The BEYOND/HELLO team celebrated its first day of adult-use sales in Normal, Ill., on Monday, expanding the state’s growing marketplace to sought-after region about two hours south of Chicago. The dispensary is part of Jushi Holdings’ ongoing growth in new cannabis markets, and it’s the result of a brand conversion from Jushi’s acquisition of The Green Solution in Illinois earlier this year.
Blythe L. Huestis, vice president for retail operations at Jushi Holdings, says that the first day of adult-use sales was a testament to a dynamic team that’s been willing to turn on a dime and ensure customers are walking away happy. Before Monday, the BEYOND/HELLO crew worked to change the look of the store and impart the message that this dispensary plans to maintain a connection with each customer well beyond the word “hello.”
“It’s taken a lot of dedication, hard work and time, but fortunately we’ve got an awesome team,” she says. While more significant renovations are coming in the future, the initial rebranding work revolved around signage, paint jobs, display configurations and new uniforms at the Normal shop. The idea is to align its Illinois assets with Jushi’s original BEYOND/HELLO in Bristol, Pa., a store that happened to open exactly two years earlier than the Normal location. (The company is planning to open two more dispensary locations in Illinois before the end of the year.)
Of course, it’s a complicated time to renovate and rebrand. The coronavirus pandemic has completely altered the retail landscape, throwing businesses into unexpected protocols that do not allow for any close engagement with other people—like curious customers on the first day of adult-use sales.
BEYOND/HELLO has encouraged online and over-the-phone ordering, but the public health mandates that emerged in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic have given the company a chance to really hone those platforms and promote them widely to customers—especially to those who may be new to cannabis in the first place. It’s been helpful. Huestis says that phone calls allow the staff’s budtenders to remain in close connection with customers—answering sometimes-complex questions about specific products and clearly communicating ideas like propose dosage, cannabinoid content, terpene profiles and more.
“We’re all talking about how fortunate we are to have been conditioned to be super nimble in this industry,” she says.
Once in the store, customers work one-on-one with budtenders stationed behind glass windows.
Again, the idea is to preserve the social distancing norms while making sure that no connection is lost between staff and customer. Legal cannabis is a relatively new concept—especially is newer markets like central Illinois—and it comes with its own spectrum of questions. The rapport between budtender and curious customer is one of the pillars of the successful cannabis retail environment, and Huestis says that BEYOND/HELLO has taken those steps to keep the conversation going on the phone and in-person (with a fine glass partition between the two).
“While you do miss that initial interaction [when talking over the phone], our staff is really well trained and they care so much about this industry and are so passionate about the product that they’ve been able to convey that across the phone,” Huestis says.
Between Normal and its southern neighbor, Bloomington, Ill., the region boasts more than 100,000 people and a large student population at Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University.
The Normal-Bloomington market also has a strong patient base, Huestis says, leading the company to believe that it will make a promising foothold for adult-sales. Without the BEYOND/HELLO shop, adult-use customers in the area have been driving 30 minutes or more to dispensaries in Peoria or Champaign.
“Part of what we all try to do in this industry is make sure that we don’t have any areas that are underserved,” she says.