HerbNJoy | Working the Cannabis Industry

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Rajan Davé and Jeff Linden, founders of HerbNJoy, dove into the cannabis industry with limited knowledge and previous involvement and are set on being a company at the forefront of the cannabis industry. 

Before stepping into the world of cannabis, Davé was a doctor who only started researching cannabis and its effects when Prop 64 was processing. Linden, the duo's other half, was a company executive for Macy's before eventually running a dispensary named No. 1 in San Francisco. 

Rajan Davé and Jeff Linden sat down with Flaunt to discuss their journey into the world of cannabis and dispensaries and how the business landscape is constantly evolving, bringing suppliers along for the change.

How did both of you become involved with the cannabis industry? What inspired you?

Jeff: I became involved in 2015 when asked by a local license holder in SF.if I would be interested in the rebranding and reopening of a store that previously closed from fear of federal pressure. I really knew little about the industry or the evolution of the products since my youth buying “three finger lids.” I began doing research into the industry particularly on:

  • California industry history

  • Colorado and adult use

  • Path to legalization

  • Litigation/prosecution direction and outcomes

I found an industry that was starting on a path of self-discovery. I also found a cultural subset for whom cannabis was a miracle in their lives in ways I never imagined. While both things were compelling enough reasons to join the industry, the deciding factor for me was that I had something to contribute. The retail side of the industry was not much more than street corner transactions moved indoors. I saw an opportunity to create a meaningful customer experience and an environment that embraced everyone from the most knowledgeable cannabis consumers to those who were exploring cannabis for the first time as a way to enhance their lives — young and old alike.

During my research trip to Colorado in 2015, I discovered a dispensary in Aspen called Silverpeak. It was different in design and customer engagement than any dispensary I had visited. It was also located near a Versace store and a Gucci store. That was the eureka moment for me. After 40 years in retail, I have a specific set of principles or clear vision of what a retail consumer experience should be for every consumer, not just the affluent or influential.

  1. Create a visual environment that gives the consumer a “wow” moment by presenting the products in unique and interesting ways.

  2. Have a staff that engages with customers with a focus and level of product knowledge that makes the customer feel that at that moment they are the most important person in the world.

  3. Provide premium products at the best value we can. We carry the best brands that we can find, and we set our pricing model to make sure that premium products remain affordable.

I genuinely believe that everyone should be able to enjoy a high-quality retail experience. If you grace us with a visit to our stores, we should make you feel special for the time and money you invested.

Rico Nasty at HerbNJoy Beverly Hills.

Rajan: The initial concept of HerbNJoy was founded in 2016 when Prop 64 was in the process of being passed, which legalized recreational cannabis use in the state of California. As a physician, I’d started researching the cannabis industry in my search for possible ways to mitigate the opioid epidemic. After visiting several dispensaries, I had an epiphany that this was going to be a new chapter in my career. As I was becoming more involved with the movement, I met Jeff Linden, who was running the most acclaimed cannabis retail store in San Francisco at the time. We actually met for the first time at Cafe Flore which is a legendary location in cannabis history. Cafe Flore is where Brownie Mary and Denis Peron met and came up with the idea for Proposition 215 which first legalized medical cannabis in the 1990s. Brownie Mary and Denis Peron are the godmother and godfather of the cannabis legalization movement in the US. Brownie Mary got the name because during the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic the medical community was mystified by this new disease and did not have great ways to deal with its symptoms. Brownie Mary would give out pot brownies to AIDS patients who were losing weight to help with nausea and stimulate their appetite and thus she was nicknamed Brownie Mary.

I was eager to partner with a retail guru and Jeff was seeking a partner who understood and appreciated the medicinal benefits of cannabis and shared my drive for entrepreneurship and vision. We envisioned an elevated customer retail experience that focused on educating customers, and as a result, created HerbNJoy.

Our motto at HerbNJoy is Life Enhanced. Our goal is to enhance the lives of everyone around us including our customers, employees, and the local community. When someone encounters HerbNJoy we want them to walk away with three things that HerbNJoy provides: the best store, the best experience, and the best value. We enjoy the juxtaposition of exclusivity and inclusivity. The stores and customer experience are very upscale and exclusive but because of our affordable pricing, items are available to people from all walks of life which aligns with our culture of inclusiveness.

Rajan, what was it like transitioning from working in the medical field to the cannabis industry?

I gained valuable and pertinent experience in the medical field as a physician that I was able to utilize in the cannabis industry. Particularly important were the years of experience I had operating in a highly regulated and licensed industry as stringent as the cannabis industry. I was the Chief Medical Resident of a large Hospital in New Jersey managing a team of over 40 medical professionals which included scheduling, overseeing patient care, performance reviews, and training a diverse staff of doctors. Then I supervised another large team as CEO in the San Francisco Bay Area with my clinics in Foster City and Daly City where I oversaw medical assistants, financial specialists, and administrative staff. These management roles imbued me with knowledge in skills I would need in my future role as CEO of HerbNJoy.

Rajan, can you tell us about the importance of medical cannabis?

I believe the importance of medical cannabis is that it can provide an alternative for patients. As a practicing physician, many of my patients were military veterans who returned from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), insomnia, and chronic pain. I noticed a considerable number of my patients self-medicated with opioids and alcohol, or took prescribed medications, like highly addictive benzodiazepines such as Xanax, to treat their mental health conditions. Knowing the harsh effect these drugs have on the human body, I began studying medicinal cannabis to better understand its functionality. During the course of my research, I discovered cannabis was a much safer alternative to treating certain symptoms than traditional medications such as opioids and benzodiazepines. My medical research into the benefits of cannabis sparked my entrepreneurial interest in the cannabis industry. I realized by offering high-quality cannabis products to the community, patients would have an alternative choice to traditional therapeutics.

Photo courtesy of HerbNJoy.

Does HerbNJoy specialize in any products?

We pride ourselves on our selection and value. We carry a broad selection of products and product categories. We do not specialize in cultivation or manufacturing as that is not our expertise. However, we are experts in retail.

What makes your stores unique?

Our uniqueness is evident in the artful design of our stores, combined with our thoughtful approach to retail sales. With so many cannabis companies adopting similar cookie cutter models, we have moved beyond this simplistic approach and offer a truly exceptional interior. Our designs include displaying edible cannabis products in the same charming way a patisserie displays desserts. We also install interactive screens throughout the stores which allows customers to view the menu, cannabis information, and even see microscopic views of each product in our custom display domes. We want to show that cannabis can be a forward thinking and sophisticated experience for users. HerbNJoy’s subtle and tasteful design also has the ability to smoothly integrate into nearly all neighborhood settings. In short, there are several factors that distinguish ours stores from most others:

  • We do not have register counters – our consultants utilize tablets in an open shopping environment to assist each customer as they experience our store

  • We have interactive and educational video walls

  • We display/merchandise our product assortment in visually entertaining way much like a fashion boutique

  • Edibles are displayed patisserie style

  • Flower is displayed under glass domes (unlike anything else in the industry)

Jeff Linden, you ran the #1 dispensary in San Fransisco — tell ys what it takes to run a successful dispensary.

I was fortunate enough to receive some kind press for that first store in SF and at the time it was so differentiated from the rest of the industry but the values and principles that guided the success in SF are the same as those that guide us now. Those principles are:

  • Great customer service – In this industry the budtender’s relationship with the customer is so important and is built on trust. Our philosophy is that everyone leaves our store happy.

  • A store that is unique, compelling, entertaining, and visually differentiated

  • Provide the best products at great value

There are layers, nuances, and techniques to bring all this together and when it does those are the “goosebump” moments for me because we have made people happy and made a little money too.

The cannabis industry can be quite controversial. Do you feel like we’re moving forward in destigmatizing cannabis?

Jeff: Yes, in a big way. I recently attended a rotary club luncheon in a small city in the central valley. I was a guest, as we are applying for a license, and I wanted to provide an opportunity for Q&A. I was at a table where the average age was near seventy. The event was composed of educators, pastors, and local business owners.

Introductions always start with the question “What do you do?” Immediately following my explanation comes, “I never smoke that stuff”, followed by “I use the cream for insert ailment here”, and “Those gummies with that CBD stuff help me sleep” (note the gummies are always THC inclusive). These conversations repeat themselves in City Council meetings, Chamber of Commerce functions, and elsewhere in conservative small-town California.

I share this to illustrate that the destigmatization is already underway and winning over the most skeptical audiences. This will continue as retail (the community facing segment of the industry) becomes more prevalent and sophisticated. The stereotypes and misperceptions are dropping away as we get more operating history. There are still some bad actors in the industry that become known and slow people’s changing paradigms, but overall the positives outweigh the negatives.

Ironically, we see some of the greater struggles in the most cosmopolitan areas. An overall rise in retail theft and civil unrest are contributors but these struggles have been exacerbated by the social equity programs in larger cities. They were created with the laudable purpose of expanding opportunity, but due to bureaucratic obstacles have instead compromised the integrity of the industry and not achieved their purpose. In essence, we have made progress but still have a long way to go.