If you've been wondering what the "next big thing" is in the investment world, wonder no longer: It's marijuana.
Long considered a taboo topic that legislators swept under the rug, favorability toward cannabis throughout North America now more or less transcends age and political affiliation. In the October 2018 survey from national pollster Gallup, an all-time record two out of three Americans were in support of legalizing marijuana nationwide, with senior citizens and Republicans showing majority support for legalization for the first time in history. This favorability is what's allowed 33 states to green-light medical marijuana, 10 of which also allow recreational pot use for adults.
To our north, Canada became the first industrialized country in the world to give the OK to recreational cannabis in October 2018. Although there have been multiple supply chain hiccups in recent months, it's still an industry that's expected to grow from a few hundred million dollars annually to as much as $6 billion by 2022. Altogether, global pot sales could reach $75 billion by 2030, according to Cowen Group, up from "just" $12.2 billion in 2018. For those of you keeping score at home, this works out to a compound annual growth rate of more than 16% for the next 12 years, which is growth that comes around perhaps once in a generation.
My thoughts on visiting America's biggest cannabis dispensary
As an investor, I've been actively following the maturation of marijuana stocks throughout North America. With more than four dozen publicly traded pot stocks now surpassing a $200 million market cap, it's easier than ever to keep up on income statements, balance sheets, dealmaking, and long-term strategy. But there's nothing that quite beats the ability to get hands-on with a "growing" industry and see its maturation firsthand.
Although Yours Truly lives in one of the aforementioned 10 states to have legalized adult-use cannabis, one thing my home state doesn't have is a dispensary experience that really stands out and attracts consumers. Since I was on vacation last week visiting family in the suburbs of Las Vegas, I figured I'd take a few minutes out of my day and stop by the Planet 13 Holdings (NASDAQOTH:PLNHF) SuperStore that opened at the beginning of November. What I found was the Walmart of cannabis; and the store is only a fraction of what it'll eventually become.
Right now, the Planet 13 SuperStore spans 16,200 square feet, which is just the first part of a multiphase expansion. When complete, the SuperStore will span 112,000 square feet, rivaling the average 105,000-square-foot size of a Walmart. Although I only had a short time to spare, here are some initial thoughts about the experience.
The first thing that stood out is that Planet 13 does an incredible job of personalizing the experience and somewhat normalizing the cannabis-buying process for its consumers. With the exception of quite a bit of security at the entrance to the SuperStore and in the lobby, everything is geared toward making this a fun and normal buying experience (i.e., putting the taboo nature of marijuana into the rearview mirror). After being greeted, you'll be offered the opportunity to get in line -- a line that was regularly six to 10 people long -- to have your very own budtender cater to your wishes or suggest products based on your preferences.
Stacked with product diversity
As you might expect of a SuperStore that already spans 16,200 square feet and will one day hit 112,000 square feet, it has a little bit of everything. But thing is, in some instances it has a lot of everything. While I wasn't counting, I would venture that Planet 13 had anywhere from 96 to 120 various cannabis strains on display, complete with chemistry and pricing options in display cases. These cases are located away from the walls, but toward the back of the store, allowing consumers the ability to walk around multiple cases and get a feel for the ultra-premium, premium, average, and discounted options available for dried flower. There was an equally impressive selection for alternative products, which spanned multiple case lines.
Convenient and tech-friendly
Planet 13's flagship store is also built around convenience. There were a handful of kiosks located around the store, including around the cases for dried cannabis and alternative products, such as edibles, infused beverages, and concentrates, to allow consumers to purchase products without having to wait in long lines.
There was also no shortage of computers (which are presumably also used as registers) located around the perimeter of the store behind counters, which is where most of the paraphernalia, and some branded categories, were kept. I counted three dozen computers (i.e., registers) in total.
In addition, a small portion of space near the front of the store was set aside for online pickup for medical patients.
It's set up to drive margins
Of course, as an investor, you'll be happiest to know that Planet 13's SuperStore is set up to drive margins. Sure, the company's tech investments, and its modern, sleek look, aren't going to be cheap. But just as supermarkets use tactics to elicit certain high-margin purchases from their consumers, Planet 13 has done a fantastic job of arranging its store in such a way as to drive higher-margin purchases.
Generally speaking, dried cannabis flower is going to be a lower-margin, more easily commoditized item. Planet 13 has somewhat countered this by offering higher-margin ultra-premium strains, but it's done much more than simply diversify its product offerings.
The highest-margin products -- think edibles, beverages, vapes, and so on -- tend to be located closest to the standard register line, should you choose not to pay by kiosk, and near the front of the store. In order to reach what's typically the lowest-margin product, you'll have to head toward the back of the store. Just as supermarkets put the milk at the back of the store in the hope that you'll make other discretionary purchases, Planet 13 has put its bread-and-butter (or should I say "budder") item at the back of its store, hoping you'll pass one of its sample stations, or peruse its collection of concentrates, edibles, or vapes.
Yes? No? Maybe so?
From what I could tell in my short time there, the SuperStore is set to be a big revenue producer. According to the company, average daily customers are up from 1,406 in November 2018 to 1,987 as of March 2019, with average ticket price rising close to 12% in just a few months. Daily visitors have grown even quicker, from an average of 1,848 in November to 3,194 in March. The foot traffic is there, and Planet 13 is quickly becoming the place to see for cannabis enthusiasts in and around Las Vegas.
Furthermore, the company's phase 2 expansion is set to open in the third quarter of this year and will include "a coffee shop, pizzeria bistro, an event space, and a consumer-facing production facility," according to the company. This should help drive additional foot traffic and speak to broader audiences -- i.e., not just those entrenched in cannabis culture.
Given the consistent length of the lines to pay, and the wait for personalized budtenders, I'd say that Planet 13 may indeed have something special going on with its SuperStore. The big question is whether this success can be duplicated in other locations. Assuming the company is successful in building its brand, it certainly has a shot of success beyond the SuperStore. But proclaiming the business model a success so early on wouldn't be prudent, especially with the company unprofitable through the first nine months of fiscal 2018, and still facing significant expansion costs.
But make no mistake about it: This investor now has his eye on Planet 13 Holdings.