A great deal of time, effort, and thought goes into the products on our NYC dispensary’s shelves. We want you to know the how and why behind product selection: what we look for, how we verify, and which factors we evaluate when making space for new arrivals.
Dave Vautrin, an Operating Partner at USQTA, pulls back the curtain in this guide.
Four key factors we consider when carrying a cannabis product on our shelves
Our inventory is selected from a meticulously-curated list of leading New York cannabis cultivators, processors, and brands. The product rotation is consistently reviewed to ensure every product meets specific customer needs and expectations. Vautrin leads this extensive, detailed process.
“I suspect we have the most disciplined portfolio management in this state,” Vautrin said. “We endeavor to have a best-in-class offering across every product category, product format, and range of price points to serve all consumer types.”
It’s our responsibility to our travelers to carry the best and safest cannabis products in New York State. That’s why Vautrin’s process for selecting products leaves no stone unturned in the search for quality and safety.
Step 1: Vetting the brand
Before considering whether the dispensary will carry a brand, Vautrin and the product selection team at USQTA put them under some serious scrutiny. There are the obvious hurdles to clear — the company must be licensed and legally compliant, for example — but there’s a lot more to consider.
“We want to get to know about the brand: its ethos, diversity, sustainability, and pipeline of products,” Vautrin said. “Typically, we’ll do a site visit.”
During these visits, Vautrin examines the cleanliness of the brand’s facilities, the team and their processes, ensuring they handle the product with care up to USQTA’s standards. He also asks questions about how the brand stores and ships products, as well as how they’d activate their brand and support budtender training if they were adopted into the USQTA portfolio.
Step 2: Analyzing the product
Only after this initial brand verification phase does USQTA take a closer look at the product itself. That doesn’t mean testing it just yet, but considering factors like its unique selling proposition (USP), its past sales performance, its quality, test results, and effects, and even its packaging. All of this is considered within the context of who USQTA’s customers are and what they want, Vautrin said.
“I try to match up products with seven different types of consumers,” Vautrin said. “We aim to make sure we have products that each customer wants.”
It’s also important to understand how the product compares to competitors in the same category, Vautrin said. Bringing on similar, competing products isn’t beneficial, so there needs to be something that stands out about a new candidate to make the cut and unseat an incumbent product. He looks for a sustainable competitive advantage, something special for the USQTA customers.
Finally, Vautrin said he asks vendors for projections to gauge performance expectations, which helps determine whether it makes sense financially to bring the product into rotation.
Step 3: Testing the product
If a brand and product pass muster on each previous step, it’s time to test the product out firsthand. To do so, Vautrin collects samples for the USQTA team to test.
Budtenders are organized into groups by expertise and format preferences. For example, team members that are flower connoisseurs will review flower samples, and those who know more about concentrates will test those samples. There are 9 product categories in total. These groups provide their sensory feedback on the samples and this tends to inform whether the new product might fill an unaddressed void or an upgrade in USQTA’s offering.
“We consider how the product tested with the group and always take a consumer centric approach when making selections at our weekly category reviews,” Vautrin said.
If a product effectively meets a need that’s currently in demand and not met by another product in the inventory, Vautrin makes the call to bring it in.
Step 4: Evaluating product performance
Getting on the USQTA menu may be tough, but staying there takes work, too.
“We have limited space, so we define what [performance success] looks like upfront,” Vautrin said. “We track purchases and repeat purchases of each of the products.”
When a product is initially brought in, it’s evaluated two weeks and three weeks after it’s added to the inventory. The performance data is shared with the brand so they can review how their product is doing. Vautrin and the team provide both visibility and an open line of communication.
“We offer opportunities for training our team, we ask them to share information about their brand story and what makes the product special,” Vautrin said, adding this can help sell more products by giving budtenders the insight they need to educate customers. “If the brand has a slow moving SKU, we might need additional sampling and education. Sometimes the market shifts or a more compelling product is now on shelf. In that case, the brand may re-evaluate its pricing strategy.”
“I endeavor to develop a relationship that says ‘I’m your retail partner,’ but the brands need to also lean in and be accountable. The customer has the final vote with their dollar,” he added.
Who shops at The Travel Agency?
This in-depth selection process is conducted with USQTA’s customers at the forefront. From the “cannabis connoisseur” to the “value seeker” to the “never smoker,” Vautrin said the variety aims to serve every person who walks through the door with the specific product, format, and experience they are seeking.
For example, he said, a cannabis connoisseur gravitates toward aesthetically-beautiful flower and highly pure extracts. They tend to prefer top-shelf genetics and robust terpene profiles — and are willing to pay more for them.
On the other hand, the never smoker is someone who avoids flower and dabs altogether. They prefer ingestible products like tinctures or want to try edibles. Topical creams are an option for never smokers, too.
“We have a really good pulse of what’s going on; beyond the instore customer engagement, we use extensive business intelligence tools to understand what’s selling in our store,” Vautrin said. “We get it, and we keep learning.”
In the end, all the time put into product verification means that travelers can shop with confidence that they’re getting the best of the best.
Stay connected with USQTA for new product drops
See Vautrin and the product selection team’s hard work firsthand. Sign up for the USQTA Travel Club to get the latest on new products, subscriber-only bundles, and event announcements that you don’t want to miss.
To see for yourself the vast selection of New York’s leading cannabis brands and products, stop by our dispensary, located at 835 Broadway near Union Square, or shop online for same-day cannabis delivery direct to your door.