Dynamic duo of doobage: How two Phoenix women hope to franchise weed

By Tom Reardon, February 2021 issue

In November of 2020, Arizona voters joined 14 other states in making marijuana legal to [eventually] purchase for recreational use across the United States.

This represents an interesting shift for the cannabis industry in the state, just as it has for other states that voted to legalize the use and sale of marijuana and related products to those 21 and over without the need for a doctor’s permission. One key question that all interested parties are asking is this: What will this look like?

Another question, too, is on some people’s minds. How and when will the cannabis industry go mainstream?

For some cannabis enthusiasts, this is what they have been waiting for their entire teenage and adult lives, right? The opportunity to go down to the corner weed store and buy a few edibles, a joint or two, and the latest eighth of some kind nugs. For others, though, who are not sure how to go about this process or have not spent time in one of California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, or Washington’s dispensaries, questions will come up regarding where to go, how to pick the right strain, and who to trust in a sea of somewhat murky, uncharted water.

There is a need for a trustworthy brand and a place where everyone is welcome, regardless of their weed expertise, street cred, or number of Bob Marley records in their music collection, and that place may very well be The Open Dør.

Kathryn Blackwell Chelsea Mulligan. The Open Dor

Founders Kathryn Blackwell, CEO, and Chelsea Mulligan, COO, are two Arizona entrepreneurs with a weed-tastic idea. They want to bring The Open Dør branded cannabis retail experience and franchise opportunity to those who hold licenses to operate dispensaries around the country, which will cut down on ramp-up time for those both new and experienced in the industry while providing a carefully cultivated business and cannabis aesthetic.

With a background in quick service restaurants as a founding member of the Kahala Group, which owned 12 restaurant brands and represented 3,500 operating locations in 23 countries, Blackwell knows a thing or two about franchising successful business designed to keep customers coming back for more. Her business partner, Mulligan, has helped over 30 dispensaries either come to market or become successful in her eight-year career in the cannabis industry as a consultant, so the level of expertise available to potential franchisees is quite remarkable. The duo is joined by Bryan McLaren, who introduced Blackwell and Mulligan as a strategic real estate advisor to find the best possible location to meet the new franchisee’s needs.

The Open Dør’s goal is to give those who hold dispensary licenses an opportunity to hit the ground running with thoroughly-tested cannabis brands, branding information, and guidelines for all aspects of the business, including training employees, and creating a welcoming, recognizable look and feel for the Open Dør franchise, no matter its locale.

Don’t necessarily think the McDonald’s or Starbucks of weed, but if you are, you’re on the right track. The Open Dør team is there to assist in every way when it comes to getting a dispensary going and offers all the necessary tools to help it be successful.

We sat down with Blackwell and Mulligan to talk about their venture and how it will help both potential franchisees get started and their customers, well, get high.

Echo: How did the two of you get into the cannabis industry?

Mulligan: I honestly found a listing on Craigslist and in my head [I was thinking], “I don’t know how this is going to go.” It was 2013, and things are now so much different in [the] mainstream, but back then, I wondered what it was going to be like. I showed up for an hour and a half long interview, and they offered me a management position on the spot. It ended up being the best experience. So, who I started working for was Bloom Dispensary down by the [Phoenix] airport.

Once they took over a couple more licenses, I went on to open those [dispensaries] and re-brand them, train people, and bring my previous experience in mergers and acquisitions from a gym I had worked for in the Pacific Northwest. It was one of those things where I thought it was going to either be weird or amazing, and, honestly, it was a great experience.

Blackwell: We have family up in Washington State and were visiting. Washington is a recreational cannabis state, so we decided to find a dispensary to see if some products may help with some specific health ailments. I didn’t know where to start and had no idea that something like Weedmaps existed, so I was utilizing Apple Maps to find nearby dispensaries — that took me to a few places, and truthfully, I didn’t feel comfortable going in by myself. I didn’t know what to expect inside the building, the process, or even what I was going to be purchasing.

This experience prompted my thoughts - why weren’t these dispensaries providing information to consumers on what to expect, or even at the minimum, branding themselves to feel welcoming? I had hoped to find one location that expressed quality, had helpful service, and a clean, friendly environment. If I had information there was a dispensary like this, I would have driven out of my way to go there.

So fast forward with this idea and experience that I had previously had. I was at a local cannabis networking event and met Bryan McLaren of Zoned Properties, who is now a strategic partner with The Open Dør. We were talking about my idea, and he loved it. He introduced me to Chelsea because he knew that her experience paired with mine would be a great match. My own personal experience in searching for a dispensary led me to see the need for a truly branded operation.

Echo: Speaking of the health side, Kathy, would you mind talking about that a bit more? Was there a specific ailment you were looking for help with?

Blackwell: Sure, well, you know it’s been around forever. I am not nor have never been a regular smoker, or user, of cannabis. But I’ve been an avid runner for probably 20 years, and as I’ve gotten older, it’s not quite as easy on the joints if it used to be. So, unfortunately, I’m not running long distances any longer, but that’s what led me to cannabis.

I didn’t want to try to go to the painkiller route, and I really wasn’t too excited about all the other medical options as far as injections and all of that. I did help my husband through a knee replacement, and I knew I didn’t want to do that. So, that was kind of the premise of going and getting my medical card here in Arizona was just to kind of help with the joints.

Echo: No pun intended?

Blackwell: [Laughs] No.  The benefits were great, and it was really surprising. I can’t say that it was immediate or took every piece of pain away, but it helped a lot. I’ve seen the benefits of it for personal friends who have used the benefits to eliminate some of the side effects of chemotherapy treatments, and there is just so much more to this beautiful little plant. I’m excited about bringing my 30-year history in business operations in quick-service restaurants and franchising and helping other people build a business of their own in the cannabis industry. It’s been an exciting last year.

Echo: Thank you for that answer, Kathy. I think many people consider that those celebrating the legalization here in Arizona because they want to get high. What do each of you feel are some of the biggest barriers to folks getting into this industry, and how will you help them?

Mulligan: [The cannabis industry is] so competitive. Once they do get the license, finding a location is one of the biggest hiccups. Also, knowing how to go through the zoning processes properly so that you don’t constantly get denied [is another hurdle]. Having Brian [McLaren] as one of our advisors is phenomenal because he’s so great with zoning and real estate because we can help with that piece of it. That seems to be one of the biggest headaches because once you do get past the hurdle of the financial side and writing the application and once you actually have [the license], then finding the location is the hardest part. We are there, though, to help our franchisees get through these parts of the process.

Blackwell: For The Open Dør to have the impact that we envision, the overall industry also will need help to pave a path. Federal legalization of cannabis will help with the complicated federal banking regulations. Currently, dispensaries have to rely on cash transactions, which isn’t truly a safe solution for customers or the business. Federal legalization will also help with branded products being able to be shipped across state lines. Currently, a brand may be manufactured in one plant and have the utmost quality. If another state wants to carry that brand, another grow house and cultivator must recreate the recipe and hope that it is the same quality of product. Products crossing state lines would help with quality control and create a competitive landscape for supreme products. Lastly, The Open Dør’s mission would also include the continuation of decriminalization on a national scale.

Echo: Where do you see The Open Dør in five years?

Blackwell: The cannabis industry is ever-changing on a day-to-day basis, but we know as a company that we will be operating in multiple legalized states. We will be a leader in the cannabis education space because of our in-depth programs. With these two accomplishments, it will mean brand recognition, buying power, and general support from colleagues for our franchisees.

Mulligan: I don’t know if I necessarily have a goal, but honestly, for me, I want there to be as many [franchises] as possible. I’ll even be happy with one in Arizona because then that means that I have one in every legal state. And because it’s my home state, obviously, I’d like to see three or four across the state. I also want to make sure, for me, I want to make sure that our franchisees feel like, not that they are going to some exclusivity, but that there’s not another Open Dør around the corner if that makes sense. They are going to have competition that’s close, but I want to make sure that if we do have multiple Open Dørs that it’s spread out.

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