With IT Sophistication, Green Growth Brands Brings CBD to Mainstream Retail
Seventh Sense Botanical Therapy Launches On Unprecedented Three-Month Deadline
Cannabis. It’s a multifaceted and taboo topic. To some, it’s misunderstood, even distasteful. For others, it’s a subculture and an enjoyable lifestyle to embrace. And for another demographic, its therapeutic use relieves symptoms not alleviated by anything else they’ve tried.
“The Columbus Consulting team are functional experts in what they do. We knew that as our consultant, they would fill the interim CIO role in a thoughtful and beneficial way. And we were right.”
The cannabis landscape is one filled with ambiguity and debate, regulation and controversy. It’s a domain that most retailers haven’t traditionally played a role in, save for niche and specialty companies, and only in those states where tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products are legal.
But a bit of clarity came with the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill, making hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) legal under certain circumstances. Without the intoxicating effects of the THC contained in other cannabis products, CBD’s legalization presents an exciting opportunity, one that investors and entrepreneurs are racing to bring to market. And Green Growth Brands is emerging as the leader, miles ahead of the pack.
Pioneered by accomplished retail executives, Green Growth Brands is focused on bringing remarkable experiences to cannabis and CBD. The company’s ambitious plans were put into motion when the company was formed on March 1, 2018, focusing initially on retail dispensaries. But business accelerated into the mainstream retail market when the company made the decision to launch a CBD personal care brand, and Seventh Sense Botanical Therapy was born.
Piloting CBD self-care for all in a traditional retail setting
“We searched the world for CBD products that we loved to use. When we didn’t find any, we created them ourselves.”
Seventh Sense Botanical Therapy is a 100% hemp-derived topical body and skincare line, which includes body lotions, muscle balms, sugar scrubs, bath bombs and more. Created to fill Green Growth Brands’ desire for high-quality CBD products for everyday consumer use, the proprietary products are thoughtfully curated and beautifully branded. Seventh Sense elevates the image associated with CBD, making the healing and relaxing benefits accessible to cannabis enthusiasts and newcomers alike.
The project aligned closely with the leadership team’s success with major retail brands. Focusing on its collective strengths in beauty and personal care products, Green Growth Brands began by testing Seventh Sense in 10 DSW stores in August and September of 2018. Those results were the true catalyst, indicating a significant opportunity for the company. Test-run products sold out in four weeks’ time, and, compared to timelines associated with traditional personal care products, pilot Seventh Sense products sold three times faster.
These early results were achieved with minimal IT systems in place. At the time, Green Growth Brands operated off of QuickBooks and Office365, and while the pilot was a success, the company recognized these tools weren’t sustainable for its long-term industry aspirations.
Driven by the momentum of the pilot, Green Growth Brands set an ambitious goal to launch retail, eCommerce and wholesale operations for Seventh Sense in only three months. With decades of retail career learnings fueling Green Growth Brands’ strategy, the growing company recognized its need for a chief information officer to lead the technology side of the project, ensuring systems put in place to support the launch would be built to last.
Deep understanding of retail informs the search for IT expertise
“We were very impressed by the customer response to the Seventh Sense collection tested in DSW stores,” said Ed Kistner, chief administrative officer, Green Growth Brands. “We provided no sales associate training to promote the products, nor consumer marketing to drive in-store foot traffic. Simply put, the messaging on the fixture alone sold Seventh Sense, and that was really exciting to see. But in order to launch the lifestyle brand more broadly, we knew we needed the right talent to get our IT infrastructure in order, and that’s when we turned to Columbus Consulting.”
Green Growth Brands set out to find CIO candidates to help build the systems, eventually reaching out to Columbus Consulting founder, Rick Amari, for recommendations from his professional network. Instead, given the accelerated project timeline, Amari offered his IT talents to serve an interim CIO, proposing he come onboard to stand up the technology to support both physical and digital retail for Seventh Sense.
“I’ve known Ed for more than 20 years, and when he reached out for assistance in finding the right person for the job, I knew it was a project I wanted to be involved in,” said Amari. “We spoke in early November 2018 about the IT requirements for a February 2019 launch. After Thanksgiving, I jumped right in, bringing in additional functional experts to support specific IT needs.”
Building the system infrastructure for Seventh Sense included four major components, each requiring vendor partners to bring the project to life: mall-based shops, eCommerce and wholesale, as well as a distribution center to serve the three channels.
The Columbus Consulting team built a product information management (PIM) system in-house, to serve as the central clearing house for all information. That system provided one version of the truth, shared by production and sourcing teams, merchants and planners. The information management system needed to connect with other interfaces, including the website provider, payments provider, POS, and third-party logistics company, so Columbus Consulting coordinated those efforts as well.
“In a very short time period, we stood up PIM Lite internally,” said Kistner. “This gave us a lot of functionality to be able to support the transactions, have visibility into reporting, and run the business like a typical retailer. Thanks to this coordinated effort, we had all of the information we needed.”
Launch of Seventh Sense brand undeterred by unique retail roadblocks
The biggest challenge in any retail environment is a technology project with a shortened timeline. This was further magnified by the unique challenges of bringing a formerly controlled substance into the market. One unexpected roadblock for Green Growth Brands and Columbus Consulting was that some solution providers were wary of engaging with the industry, despite CBD’s recent federal legalization.
“In this non-traditional and somewhat ambiguous retail space, there was a lot of CBD education we had to do with vendors along the way to make sure they were comfortable working with us,” said Kistner. “As we took steps toward seeing the dream of Seventh Sense realized, we had to provide a lot of documentation, including legal opinions about CBD.”
After the holidays, with the February launch date approaching, Green Growth Brands found itself without a third-party logistics partner, after the previous vendor withdrew its commitment.
“We had product coming off the production line in just a few weeks’ time, and suddenly we were back at step one with 3PL vendor selection,” said Kistner. “Thankfully, we secured Port Logistics Group as a partner. The company was diligent in its approach and confident that it could support us in a successful launch of Seventh Sense. While other 3PLs wanted three or four months to get their side of things up and running, Port Logistics Group really delivered to help make the February launch possible.”
Nationwide rollout continues, setting the pace for Seventh Sense’s growth
While Green Growth Brands knew its launch goals were aggressive, it had the team and experience to execute them. Committing to the timeline turned out to be a great business decision.
“We successfully went out quiet on February 7, which was 100% intentional,” said Kistner. “When we started by launching the eCommerce site, we wanted to make certain that things were working operationally and systemically, rather than go out with a bang and come to discover a whole host of issues.”
Green Growth Brands established a network of Seventh Sense kiosks, or 200-square-foot high-end beauty counter fixtures placed in the center court of premium malls. These “shops” gained momentum through a partnership with Simon Property Group, the largest shopping mall operator in the U.S. This unprecedented reach was afforded to the young company based on executives’ relational capital and allowed Seventh Sense to roll out products in a more permanent, physical setting. By early April 2019, there were 10 Seventh Sense mall kiosks open across the U.S. And with additional real estate partnerships now in place, Green Growth Brands is on track to open up to 280 Seventh Sense locations by the end of 2019.
The company is pleased with initial retail results, especially with customer engagement, conversion, testimonials and repeat purchases. And with the brand now launched, the company can learn and adjust, just as any retailer should, continuing to provide personal care and beauty products for customers into the fast-moving CBD industry.
“The Columbus Consulting team are functional experts in what they do,” said Kistner. “We knew that as our consultant, they would fill the interim CIO role in a thoughtful and beneficial way. And we were right.”
Additional technology on the horizon for budding Green Growth Brands
As Green Growth Brands continues to lead in the cannabis and CBD space, the company is actively working to set up additional technology vendors. The next priority is to align Seventh Sense with an ERP solution, which will bring improved efficiency, planning capabilities, real-time analytics and reporting features, and visibility across teams. Doing so will consolidate information for not only the CBD side of Green Growth Brands’ retail business, but for existing cannabis dispensaries, too.
“In the cannabis and CBD industries, you don’t hear many organizations talk about thoughtful, systemic IT systems,” said Kistner. “Green Growth Brands now has established expertise for managing a growing business, and I’m confident we will be set apart from the competition in this way.”
As CBD assimilates into the mainstream and becomes more prevalent in daily American life, Green Growth Brands and Seventh Sense are positioned to lead with the most comprehensive assortment of CBD-infused self-care products of anyone in the industry.
Green Growth Brands created Seventh Sense – a botanical personal care and beauty line of hemp-infused products – and committed to an aggressive timeline for establishing eCommerce and launching the first-ever chain of CBD shops, a bold strategy it knew its expert team could execute.
Understanding the unique IT needs based on decades of retail experience, leadership recognized the need for an interim CIO to come alongside the organization, putting the infrastructure in place to sustain accelerated growth.
With a custom product information management system in place before the launch, Green Growth Brands was able to launch Seventh Sense successfully in just three months, positioning the company to meet anticipated growth goals with the continued 2019 rollout.