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Insights From The Retail Cannabis Forum

The cannabis industry has gone from hosting general business conferences to more niche-related conferences, to the delight of cannabis retailers in the country. Case in point: The Retail Cannabis Forum held by the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) in Toronto on November 19, 2019.

The event, which targeted retailers and would-be retailers, saw many familiar faces and winners from the first two cannabis lotteries in Ontario. What struck me as interesting was this wasn’t a cannabis industry-driven event. Instead, it was hosted by RCC, which has a mandate that touches upon all retail.

Hilary Smee, Canopy Growth

Starting the event off was Hilary Smee, VP, Retail Infrastructure and Strategic Projects at Canopy Growth, where she landed after working for more than a decade at Holt Renfrew.

“Why would I leave retail at a company that started in 1837 to a startup in a new industry?” Smee rhetorically asked the crowd. It came down to two things that drew her: the industry, and Canopy’s family of brands.

She said that the opportunity for cannabis retailers is unlike anything else out there, but she admitted it hasn’t all been fun and games for someone spearheading a global cannabis company’s retail plans. “We faced moratoriums, lotteries, changes in regulation, and through that we have learned and gotten a footing.”

Smee also spoke about Cannabis 2.0, a term brought up by many of the day’s speakers. “Now we have 2.0, and for me, it’s important how brands will evolve and stand up to that evolution.”

The challenges, she said, are immense. “How do you make [your store] welcoming when no one can see inside? How can you make it enjoyable when you can’t touch or feel the product?”

Smee pointed to the “intention” and “high design” that “flows throughout the store.” Everything, she said, was done for a reason.

Jennifer Lee, Deloitte

The next speaker, Jennifer Lee, Managing Partner, Growth Platforms at Deloitte, walked the crowd through a new series of insights that her company discovered while researching and advising the industry.

Two Distinct Types of Users

Lee pointed to two distinct types of users that drive a significant proportion of sales, and advised that retailers need to know them to bring the right customers in, and recommended that they target marketing to those customers.

The first customer is the risk-taker, who consumes cannabis multiple days a week, is more connected to the illicit cannabis scene, and will take more “risks” in terms of deviating from the letter of the law. Deloitte’s research found this best aligned with millennials.

The second customer is the new user, who is older and more conservative with respect to taking risks. This person typically starts off consuming smaller amounts. These are the baby boomers, who might have consumed a long time ago, but haven’t for decades.

One tip we can glean from Deloitte’s research at the conference: Don’t rely on concentrates or edibles alone: While 15% of users will buy cannabis-infused edibles, a whole 44% will buy them in addition to other products they buy.

Lee also talked about using customer data to drive decision-making and the brand experience.

Cannabis 2.0, Lee said, will be driven by cannabis extract-based products, particularly edibles. Smaller market opportunities, but ones that retailers can still leverage, are infused beverages, topicals, concentrates, tinctures, and capsules.

Kris Newell, Westleaf

Kris Newell, Director of Development and Projects for Westleaf, spoke about attracting the right talent and strategies for training. Presentations by licensed producers of cannabis to educate staff are critical, Newell said.

Newell used to represent Belmont, and the company would educate retailers on products as a way around promotions law.

Overall, the theme of the day could be summed up in three words: Challenging, yet rewarding. While there are challenges at every corner, there are ways to plan, win over customers, and succeed.

Photo courtesy of Spiritleaf – Kingston