These days in Boston, it feels like there’s a new cannabis dispensary opening every few weeks. And with every opening, a big question becomes bigger: How many pot shops can the market support?
In the nearly five years since recreational marijuana sales began in Massachusetts, the sector has grown increasingly competitive, with more and more retailers entering the space. But busy as the market may seem, retailers and others in the industry say there’s room to grow.
Cannabis retailers entering an increasingly competitive market focus more on brand aesthetics to set them apart, as well as relying on an endlessly-renewable pool of customers in the students and young people who cycle through Boston. On the supply side, however, the price of marijuana has fallen as cultivators rapidly expanded a few years ago and ended up with a glut of supply.
Here are four charts that capture the market today, and explain why the market is not saturated — yet.
While it feels like they’re everywhere, Massachusetts still trails other states that were early to marijuana sales like Colorado when it comes to the number of dispensaries per capita. By that measure, at least, the cannabis retail market here still has room to grow.
But statewide numbers can blur big variations by region. Looking at the map, there are clear clusters in parts of Greater Boston, Worcester, and Springfield.
“There are some places in Massachusetts where there probably are enough retailers,” said Tim Conder, CEO of TILT Holdings, a company that provides cultivation and manufacturing services to leading cannabis brands. “But there are communities that are underserved from a retail standpoint.”
Devin Alexander, the CEO of Rolling Leaf, a marijuana delivery operator, said that this distribution is a recent trend in the cannabis industry. The first wave of retailers here tended to open in communities with the most friendly regulations, but have increasingly spread across the region.
“There are some holes in the market where it is densely populated,” he said. “But there’s a lot to still go around.”
Take New Dia, a new dispensary that opened across the street from Fenway Park. The outlet opened within a mile from another cannabis store, MedMen. You might think that would make competing for customers tough, but it works, because it’s a high-traffic area.
Another thing going for retailers in Boston at large is the region’s endlessly-renewable supply of young people coming through for college, grad school and jobs. That’s a steady stream of potential new customers, who retailers can continually compete for.
Still, for retailers, it’s clear that the market has become tighter as more and more set up shop. That’s prompting stores that once had whole neighborhoods to themselves to find new ways, beyond the product, to set themselves apart.
To Kyle Ronellenfitch, CEO of Ayr, a Miami-based marijuana retailer with locations in Back Bay and Watertown, said that the shift towards brand-focused retailers has entirely changed what the cannabis market looks like. They’ve become far more focused on the customer.
“The stigma of the old smoke shop aesthetic of what they expect when they walk into a dispensary and what is actually happening today is wildly different,” Ronellenfitch said. “I feel proud to work in an industry that is so focused on customer experience.”
New Dia, for instance, markets itself as a “cannabis mall,” with several different vendors under New Dia’s roof. A store like New Dia, with a mini basketball arcade stand and video game station set-up, offers a fundamentally different experience than any other dispensary in Fenway — or Boston at large — does.
“When people walk into our stores, their mouths drop and they’re like ‘what is this?’,” said Ross Bradshaw CEO of New Dia. “With all the retailers, that’s kind of the challenge, to create something that’s unique and different and memorable.”
The sales staff at New Dia said customers spend an average of 30 minutes in the store when they visit, and spend about $45 to $60 on average.
Maintaining the focus on customers, there has also been a big move towards digital purchases of cannabis. For TILT, 50 percent of their sales are generated online.
If anything is oversupplied right now, Alexander explained, it’s the product itself.
Multi-state operators who have large cultivation facilities have produced a lot marijuana. To the point where, Alexander explained, “there aren’t a lot of outlets for [growers] to get their product out.”
Essentially, there’s more cannabis in the market than there are cannabis retailers. Large cannabis cultivators rapidly expanded in Massachusetts when the industry was young.
“When they overbuild, there have nowhere for that product to go because there’s already a product glut,” Conder said.
The current oversupply of marijuana itself has been pushing prices down for about a year. When adult-use marijuana was first legalized in Massachusetts, the average retail price was around $400 per ounce. That’s now fallen to around $180 per ounce.
In the past few years, many say the market has “normalized.” What that means is that initially, prices were high because more people wanted to consume the product than there were people to supply it. But as growers have expanded, supply has caught up.
“Demand for cannabis remains strong,” said Conder. “Almost always.”