We sat with Anne to discuss making a lasting impression with your customers
Anne Forkutza started her career in user experience and digital strategy at the age of 18. Over the years she has utilized her skills to help deliver award-winning campaigns for big brands such as Electronic Arts, Nike, the Canadian Tourism Commission, Loblaws, and Starbucks. She also has years of experience combining business strategy with innovative product design while in various leadership positions at iQmetrix, a leading retail solutions company. Anne is currently the Experience Director at Cova, where she leads the creative vision and branding, all while collectively striving to elevate the dispensary experience and move the industry forward in a positive direction. We sat down with Anne at MJ Biz Con to discuss how to make a lasting impression with your customers as a retailer.
Marijuana Retail Report: Can you tell us a little bit about COVA and what you do for them?
Anne Forkutza: So COVA, we are a cannabis retail software company. We have a suite of software products for the cannabis retail space. Our main product is our point-of-sale, which also helps with inventory management. We’ve got reporting dashboards. In addition to that, we also showcase digital signage, touchscreen menus, and menu boards. My particular role is Experience Director. So I look at everything that’s from a brand experience, creative standpoint.
Marijuana Retail Report: What would you tell entrepreneurs to ensure the success of their branding and of their product?
Anne Forkutza: I would say the number one thing is to know your end user. So whether or not you’re designing a product for someone in their 20s versus someone in their 50s, the way that’s designed is quite different. Everyone will naturally tend to gravitate toward designing something that they enjoy or a design that they like. But what you like might not always be what your end user likes. So just always keep the user in mind. When we were creating COVA, it was like, “Okay, well, what did we want this brand to not be?” We looked at all the brands that were currently out there in the cannabis space and just put all of their logos up on a really big wall. Everything was either green or had a leaf on it, and their name was green or leaf or had some sort of leaf connotation to it. And we didn’t want to blend in with everyone else. So instead of looking at green and leaf for inspiration, we looked at the molecular structure component of cannabis. So we started off by looking at THC. That evolved into, “Okay, so THC, what is that? That’s like a molecular structure. What’s a molecular structure?” And then we came up with COVA through … So COVA is short for covalent bond. And what a covalent bond is, is the binding of two atoms. Then when we thought about it, that really is what our technology platform does. Yes, we are a software company, and we do have tools and technology that enables you to run a successful business. But it really does connect a business owner with the larger cannabis ecosystem and we do that through our technology platform. So then covalent bond was too long, so we shortened it to COVA and here we are today.
Marijuana Retail Report: How do you go about curating the perfect customer experience and how important is that customer experience to a brand?
Anne Forkutza: Well, as the cannabis industry becomes more and more mainstream, just that customer experience will become that more important. Because right now there’s, okay, yes, it’s the green rush, and people are making money, but eventually, there’s going to be more and more competition. And in my opinion, the number one way to stand out from your competition is to ensure that you have a memorable brand experience with your customers. The most meaningful type of promotion will be word of mouth, and that’s all through customer experience. The way to ensure that that customer experience is met is to really map out what your customer journey would be, what type of experience you’re trying to create. So before a customer walks into your store, what type of experience have they had with your brand? Have they even heard of your brand before? And even though they might have a great experience in your store, when they leave your store will they forget your brand? What is that experience after they leave your store? You want to just give them a reason to come back to your store and make sure that they don’t just go to another dispensary down the street that might be closer to them or more convenient to them. They’re really buying into your brand experience.
Marijuana Retail Report: What are some best practices tips you can give to dispensary owners out there to make sure that they’re maintaining that experience at a high level?
Anne Forkutza: So one thing that is interesting if you’re looking for some innovative ideas is to not look at other dispensaries for ideas. I would seek out other experiences in other industries. For example, think of your favorite restaurant or your favorite hotel lobby or even like your favorite spa. And think about what is it that makes that your favorite restaurant or that spa was a really great experience? And draw inspiration from that. It sounds so basic, but if you have a dispensary with a waiting room area, having a comfortable place to sit. If it’s like someone coming into your store for the very first time, make sure that they have a positive experience. Getting acknowledged right away, having someone say “Hi” to them right away. Offering them a glass of water while they wait and giving them a comfortable place to sit. Having a clipboard and a really nice pen to use when they’re filling out all their patient information. Just really basic, fundamental things like that to make a person feel at ease. Also while they’re waiting, give them something to do. So whether it’s like swiping through a touchscreen and playing around with that or seeing what available products there are. Or even like reading a magazine or having something to look at. If someone is doing something while they’re waiting, then they’re perceived wait time will decrease, which overall makes it a more positive experience for them.
Marijuana Retail Report: What would you say are some things that retailers should look for in a point of sale system and what are some red flags to avoid?
Anne Forkutza: I would just say, okay, when you look at the company in general, how long have they been in business? Where did they come from? If you can get a demo of the product right away. It seems like with retail trends in general, we are moving away from having a staff member or a salesperson behind the counter that’s just ringing up their order. The Apple Store has really paved the way in terms of revolutionizing the retail and in-store experience where you’ve got staff members coming away from behind the counters and talking to customers one-on-one and giving them that personal experience. So you’re going to see a lot more mobile-friendly applications, and a point-of-sale should be one of that. So look for something that’s mobile-friendly, that’s either in a tablet or can be on a tablet or a mobile device, even. In terms of the red flags, I would say just do your research in terms of where they store your information. If there is ever an outage, what are their backup mechanisms? Just get them to answer detailed questions as to what their plan is when there is an outage and where they backup their data, and what their strategy is behind that.
Marijuana Retail Report: What’s next for you and COVA?
Anne Forkutza: What’s next for us and COVA? We’re gonna take over the world. I mean, right now, we’re right in it. We’re super excited about being at MJBizCon. A lot of the products that we’re creating and innovating come directly from our client feedback. So we’re looking forward to creating the next piece of software or like the next great feature. And just having fun while we do it.