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March 2, 2021

Q&A: Willy Wonka meets a cannabis museum in Webster

Photo | Monica Busch John Bogdan, general manager of The Vault in Webster, at the store's education bar.

Adult-use cannabis dispensary The Vault opened in Webster in February, in a plaza formerly home to K-Mart. A bustling, storefront with many eager staff members on-hand to assist customers, General Manager John Bogdan sat down with WBJ to discuss its customer service business model, the decision-making behind its lengthy menu, and how it plans to distinguish itself from other adult-use dispensaries in the region.

So, can you tell me about The Vault’s set up and general vibe?

So, my main goal is to really educate the customer. I wanted to have a feel a little bit like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory meets a cannabis museum. You can leisurely take a look around, and we’re also trying to incorporate non-cannabis items, too. So it's a one-stop shop for everyone.  

I found -- and I'm surprised -- other dispensaries aren't necessarily having things on display, so you can actually see what you're buying like at a normal retailer. 

I have tried staffing the sales floor with people who answer questions, give recommendations. I feel like that's happening a lot at the register at other places, and it's clogging up the register and then bottlenecks start forming.

I really want to encourage being a safe space for consumers to talk about product and have the time to answer all the questions that they have. 

Photo | Monica Busch
The Vault's retail floor in Webster

Can you tell me about the bar you have set up on the shop floor?

We built this education bar because I saw that in a medical dispensary; and I was just blown away by the patient care advocates, and how they sit down, one-on-one with customers discussing their issues. We can’t refer to things as medicine here because we’re adult-use, but we can certainly refer them to certain products based on terpene profiles and different strains.

So, I built this for those people who are not embarrassed talking about their gastrointestinal issues, or whatever it is, as well as for wholesalers, so they can come in and talk about the product and help educate my customers. 

How does that work with staff?

We have three different levels of training in here I put everyone through -- beginner, intermediate and expert level. Anyone who's passed my expert-level training will be at the education bar is the in-house expert.

You need to at least pass the intermediate level to be on the sales floor.

Webster is going to be your flagship location, right?

Yes. We’ll have another one starting construction in Worcester, and then we’ll have one going to open down in Lakeville. 

Photo | Monica Busch
The Vault's Webster entrance

With Webster, you’re serving South Central Mass. and with Worcester, you’re serving the city. Why Lakeville? For customers who don’t want to drive into Fall River?

That, and we were also talking about Cape Cod traffic in the summer. We’re not right off the highway -- there are one or two a bit closer to the highway -- but I think if we can get our brand recognition up, combined with experience and our huge menu, we can get people driving by.

That’s been part of the strategy. I’m aware the market is going to be saturated at some point, and you need to keep your loyal customers. I know it’s a new industry here in Massachusetts, but I’m already looking at it four, five years down the line and asking how we get people to drive by their closest dispensary because they just like what we’re doing here. We give them the selection, and they get the service they are expecting.

I did want to ask, you had quite a few staff out on the floor. Is there a reason you have so many?

It’s a combination of two things. One, we just opened and I don’t want, over the first week or two, for customers to say "Oh, I went there, but the line was an hour long."

And two, strategically, I want to have people answering questions on the sales floor before they get to the register, to free up registers. So I’m trying to preemptively add a little more payroll to the sales floor so we don’t start bottlenecking. 

Do you find you face any particular challenges as a smaller, locally owned business?

I don’t find challenges. It’s actually been a positive, as we’re talking with wholesalers and even these national brands we’re buying some products from. It’s kind of like craft beer. You’ve got Budweiser and Tree House. Sometimes, I go pick up a 12-pack because I’m going to the golf course, and it’s on the way. But there are times when I want to drive to Tree House because I want something special. 

A lot of wholesalers want to be seen in some of these smaller mom-and-pop type places so they don’t seem so corporate. So, it has been really positive.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ staff writer Monica Busch.

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