they just wanted to be a part of it.”
Other dispensaries reported similar traffic — statewide, more than 77,000 transactions resulted in nearly $3.2 million in sales, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. At the end of day 2, Illinois Supply & Provisions reported 5,200 customers total at the Collinsville facility and their second location in Springfield.
Illinois Supply & Provisions looked to other states that rolled out adult-use sales recently, including Michigan, for strategies to manage the large crowds.
That preparation paid off.
Expanded Team, Limited Menu
Ahead of the new year and a new customer base for Illinois Supply & Provisions, Kiefer says the company made staffing changes — doubling the team at both dispensaries — and renovated the Collinsville location, enabling the company to add nine registers there. Each location required a different approach; Collinsville, the largest location with a parking lot and ample outdoor space, opened at 7 a.m., could accommodate 13 registers inside and an information tent, DJ booth and five food trucks to entertain the crowd outside. The Springfield location is in a downtown district, occupying a corner storefront without the shopping conveniences and space of Collinsville, but the team handed out doughnuts and coffee.
Staff at both locations, which stayed open until 9 p.m., received product training on what was a curated menu for the first day of adult-use sales in order to keep lines moving, Kiefer says. The dispensary set up an information tent outside at Collinsville so that staff could share the menu with customers and answer questions while they were waiting in line to further expedite time inside the building.
“We did a lot of work outside with the menu, so that by the time they actually got into the dispensary, they knew what they wanted, and they had all of the information that they needed,” she says, adding that they had customers fill out the menus with their desired quantity requests so they would be ready at the register.
Although the company began building up its medical inventory in October and November so that it could focus on investing in the adult-use supply in December, customers were limited to what they could purchase beyond what the state requires to try and avoid major shortages, Kiefer says. Customers were restricted customers to one eighth and three pre-rolls, for example. They did run out of a few items, but they are monitoring the supply and making decisions on a day-by-day basis.
“We are pretty limited in what customers can purchase so we can stretch out what we have,” Kiefer says. “We ran out of a couple of things. We pay attention to our menu and supply and make decisions every night and every morning. We are looking at everything we do and refining it.”
In general, product demand aligned to what they see in the medical segment of their dispensary — with flower and vape cartridges being the top sellers and edibles third — which helped with planning.
To prepare for the influx of traffic, they hired extra security personnel, as well, Kiefer says.
“I was a little concerned with it being the first [day of adult-use sales], you never know but literally we had zero incidents,” Kiefer says. “We did control the crowd in the dispensary. We did try to make sure we only had 50 people in the dispensary at a time so we could control it.”
Every aspect of operations was carefully thought out, including how customers moved through the dispensary.
“[At Collinsville,] we would load 20 to 30 people into the waiting room, then about six to 10 minutes later, we’d [send them] all into the dispensary … to make sure we controlled the flow of traffic,” she says.
Another important aspect of launching adult-use was not forgetting their registered medical cannabis patient base and making sure they were taken care of first. Customers with medical cards moved to the front of the line, Kiefer says. Illinois Supply & Provisions also ensures they have at least a month supply of all product categories on the medical side before moving them over to adult-use sales.
“We had quite a few strains available of flower for medical patients, but only one or two available for recreational,” she says. “It’s really important. I can’t stress enough; folks depend on their medicine, and in both stores we have teams that are specifically focused on medical to ensure that program stays alive and that customers feel really good about their experience. We got started as a medical business, and … it is our commitment to take care of our medical patients. They will always be first in line.”
Beyond the first week, Kiefer says they are taking the new adult-use market in Illinois day-by-day, adjusting their plans as needed to meet the demand. Illinois Supply & Provisions will be opening two additional, adult-use only locations in the state with expected openings in summer 2020: one in Fairview Heights, also near St. Louis, and a second store in Springfield. And, after working expanded hours ahead of the historic first days of adult-use sales, Kiefer says they will be focusing on giving associates a much-needed break.
“As much as we did prepare and hire and train, that’s something we’re going to have to continue to pay attention to. I’m a big believer that nothing happens without your team and without the people so for me it’s all about getting the right people and the right team in place to continue to satisfy the consumer and drive the business,” she says. “We’re continuing to hire, and we will make sure people are getting days off and time off. Everyone wanted to work all day the first day and the second day because they are excited.”