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Chelsea Mulligan of Hana Meds: “Brands need to be proactive and think outside of the box”

Hana Meds decided to keep the interior of their retail dispensaries closed to patients because they are located in communities that have a higher rate of those susceptible to the virus. We created a completely curbside experience for the customers. We also accommodated employees who were concerned about coming to work in person. We worked […]

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Hana Meds decided to keep the interior of their retail dispensaries closed to patients because they are located in communities that have a higher rate of those susceptible to the virus. We created a completely curbside experience for the customers. We also accommodated employees who were concerned about coming to work in person. We worked through what would make sense for everyone involved and allowed them to tell us when they were comfortable to come back.

With many stores not being able to have customers inside, many brands had to rely on text messaging and social media to advertise to customers. As a retail location, we were relying on the brands themselves to also help with marketing, when normally they wouldn’t have to. We shifted marketing to focusing on directly promoting brands which helped drive customers to order those specific products.


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chelsea Mulligan.

Since 2013, Chelsea Mulligan has forged an extensive industry resume at the executive level, specializing in operational compliance and quality management for cannabis businesses. Chelsea has brought over 30 dispensaries to market throughout the U.S. and composed multiple winning license applications. Chelsea’s intuitive understanding of the cannabis business environment, complex regulatory framework, and emerging retail trends help Hana Meds to succeed. Chelsea heads operations and strategy, implementing best-of-industry processes, compliance, and standards to create the ultimate dispensary retail model.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have always been involved in the health and wellness industries. In the early stages of my career I focused a lot on HIPAA compliance, patient care, record keeping/charting, patient confidentiality and

unique patient focused treatment plans. This led me to managing acquisitions and mergers for a fitness company, and then running a group of chiropractic offices. Delving into the operations in these different businesses helped me realize that this is what I wanted to focus my efforts in. When the cannabis industry became legalized in Arizona, an opportunity arose with one of the first conglomerates and have been in the industry working on compliance and operations ever since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

With my work in the cannabis industry, the most interesting thing that I have been able to be a part of was the 2018 United Nations vote for the CND (Commission on Narcotic Drugs). It was so interesting to meet the people that shape the policy in our world all in one room. It directly trickles down to retail and cultivation because it affects how we run things in our country and even in our states.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

Back in the early days of my entry into the industry, a new edibles brand brought unmedicated samples to the office for us to try new flavors. Soon after the staff tried, some were feeling effects even though they were unmedicated samples. Come to find out, the silicone molds that they were using to create the samples had also been used for medicated products so the silicone had been affected.

Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

This was exactly what I help brands with, creating SOP’s so that mistakes like this do not happen. I ended up helping their kitchen create SOPs to standardize the way they do things and had them buy molds that were only for samples. SOPs are so important in retail so that employees understand the standards for how the business should be run to keep quality and a customer’s experience in line.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

I recently became the Director of Operations at Hana Meds, a vertically integrated cannabis company headquartered in Tempe, Arizona. The company is a licensed producer and distributor of medical cannabis and operates two retail dispensary locations.

We are currently rebranding a medibles line that is in our own dispensaries and other retail locations across the state. Revival Infused Edibles is known for its quality and consistency and we wanted the brand to reflect. Arizona recently passed Prop 207 which has legalized Adult Use for marijuana. This plus a new Smart & Safe act that was created for products also led to our company already creating packaging, and mold changes to continue to bring a safe product to our customers. Hana Meds has always done third party lab testing for quality control, another new component that is needed for Arizona cannabis, and that is one of the reasons that customers trust our brands.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I am a huge supporter of businesses creating SOPs in the retail industry. If you make everything standardized, your employees have the resources to do their jobs right and you are less stressed overseeing that the work is being done correctly. This also creates less personnel issues, creating less turnover.

Taking the time to train and invest in your employees also helps to keep things running smoothly. Without these tactics in place, there is most likely constant stress and reactionary decisions being made which leads to burnout.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

First and foremost, my husband supports me constantly. I work a hefty amount of hours each week to make sure that the businesses that I run are steadily operating, so he helps a lot with making sure that our children have all the attention that they need when I am not available.

Throughout the years I have always had a great support system within the industry. I would consider myself one of the pioneers in the industry in Arizona being with one of the first major companies here. A lot of us connected in the beginning and went through the rollercoaster of figuring out guidelines and regulations together since it was unclear in the beginning. Outside of Arizona, Christy Lunford in the Colorado market was someone that I looked up to and helped me talk through some of the Arizona issues I was facing. Without my friends in the industry, this journey would have been much more difficult to navigate.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Being able to be a part of so many companies have given me the ability to teach them how they can give back. A passion of mine is giving back to families and children in the community. The impact of our industry is an important part of growing and bettering it, so I always encourage being a part of the community.

Personally, I also like to focus on employee management and relations. In this emerging industry we have the chance to change the way work culture is viewed for employees. I want companies to set the bar for training their employees correctly, giving them the tools that they need to succeed, and investing in their ongoing growth. I always want businesses to train their employees above their current title. I want to see a receptionist being trained on what a budtender or inventory manager does. This not only creates a better customer experience because the whole staff understands all of the jobs, but it gives the receptionist the opportunity to understand other jobs in the business and grow their career if they would like.

I also focus on my employees well being. I don’t want parents to feel like they have to send their sick kids to school because they feel like they can’t call out from work. I try to implement a bonus system for employees that is based on performance requirements. If they are making minimum wage, putting these bonuses into place for solid performance can help them grow in their position.

Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

The pandemic forced a lot of businesses to evaluate their online shopping experiences. Some businesses didn’t have an option at all while others needed to create a user friendly experience that worked better.

I saw a lot of retail adapting their outside spaces for waiting areas. In Arizona with the heat tents, misters, water, and fans were added to create a better experience for shoppers that could still shop inside the store, but had to wait due to capacity. Even for people that ordered products online, there was a pick up process and it sometimes had a wait.

Hana Meds decided to keep the interior of their retail dispensaries closed to patients because they are located in communities that have a higher rate of those susceptible to the virus. We created a completely curbside experience for the customers. We also accommodated employees who were concerned about coming to work in person. We worked through what would make sense for everyone involved and allowed them to tell us when they were comfortable to come back.

With many stores not being able to have customers inside, many brands had to rely on text messaging and social media to advertise to customers. As a retail location, we were relying on the brands themselves to also help with marketing, when normally they wouldn’t have to. We shifted marketing to focusing on directly promoting brands which helped drive customers to order those specific products.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

I believe they will continue to exist. Bookstores still exist even with the introduction of digital versions. Specifically in the malls, I see adaption coming with pop up features. Retail may get smaller but it will definitely continue. Larger stores may change their strategy to only half of the square footage so that people can see the physical products, but keeping most of the retail online. Our culture has widely shifted to instant gratification with the capabilities of quick delivery, but sometimes these online options like Amazon do not have everything that we need or the quality of product.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

Lululemon already had a higher end demo that still had money to spend. Their demo was also the ones that had more time for outdoor and physical activities in the beginning of covid, so they were still spending money on these types of clothing items.

Lululemon and Costco were not the types of brands to hold huge sales. They might have markdowns but their customers were used to quality items at a certain price.

These brands also adapted. They were flexible and fluid. If you are rigid and unwilling to change then you won’t be profitable and possibly not exist now that we have created a fast culture that is used to flexibility. I really like the way that a local bar in Arizona adapted. They were a craft cocktail bar and bars were forced to close. When the governor allowed them to sell to go items, this bar sold cocktails in apothecary bottles. They kept their product in line and on brand and it worked for them.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Brands need to be proactive and think outside of the box. This begins with the people that you bring on as employees, do they have great ideas? Sometimes brands that are losing customers to cheaper products need to rethink who their customers are. Is there a subset of their products that could have a lower price? It is also important for brands to educate their customers on why their product is higher quality, better for the American economy and safer and why this all plays into a higher price point.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to see change in how we are all treating our employees. Having employees that are stressed about bills, can’t afford health insurance, don’t have money to fix their car, etc. can lead to stress inside your business. How we treat the people that run our business on a daily basis is so important. The culture that we create helps define the type of business that we are. By helping our employees we help to stop the vicious circle that our employees live in. In turn having healthier and happier employees changes the way that they interact with our customers and also the life that they lead.

How can our readers further follow your work?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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