Opinion: Is the Convenience-Store Business Going to Pot?

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

At a party early this year, I got into a passionate discussion with friends about starting a pot store in Chicago. Now, I’ve never been into pot. I don’t buy pot. I don’t know pot—or jack.

The allure for me was one of diversifying my life experiences and catching the wave of what could be a $20.2 billion industry by 2021.

While I was personally detached, a very close friend of mine—who holds marijuana dear to his recreational heart—basked in the idea. He offered his past experience in the supply and wholesale of commercial equipment to help my fantasy enterprise become a reality.

We started talking about the look and feel of such a business. With the extension of Illinois’ pilot program, medical marijuana is legal until at least 2020, but recreational is not. I would have to research how emerging players in the Chicago market were  positioning themselves, what the trajectory toward legalization would be and whether I could somehow weave myself into the mix.

Having spent the majority of my life as an editor for retail-business publications, I did feel a connection. Retail has been the subject matter of my entire professional career. Why shouldn’t I know something about actually running a store?

I’m hearing you chuckle as you read. Of course, I’m the last one to think that being a spectator has anything to do with actually playing the sport.

That said, none of that doubt stopped me from dreaming. At this party, with wine in hand and enthusiasm rising, we chatted on. We’d set the space up for community bonding, where people could relax and enjoy what they bought. It would be part bar, part Panera Bread, with an interior that gives off the grunge feeling of an Amsterdam coffee shop but has the polish of a hipster hang.

Everything I’ve written about all these years would be there. Merchandise-ordering kiosks, express pickup lines, impulse doughnut holes at the cashier—the new hybrid of grab-and-go and stay awhile.

As the party went on, the conversation drifted to other topics, but I wrote our ideas on a mental napkin and typed them into the computer when I got home. They’re on a file named “Pot store,” in a folder called “Fun.”

When Monday rolled around and I sat in a commuter train heading into the office, the only thing that remained of the party conversation was a lingering glint of energy. Like a wish or a lottery ticket, it made me smile.

First Dream, Then Plan

We track page views here at CSP. It’s a way to see if what we write about gets any traction from our readers. Unfortunately, any time I write about marijuana, it’s a virtual black hole—meaning no clicks. No one’s reading it. It’s a deafening silence that sometimes makes me worry it’s sucking the page views from my other stories.

I surmise the reason is that retailers don’t see where marijuana will eventually fit into their businesses. Too many unknowns. Too many concerns about kids getting their hands on the stuff, about people mixing up the brownies. The only silver lining I see is in that same lingering hope I felt the day or two after that party. So many things took us by  surprise last year: the Cubs, Trump—you name it. It’s not to say that marijuana is in everyone’s future. As a matter of fact, my point isn’t about marijuana at all.

What I’m talking about is the exercise of imagining the future. Imagining the result automatically leads to thinking about what stands between point A and point Z. The cogs in our heads could spin endlessly with scenarios of both failure and success. To think about the energy required to turn nothing into something is exhausting—and a hurdle in and of itself.

As you breeze through the pages of our 2017 Tobacco Supplement, I hope you can suspend your disbelief. Our cover story (p. S4) is about imagining where the category will be three years down the road. Not an incredibly distant future, but one that has a foundation of precedent.

I often think of planning ahead as an opportunity to steer the ship and avoid being a victim of caprice or whim. Major accomplishments come only from consistently applying problem-solving skills minute by minute, day after day, over long segments of time. But before we commit to that methodical, precise exertion of energy, that dream—that vision—has to be in place. It has to be real. It has to inspire.

The goal of this supplement is to inspire those strategies. Success with tobacco means a deliberate, premeditated act of dreaming. It’s worth the time.

Angel Abcede is senior editor of CSP and covers tobacco. Reach him at [email protected].