Inside the Studio: Greenlane

by Rudy Sanchez on 10/13/2020 | 6 Minute Read

Attitudes around cannabis have relaxed and moved on enough in recent years now that millions of folks have legal-ish access to the kind herb. That convenience, however, comes at a steep cost, as regulations based on antiquated notions about cannabis continue to linger.

As such, everything from operations to distribution and promotion is a specialization that requires experienced professionals that understand the cannabis industry landscape. Packaging, labeling, distribution, and marketing are subject to strict rules. The stakes are high for cannabis brands, especially smaller producers already operating within thin margins—a non-compliant product can even get recalled and ordered destroyed.

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Greenlane Holdings has a comprehensive understanding of the cannabis space because it works at nearly every level of the industry—from marketing, packaging, branding, distribution, and design. It has worked with cannabis producers, retailers, and accessory makers, in addition to having its very own house brands and retail stores in NYC and LA.

“Greenlane has a unique purview on the industry because we're a true omnichannel business," said Adam Schoenfeld, co-founder and chief Strategy officer at Greenlane.

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"We're able to garner insights, not only from licensed cannabis companies but from end-users who patronize our e-commerce and brick-and-mortar offerings," he added. "We have two stores in New York and Malibu called Higher Standards, and through operating those retail stores and e-commerce websites, we use the insight gained in full form on our product development roadmap, both on the packaging front and the CPG front."

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Already a major distributor of cannabis-related ephemera-items like pipes, papers, and more recently, vaporizers-Greenlane was already poised to expand into the actual cannabis market, having a presence and understanding of the modern cannabis consumer. As cannabis started seeing its way towards legalization, Greenlane was already distributing its brands like Marley Naturals. Additionally, the firm also partnered early on with Pax Labs and JUUL, distributing the brands as vaping became mainstream, as well as collaborating with the Keith Haring Foundation on a line of glassware.

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One of the more pressing needs for cannabis producers is ATSM-certified child-resistant packaging while also in-line with the various state-by-state and Canadian regulations.

“We offer full bespoke options," said Schoenfeld. "That could be custom form factors, molds, or tooling. Sometimes it's a step-staged approach. We might start with something that's a little bit quicker to market than a fully bespoke offering, which generally takes several months to bring to market by the time you design and tool them, do the child-resistance testing, produce it, ship it, and import it."

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They can also customize packaging for their clients. "We can take a design from a customer, liaise with them, get that approved, then take the stock jar and apply a whole host of finishes to it, from spray coating, printing, labeling, and etching in certain cases," he added. "We can generally do this because these processes are stateside, and they're either at our facility or one of our subcontractor's facilities, depending on the specific process. We can go from ideation to production and delivery to the customer in under 30 days.”

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Greenlane recently brought under their roof Pollen Gear, after several years of partnership. They are the inventors of items like the Rabbit corkscrew, but they're also well known among cannabis consumers for the EVAK container. The EVAK removes air from the food storage equation, but it also became widely known for keeping bud fresh, and since 2015, they designed for cannabis storage as well.

What's more, they are a leader in developing child-resistant packaging, an absolute essential when bringing any cannabis product to market.

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Founded by Ed Kilduff, Pollen Gear’s talented group of designers first started working out of a studio in New York City, but they recently moved to the west coast and set up shop in Hermosa Beach. This way, they were closer to cannabis producers and brands so heavily concentrated in the Western US.

In addition to understanding the cannabis packaging space, Pollen Gear’s studio has several 3D printers on-site, allowing them to quickly prototype designs and test them, saving weeks of waiting for overseas manufacturers to send samples back.

“It's a kind of a tug of war to not only get what we want but actually get it to be producible as well," explained Shane Blomberg, design director at Pollen Gear. "It's at least two weeks by the time the manufacturer ships it here, and we look at it. But with a 3D machine, as far as functionality testing or size testing, we can make three sets of samples in a day versus more than a month-and-a-half."

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Years of experience on the distribution side of cannabis accessories, as well as managing their house brands, has given Greenlane’s marketing team the expertise and knowledge to be able to help nascent and smaller cannabis brands bring their products to market and effectively market and promote them. From their corporate headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida, Greenlane’s marketing team can facilitate cannabis brands of all sizes, creating a one-stop-shop for cannabis branding, packaging, promotion, and distribution.

In other words, they’ve managed to create a playground for the ever-evolving world of cannabis design and packaging.

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“My ethos is to give designers a little room to breathe and be creative,” said Schoenfeld. “You get wonderful innovations, and the end design, of giving designers the space to create. Pushing the business forward requires innovation.”

For the explosion in cannabis brands and growth in new forms of consumption, there are still opportunities to develop not only new packaging designs that meet the needs of the marketplace but also new products that meet the changing preferences of the cannabis consumer.

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One popular way to smoke weed is to roll it up in “blunt” outer wrappers, which are made out of tobacco and often flavored. The combination of the two plants can create a synergistic effect felt by some smokers. Popularized by hip-hop culture, this method of consumption has decreased in popularity as tobacco use has become declasse. Moreover, the prohibition of the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products is becoming more prevalent in the US. Identifying this need, Greenlane has been working on a wrap that creates a similar experience but is made from cannabis leaf, reimagining the blunt for modern tokers, developing from a passion for serving the marketplace from stem-to-stern. 

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The first of its kind innovation isn’t from a homogenized leaf either—it comes from the whole hemp plant. “You just know it in your heart that this is something special. This is something better,” Adam said. 

“I'm bringing a solution that not only allows them to tackle an addressable market that's been previously untapped but also an end-to-end technical solution, from the preparation through the packaging and labeling,” he added. “And that whole ecosystem, it's more than just selling a leaf that's a technological advancement. You're actually bringing a whole suite of technical solutions to bear that unlocks an addressable market for our customers. So, I think that's very valuable if you're one of our customers, and, ultimately, if you're a consumer, it's really valuable to be able to go out and buy that product.”

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Of course, being immersed in the cannabis marketplace has perks that help maintain the hype level, as Shoenfeld explains.

“Every week, I get boxes at my house full of stuff I have to test, and I say, ‘hardest job in the world,’” he said sarcastically. “It's a never-ending cycle of new products on my doorstep, which is really cool to see.”

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