The man who helped Shinola bring its Detroit luxury watch brand to cities across the country is now turning to the latest industry to launch in Michigan: cannabis.
It’s one of many signs that marijuana in Michigan is becoming mainstream, after voters legalized it for adult use last fall.
Travis Harrison, 45, the former head of retail for Shinola, has joined a Michigan cannabis company — Emerald Growth Partners — as its chief operating officer.
“There’s a piece of this that legitimizes the industry,” Harrison said about his career move.
Emerald Growth Partners was founded by Randall Buchman, a 33-year-old medical marijuana caregiver who is now going corporate with his growing skills and industry knowledge. The company recruited Harrison for the task of opening 12 medical marijuana provisioning centers across Michigan under the company’s brand name, Pleasantrees.
The company has preliminary approval from state regulators to grow and process medical marijuana at a 50,000-square-foot facility in Harrison Township near Selfridge Air Force Base. One of the first retail locations to open will likely be in East Lansing, Buchman said.
So what drew Harrison away from the Detroit-based watch company, after he directed the opening of 27 of Shinola’s 32 stores across the country over the past three and a half years?
“My excitement within the cannabis space was, here’s an incredible story that goes back from a pop culture point of view anyways — from reefer madness when it was always on the periphery and outcast,” Harrison said. “Here’s an opportunity to tell that story. If you’re interested in brands and brand narratives, here’s the opportunity to educate the consumer.”
Prior to joining Shinola, Harrison had an eight-year career with Ralph Lauren — where he saw the struggle that traditional retail stores were having in keeping the customer experience alive and fresh.
That’s not the case with marijuana, Harrison said. He’s excited to teach senior citizens and soccer moms — two markets that may not have previously been comfortable with cannabis — about the products.
“It’s the opportunity to brand build and to tell a story in a new and different way in the same retail model that was supposedly dead,” Harrison said.
Harrison said he wants to bring his experience growing brand loyalty at Shinola through the retail experience to the cannabis market. For Pleasantrees, that includes emphasizing the Midwest roots of the company with a sense of neighborly hospitality in the store.
“We’re a brand rooted in Michigan — and cultivate at the highest level — so our clients can enjoy more of life’s pleasures,” Harrison said. “Our mission is to define the white space that is the Midwest.”
The retail locations won’t be selling just cannabis: medical marijuana will be sold alongside craft apothecary and essential oil products, as well as luxury lifestyle goods. Harrison said stores will feel “aspirational.”
“If we do that right, it will help break down the assumptions and/or illicit notions of cannabis,” Harrison said. “This is really nothing more than an elevated retail experience.”
— Amy Biolchini is the marijuana beat reporter for MLive. Contact her with questions, tips or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more from MLive about medical and recreational marijuana.