C3 Video No. 4: Franchising in Retail Cannabis

Updated: Oct 9

Kathryn Blackwell is a franchising expert from Scottsdale, Arizona with an impressive track record of successes in her field. Her accomplishments include managing several American retail and restaurant brands, some of which have become household names.

Open Dør Dispensaries and Kahala Corp. co-founder Kathryn Blackwell


As the cannabis industry emerges from the decades-old underground into a fully regulated and legal marketplace of products and services, Blackwell is front and center and leveraging the proven opportunities of franchising in America with her new concept, Open Dør Dispensaries.


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Kathryn Blackwell Interview

In October 2021, Higher Learning LV conducted an exclusive interview with Blackwell to learn more about how she and Open Dør Dispensaries are changing the business landscape of legal cannabis.


Higher Learning LV: "Thank you for your time and sharing your expertise, Kathryn. Tell us about your background in franchising and what attracted you to the cannabis industry."


It encompasses brands such as Cold Stone Creamery, Blimpie Subs and Salads, TacoTime, and others. During my time with this company, I helped to create a true turnkey model for our franchisees.

Kathryn Blackwell: "I've always been an entrepreneur at heart. My first endeavor was a juice bar that my husband and I began. It quickly gained popularity and we grew it into a chain of stores located inside a chain of health clubs. This is where my passion for franchising began.


"The juice bar business was the launch of Kahala Corp., one of the largest international QSR [Quick Service Restaurant] franchise businesses. It encompasses brands such as Cold Stone Creamery, Blimpie Subs and Salads, TacoTime, and others. During my time with this company, I helped to create a true turnkey model for our franchisees.

Open Dør Dispensaries co-founders Kathryn Blackwell and Chelsea Mulligan


"Fast forward. I was visiting Washington state, a legalized adult-use state. I decided to try a dispensary, but really had no idea where to begin with this new experience. While visiting the dispensaries, I realized the opportunity to bring proven franchising tools, branding expertise, and organizational tactics to cannabis.


"When I got back to Arizona, I met Bryan McLaren, CEO of Zoned Properties, and became more involved in the industry. He thought my idea of a turnkey dispensary franchise was much needed in the cannabis industry and introduced me to my co-founder, Chelsea Mulligan. We began to build the Open Dør Dispensaries brand soon after."


HLLV: "How has Open Dør Dispensaries met its bottom line while also dealing with relatively steep tax rates and onerous, sometimes confusing regulatory oversight?"


KB: "Our team has created several opportunities in soon-to-be or newly legalized states. Having the ability to operate in several states is a pertinent piece of our business plan. However, that means being in tune with each legalized state's regulations and the evolving changes. At the same time, at Open Dør Dispensaries, we understand the importance of the state's need for an abundance of regulations because they are trying to keep consumers as safe as possible through testing standards and tracking of goods.


At the same time, at Open Dør Dispensaries, we understand the importance of the state's need for an abundance of regulations because they are trying to keep consumers as safe as possible through testing standards and tracking of goods.

"Our co-founder, Chelsea Mulligan, specializes in operational compliance and quality management for cannabis businesses. Chelsea has brought more than 30 dispensaries to market throughout the U.S. and developed multiple winning license applications. Chelsea's intuitive understanding of the cannabis business environment, complex regulatory framework, and emerging retail trends is a key component of what our retail franchise offers to the industry.


"A dispensary franchise is different in the sense that our franchisees work for themselves, but not by themselves. We do not take an equity position in the license or business. We do, however, guide the franchisees to be as profitable as possible. This includes being in tune with steep tax rates and supporting federal legalization."


HLLV: "Franchising has served as the successful backbone for a variety of existing industries. In your vision, what is the role of franchising in the cannabis space five or ten years from now?"

KB: "Franchising has been the backbone of many industries because it allows individual owners to operate their own business, but to also have the support they need to grow and be successful.


"Franchising in cannabis will help to level the playing field between large corporations and local owner-operators. I see franchising in cannabis being extremely valuable for local dispensary businesses by providing them with purchasing power, regulatory and compliance support, operational experience, employee retention tools, and community engagement.


"In five to 10 years, we will all be wondering why a franchise for a dispensary wasn't more widely recognized as a viable option until 2021."


"The biggest mistake that we see from startups is not having experience with the intricacies and evolving changes of the cannabis industry. Not having a full understanding of their state's operating regulations...."

HLLV: "Often, contrarian perspectives provide real insight into emerging market trends and the strategies that produce tangible results. What is one of the biggest mistakes made by legal cannabis startups that you have observed?"


KB: "The biggest mistake that we see from startups is not having experience with the intricacies and evolving changes of the cannabis industry. Not having a full understanding of their state's operating regulations and differences in compliance from state to state can create many problems for a business. In addition, not taking the community, municipalities, and stakeholders into consideration when opening is a huge mistake that we often see."


HLLV: "Kathryn, what is your advice for entrepreneurs and existing businesses considering entering the cannabis space? If 90% of companies will fail in the long term, how can startups survive?"

KB: "For those considering entering the cannabis space, keep pushing forward every day when launching a new business. When transitioning from a mainstream industry into cannabis, be prepared for many changes and obstacles. Keep on top of the current trends and news in cannabis because it changes quickly and often.


"Know that it's okay to ask a lot of questions. Being a new industry, there are many nuances that are learned throughout time. I've come to see those in the industry that want to educate others in cannabis, which has helped create new perspectives and support the betterment of the industry."


Like what you just read? Check out our new Cannabis for Cancer Hub that features links to all of our articles about marijuana for cancer.

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