Pop-up shops and “retail trucks” (food truck look but for fashion items or lifestyle products). I’ve been seeing these types of shopping options being brought to people in outdoor settings when going to an indoor store is not an option. Popular settings include farmers markets and neighborhood communities for an outdoor shopping experience.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Blackwell, 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 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?
My husband and I were both athletes and while competing in triathletes, my husband began making juices and smoothies for friends that he was training with. His friends told him that he should sell his recipes because they were so good and made them feel great. We took the leap and found a health club that allowed us to open our shop, which quickly moved us into opening in several of their other locations. The juice bars grew in popularity and we were soon building them across the country. We began franchising the concept and then decided to grow additional brands through acquisition or development. All of this experience has guided me and now I am bringing a franchise experience to the cannabis retail industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
As an executive for Cold Stone Creamery, I was able to see the brand grow in ways that I never imagined. Watching our brand grow in Japan, we were amazed by how the market embraced it. We adjusted some things such as the menu to include flavor profiles that were common in that area. Seeing our ice cream in Green Tea and Lychee flavors on a menu written in a different language was a humbling experience. It made me realize how far we had come as a company and how this once small brand had grown into an international experience.
Seeing how enthusiastic the customers and employees were about the brand reminded us how special it was. A unique way that the brand interacted with customers in US stores was performing a fun song when someone put a tip in the jar. This market was so excited about the brand that they were continuously singing and dancing for the customers even without tips coming in. This was everything that I wanted for the brand and was so happy to see others enjoying it so much.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
It wasn’t necessarily funny, but as a new entrepreneur I was working non-stop to grow my juice and smoothie shop and thought it was ok to work an open to close shift at seven months pregnant. It wasn’t a good idea and made me realize that I needed to re-evaluate my business plan.
Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
After this incident, it made me really think about what I could take on as a business owner, and what I needed to delegate or hire for. You have to remember to be kind to yourself so that you can continue creating great businesses and concepts.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Absolutely! I have taken all of my franchise and retail experience and am now bringing a new concept to the cannabis industry. I have launched The Open Dør, a cannabis dispensary franchise with a great team of business people that all have unique aspects and experience to bring to the table. Our goal with this new concept is to help take the complexity out of cannabis for the dispensary operators. There can be many nuances that go into opening and operating a cannabis dispensary, and we want to be the resource for a turnkey solution.
Creating a retail experience for the cannabis industry customer that is reliable, safe, and has multiple options for their needs is another reason why I wanted to begin this concept. Whether it is for sleep, joint pain, a physical or mental issue, or just for relaxation, we want to make sure that they receive the best product for their needs. At The Open Dør we also want to help customers through education. Our business is adamant about training and education that an employee receives, and then a system for ongoing education to keep them up to date on products and learnings.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Be intentional in setting time aside for yourself to rejuvenate. This has become even more difficult in the pandemic. Now that we are working from home more, there is very little separation between work and home life. Before, I would have a 30 minute commute in the car, so I’ve found other ways to still make time to decompress. I will close my computer and go for a walk or workout and give myself that separation.
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?
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.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Through my success, I have gained knowledge and experience that I am passionate about sharing with other people. I dedicate time to being a resource to younger women that are interested in becoming an entrepreneur or trying to find their way into a career. I hope that my learnings from my own career can be a guidance to them.
I have also been able to contribute financially or with time from myself or colleagues to multiple charitable organizations throughout the years.
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 retail industry shifted drastically and those that did so quickly were able to come out on top during this time. I saw businesses doing creative things to accommodate customers and adhere to the restrictions being placed. Some of these new offerings and changes in the retail industry were possibly a direction that we were already going in, but the pandemic helped to speed up the process. New strategies and services that I have seen include:
- Contactless curbside pickup has been extremely successful and something that people will continue to want. Building this into a business will help grow revenue.
- Since many people could not drive to a store and quickly get an item, the need for same day delivery options began for convenience.
- There was a faster shift of advertising to social media and online since customers couldn’t come into the store and see all of the available brands and options
- Making teleconference options available for those that were unsure of a product for their need when ordering for curbside or delivery. This new offering helps the customer to navigate what they need if the website is not the best resource.
- Pop-up shops and “retail trucks” (food truck look but for fashion items or lifestyle products). I’ve been seeing these types of shopping options being brought to people in outdoor settings when going to an indoor store is not an option. Popular settings include farmers markets and neighborhood communities for an outdoor shopping experience.
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 that retail and malls will continue to exist but not necessarily at the same size, or with the demand that they once had. I see big box retail still utilizing physical stores for hands on demonstrations with less inventory. Possibly even having the option to order the product online still in the store and have it shipped.
Mall spaces are looking for ways to create entertainment value to attract visitors. This has been done through laser tag, bowling, movies, and kid zones. I think we will see experiential businesses where maybe the location is a paintball park and they are selling sporting goods and accessories for the activity at the park. I’ve also been seeing parking lots being utilized for true event experiences to bring people to the area. From Cirque Du Soleil to BMX shows, this drives consumers to the retail center to eat and shop before or after.
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?
All three of these brands have excelled in customer service. Consumers are truly looking for a satisfying experience when they are deciding a brand to shop with. These businesses also provide an option for you to order your products online or in person.
Lululemon has been successful through the activities that they have created outside of their retail stores. The yoga gatherings have created a sense of community that people enjoy.
Costco and Kroger are successful in providing what the customer needs with a one-stop-shop for a good price options. The value of convenience for the consumer has created this success.
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?
Having a safe and quality product is important when competing against cheaper brands. Many overseas products do not meet U.S. safety standards or quality that consumers would expect.
Currently, there is a big movement and incentives being put in place for companies to purchase or make locally made products. Utilizing local products also usually means that the company is more available for questions about the product and has customer service capabilities. Businesses that continue to offer quality over quantity should see consumer loyalty and a natural referral system.
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. 🙂
What we are doing with The Open Dør is part of a movement that I am passionate about. During a time when this new industry is growing rapidly, there is a lot of confusion in regards to information and standards. We are providing education for cannabis products to help consumers find a solution to their needs. Setting these educational and training standards in the medicinal industry is important to me because not having trained staff to provide the education to a patient in need will ultimately not help the person with their ailments. We want information to be transparent and accessible so that people understand the benefits of products that are available to them.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!