Kathryn Blackwell of The Open Dør: “This new industry is an excitement everyday”

This new industry is an excitement everyday. It has been an honor to enter the industry at such a critical time for growth. Being a part of helping to create industry standards and overcoming the negative stigma that is still overshadowing the industry excites me. The more that we can educate society about the benefits […]

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This new industry is an excitement everyday. It has been an honor to enter the industry at such a critical time for growth. Being a part of helping to create industry standards and overcoming the negative stigma that is still overshadowing the industry excites me. The more that we can educate society about the benefits that the plant offers, we can help so many more people with a variety of needs.

As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Blackwell, CEO and Co-Founder of The Open Dør.

Kathryn Blackwell is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Open Dør, a national cannabis retail franchise headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. With over three decades of experience in the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) sector, Kathryn has built a successful reputation for elevating brands through effective e-commerce development, product innovation, and strategic communications. Her background in the franchised consumer food industry provided a strong foundation for her transition into the cannabis space. Since establishing The Open Dør in 2020, Kathryn has integrated proven franchise strategies and merchandising practices into the dispensary brand to deliver a modern aesthetic and transform the consumer experience. Prior to entering the cannabis market, Kathryn co-founded international franchisor Kahala Corp, which owned more than 12 brands, among them Cold Stone Creamery, TacoTime, Samurai Sam’s, and others, with more than 3,500 locations operating in 23 countries.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. My first endeavour was a juice bar that my husband and I began. It quickly gained popularity and we grew it into a chain of stores located inside a chain of gyms. This is where my passion for QSR franchising began. My next business was co-founding Kahala Corp, one of the largest international QSR franchise businesses that encompasses brands such as Cold Stone Creamery, Blimpies Salads and Subs, TacoTime, etc. During my time with this company, I created a true turnkey model for our franchisees.

Fast forward, I was visiting Washington, which is a legalized adult-use state. I decided to try a dispensary, but really had no idea where to begin with this new experience. I drove up to two different dispensaries during my search and didn’t feel safe or comfortable actually going in. This is where the idea of The Open Dør began. I saw the opportunity to bring proven franchising tools and organizational tactics to cannabis. When I got back to Arizona, I began becoming more involved in the industry and met Bryan McLaren, CEO of Zoned Properties. He thought my idea was much needed in the industry. He introduced me to my co-founder, Chelsea Mulligan, and from there we began to build the brand.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Since I was not very familiar with the cannabis industry before starting The Open Dør, I would say that my entire experience has been interesting. I have learned so much throughout the process of creating this business. It has been so interesting to me to see all of the different facets and how my knowledge outside of the industry can really play a role. The industry also changes very quickly, so I may learn something new, and then the next week it changes again. The cannabis industry is fascinating.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the funniest things that happened to me was during my first experience inside a medical cannabis dispensary. I was issued my medical license, walked in for the first time, and was not prepared for the whole situation. There was a security officer and everything inside the shop was a mystery to me. Thankfully the budtender was extremely nice, and maybe was more so after she saw my look of confusion. She asked me what I was looking for and I just started laughing and said, “I honestly, have no idea.” She was very helpful and walked me through the process. I was just so embarrassed and wish I had researched more before going in. I didn’t have any idea on what resources were out there, how many different strains, flavors and options there would be. This experience was when I knew education would be such an important piece of our business for our consumers, especially with so many new customers entering the market.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?

Most family and friends that know me well would say that I am a pretty conservative person. I had several shocked people when I told them that my next venture would be in the cannabis industry. I specifically remember my youngest son’s reaction to my new business, “Mom! You’re selling pot?” Now that I have become familiar with the industry, educating others on what the industry really is, and how we play an important role in people’s mental and physical health is important to me, so the surprised comments do not deter me from my goals.

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

There isn’t one particular person that has helped with my success. I have learned from multiple people that I have worked with along the way. These were not only top leaders in the businesses that I worked with, but also front line team members and franchisees that cultivated new ideas and creative ways to find solutions. They have all contributed in different ways throughout my career and I am so grateful for all of them.

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

My latest project is in the cannabis industry. I have co-founded The Open Dør, a cannabis dispensary franchise that is available nationwide in cannabis legalized states. The Open Dør provides a consistent retail environment and educational buying experience for marijuana products and accessories. We’ve created a turnkey solution for dispensary license holders so that they have the support they need from experts in the industry, but still own their own business and can create a localized experience for their customers.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

I read an article “The Grass Ceiling” that talked about similar diversity struggles throughout the industry. Women have a difficult time moving up the corporate ladder in the industry. A lot of this is driven by the old fashioned mentality and stereotypes that our society continues to view. A common misconception is that women lead too much with their heart or emotions and can’t make decisions. Sometimes the types of personalities that are looked down upon are actually better leadership qualities, for instance a leader that may be more empathetic to their employees. I am optimistic that we will see progress on this topic, but it is clear that the problem is still prevalent.

For individuals, I always say, go for your dreams! Apply for that job that you want, hone in on the skills that you need to make a move in your career and then let people know what you accomplished! You are your best promoter to let people know what you have been

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.

First, the industry itself is somewhat non-intuitive because you have to adapt very quickly to the constant changes. It was also non intuitive for me because I was new to the industry.

A major non intuitive model that I noticed was not being applied to the industry was what The Open Dør is based off of — the turnkey franchise model. So many independent operators are having to compete against large pocketed, multi-state operators. The Open Dør is a support system that allows an entrepreneur to join a consistent and compliant brand while still working for themselves.

Most license owners have not seen massive support in the industry so far. Resources are far and few in between, and this is something that The Open Dør wanted to bring to the table. From a business perspective, the support function of being a franchisee is not a common practice. We are making it normal for the license operator to have a support system, and not have to do it all on their own from scratch. Our model helps new operators enter the market quicker than if they were to do on their own. We have tools that are proven to help them set benchmarks and monitor the business.

Since the market is so new, best practices are still being established. The Open Dør provides proven operational procedures. SOP’s, cash management for safety, inventory management, labor management and cost, staffing relations — everything that affects your bottom line.

Something else that we would like to see more of in the industry is standard education. Going back to my own experiences I knew it was lacking for customers. We also want to provide this to employees as well as ongoing training to give customers the best possible experience.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?

This new industry is an excitement everyday. It has been an honor to enter the industry at such a critical time for growth. Being a part of helping to create industry standards and overcoming the negative stigma that is still overshadowing the industry excites me. The more that we can educate society about the benefits that the plant offers, we can help so many more people with a variety of needs.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

One of the main concerns I have is the federal regulations on banking for businesses in the cannabis industry. It is a safety concern for customers, employees, and a business overall.

Something that I would like to see improved would be the inconsistency of regulations on safety and quality of products. Testing of products is just now being implemented in some states, which is a concern because there is no regulation on how a product was grown or cultivated.

Another concern that I have is the issue of decriminalization. There are people that are still being incarcerated or have a criminal record for something that is now legal.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

I am all for this. National legalization would benefit the country as a whole, and would help with the illicit drug market. We would see increased tax revenue and we would be able to regulate the product. It really is a healthier option when it comes to other legalized vices.

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

I consider cannabis drastically different than cigarettes and I would not consider them the same category. There are more medical benefits from cannabis than alcohol or tobacco combined, it is just the stigma that we are trying to overcome. .

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a few quotes that I remind myself depending on the day and the situation:

Whenever I need a nudge or just a reminder that I can make progress every day somehow, someway on a project, I like to remember the quote, “Quit slackin’ and make shit happen”

When I may be down, this quote reminds me to keep fighting, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Asking for help is never bad, but sometimes the real breakthroughs come when you figure something out on your own. This is when I remember, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement that I am passionate about is general giving back. I hope through my own work that I can inspire others to donate their time, their money, or their talent on a regular basis to a cause that they care about. Even if it is a small gesture, all of the small things add up to make a great difference.

GoodsThatGive.com is another passion project of mine. This is a great way for someone to do something small that will give back to the community. On this site you can purchase products that give back to a specific charity. You receive a product that you purchased, but you are also helping a cause at the same time!

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!

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