Despite the stereotypes associated with this industry, Susan Hwang is proving that “cannabis can be glamorous.” Her new luxury retail concept elevates the medical cannabis shopping experience by focusing on quality products and memorable service from highly-trained staff.
Appropriately named BEST Dispensary, Hwang’s brand has been called “the Louis Vuitton of cannabis,” she says. “We’re going to define what is the best by creating a standard beyond expectations.”
The flagship location, scheduled to open later this year in Mesa, Ariz., is a vertically integrated 30,000-square foot facility that emphasizes transparency—literally. “In the lobby, you can see through the glass walls into the showroom,” she explains. “On the other side, we have a conference room with a huge glass window, which looks into the cultivation and manufacturing facility.”
The multilevel interior, accented by customized display cases and vibrant orange chairs, might remind visitors of a high-end jewelry store. Beyond the visual impact of the sleek design, the layout emphasizes interaction between customers and consultants.
Hwang’s expectations for quality extend to the products, which undergo an additional layer of third-party testing. “Our customers can count on us doing our due diligence to validate the testing provided by manufacturers and ensure products are handled and packaged with compliance, health, and safety,” she says.
However, she emphasizes that luxury doesn’t mean expensive. “When we talk about luxury, we’re talking about quality products and memorable experiences,” she says. “We’re not talking about excluding people with overpriced products.”
Although products are important, BEST Dispensary’s focus on people is what sets it apart. This commitment is illustrated through rigorous education.
Leveraging her background – which includes a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and a Master of Science in microbiology from Arizona State University – Hwang collaborated with doctors and professors to develop training materials for her staff.
This education will happen next door to the dispensary, where Hwang plans to establish the Arizona School of Cannabis. “We’ll be utilizing that space, not only to educate the public about cannabis, but also to educate our employees,” says Hwang. In the same complex, she plans to open Daily Dose, a CBD dispensary.
In addition to internal instruction – which will cover basic plant science, compliance, and POS technology – vendors can also use the space to provide product-specific education. Hwang will also invite Arizona attorneys and realtors to use the space for continuing education related to cannabis law. “We want to work with other industries to bring cannabis into the mainstream,” she says.
An industry stakeholder since 2012, Hwang presides over a diverse portfolio of cannabis brands, licensed dispensaries, cultivation sites, infusion kitchens and extraction facilities. “By helping other brands, I learned a lot from other people’s successes and mistakes,” she says. She also experienced the challenges of funding.
“There was one point where I thought about raising money or going public to bring in the funds,” she says. “But when there are other investors and partners, you’re focused on other priorities, such as profit margins, ROI, and stock prices. When you have too many people involved, the brand can be diluted. I turned down millions of dollars because they wanted too much control in the business.”
Instead, Hwang leveraged revenues from her business portfolio that spans cannabis and other industries. Her personal savings, combined with her parents’ support, funded the multimillion launch of BEST Dispensary – which she calls “a dream come true.”
Looking ahead, Hwang’s existing store in Arizona, called Jamestown Yuma Dispensary, will be redeveloped into BEST Dispensary. She also plans to open a location in the LA fashion district next year, and eventually, another site in Illinois after securing licenses there.
Although profits and revenues are important in any business, having freedom from investors gives Hwang the flexibility to prioritize BEST Dispensary’s unique retail experience.
“I want to encourage and challenge dispensaries to focus on other things than revenue,” she says. “Many dispensaries only compete with price. How can we be different? That will be the key.”