Riverside Wellness opened in the Kansas City, Mo., area in May, and already, the medical cannabis dispensary is exploring ways to expand patient access, including a drive-thru and home delivery services.
Co-owner and Chief Operating Officer Mary Ann Denzer is a Missouri native but worked at a testing lab in Colorado for two years after the state launched adult-use cannabis sales.
Denzer returned home shortly before Missouri voters approved medical cannabis legalization in the November 2018 election and joined a group of applicants who ultimately won a dispensary license in the state.
“We have a really lovely mix of trying to infuse the roots of cannabis with the future of cannabis, making sure we stay true to where we came from … but also [looking at] the future and how we can serve our patients in the most effective way possible,” Denzer told Cannabis Dispensary.
Riverside Wellness is a women-, veteran- and minority-owned company that Denzer said operates under three basic pillars: kindness, accountability and responsibility. The company launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, which got the team thinking about how to safely reach patients.
The dispensary opened with an operational drive-thru window and launched home delivery services earlier this month.
Riverside Wellness aims to offer patients the same experience whether they shop in store or online, Denzer said, and the company has implemented an online ordering system where patients can shop and pay for their products all in one place.
The dispensary strives to offer as much information as it can through its online menu, so that patients can see the differences between the product offerings.
“In online stores in other industries, outside of cannabis, you get all this consumer information to help you make your decision to buy, and you don’t always get that in cannabis, especially in newer markets,” Denzer said. “It’s hard to put definite effects or potential effects [online] because we’re not medical professionals and we can’t give medical advice. How do you describe a product to a patient to help them understand the experience they’re going to get, without making a promise to them? … It’s been a process to develop. … We want to give them as much as possible so that they feel comfortable every step of the way.”
Collecting payment online was another challenge, she added.
“One of the regulations in Missouri is cannabis cannot leave the dispensary unless it’s paid for, so it must be pre-paid,” she said. “That was an interesting dilemma to solve because of the banking regulations and financial regulations in cannabis. It is sometimes hard to find a debit card processor. They certainly cannot process credit cards right now. We needed a bank-to-bank transfer that was both legal and easy to use.”
The company partnered with Arrow Payments, which Denzer said facilitates bank-to-bank transfers comparable to Venmo or PayPal.
Other state regulations require patients to be home at the time of delivery, and the delivery driver must verify a patient’s government ID and medical cannabis card.
Riverside Wellness also offers discounts through its Compassionate Care program. The Angel discount is available to low-income patients, and the Hero discount is for first responders in the community. In store, patients can show ID—such as a business card or a low-income patient ID card—to qualify for these discounts, and the dispensary has developed an online process for the discounts where patients can email the proper documentation to staff for verification.
“You can notate it in your account when you put your online order through,” Denzer said. “Then, our managers will check the email, make sure that we got it, [and] if we didn’t, we call them and work through that process with them.”
In the future, Denzer would like Riverside Wellness’ online system to upload ID cards and other documentation, and she said the company often picks its vendors based on how their services will evolve with the dispensary over time.
“We need them to improve these solutions a year from now,” she said. “We learned a lot during this first year, and we need partners who are willing to learn and grow with us. … We’re very aware that we’ll have a lot more solutions a year from now, but right now, we need a little bit more manpower to provide that level of service, and that’s OK with us.”
The dispensary has a FAQ section on its website to provide step-by-step instructions on what patients can expect from online ordering and delivery to help keep the process running smoothly.
“We’re really trying to build out the entire website to communicate with our patients to make sure they’re comfortable with that entire process from beginning to end,” Denzer said. “We also call them before they receive the delivery to confirm that they understand what’s about to happen. If they have any questions, they can let us know.”
Riverside Wellness will unveil a new website in the next week or so to better cater to online shoppers looking for delivery services, which Denzer believes will continue to gain popularity in the cannabis industry.
“I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t do delivery,” she said. “I think it’s going to be humongous. I think people, after a while, won’t come into the store after they’ve been in once and they know what they want, especially with COVID still going on.”
Many of Riverside Wellness’ customers shop in person at the dispensary for their first visit, Denzer said, to get the in-store experience since the market just launched in October.
“A lot of in-store customers, as soon as they become comfortable, they start using the online ordering and the drive-thru window,” she said. “I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot of that with delivery, as well. You want the in-store experience once because it’s new in Missouri, so it’s super exciting to go to the dispensary for your first time, but after a while you get the … delivery.”
Riverside Wellness also serves many older and mobility restricted patients who may have trouble getting to the dispensary to shop, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Online ordering and delivery have become a staple at this point, and we’re getting more and more used to that in all areas,” Denzer said. “I don’t see why cannabis would be any different than anything else. The world has changed, and we want to change with it."