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Lisa Bigioni is an Industry Advocate

“Whether it’s medically for a child with epilepsy, for an elderly person for pain relief, or just to ‘get high’ around the campfire, I hope that everyone appreciates that cannabis is a plant with a whole bunch of benefits,” says Lisa Bigioni of what she wants to see for the future of cannabis.

Bigioni, along with her husband Brian Stuart, is the founder and owner of Stok’d Cannabis. Their Niagara Falls and Scarborough, Ontario locations have Canadiana written all over them and are known for the warm, inviting environment for their many loyal customers.

From License Winners to Partners to Owners

Before cannabis, Bigioni enjoyed a successful career as a sales and marketing professional in technology and higher education. When Ontario’s cannabis retail lottery process was announced in early 2019, she decided to try for something new.

Blending Bigioni’s background with Stuart’s experience in restaurants and retail, they took a gamble and put their names in for the draw. Things became very real when they were awarded a license, finding themselves needing to rapidly find the capital to design, build, and outfit the store, and purchase initial inventory, for which they partnered with Choom to open the first legal store in Niagara Falls.

By the time lockdown happened, Choom purchased the store from the team who used those funds, and the invaluable knowledge gained, to invest in their own line of retail stores. “I paid attention to the customer needs and wants when they were coming into the store,” Bigioni says.

The Customers Know Best

“I spoke to friends in the same 50-plus demographic as me,” she explains. “I found they were nervous to go into stores, and that they didn’t know what to look for or what to ask.”

Bigioni and Stuart wanted to build something familiar and “Very Canadian”. Realizing that many Canadians can relate to the feeling of being at the cottage or sitting around a campfire, “Stok’d” was born. The brand evokes the sensation of stoking a campfire, or being excited or “stoked” about something. “We’re hoping that customers are excited, and when they walk in, they get the feeling of a campsite, which is welcoming,” says Bigioni. The Stok’d team now has a flagship Niagara Falls Store along with three other stores in Scarborough, with one of those stores being franchised by a trusted friend.

When customers go into the Niagara Falls store, they’ll be greeted by a 7-foot-tall wood-carved beaver. The store’s website describes Stok’d “as Canadian as butter tarts and ketchup chips.” What’s more Canadian than that?

Dedicated to Building a Better Industry

“There are so many things to love about being a retailer in this industry,” says Bigioni. She notes that the stores have a very loyal following, and one of her greatest rewards is seeing the strong relationships that have developed between the budtenders and customers.

As an Ontario Retail Advisor for the Independent Retailers Cannabis Collective (IRCC), an active member and former Board Member of the Retail Cannabis Council of Ontario (RCCO), and a self-described fighter with a positive attitude, Bigioni has several things she’d like to see improve for the industry. Removing the regulation for window coverings tops the list, with one of Stok’d’s locations having been broken into. “It’s worrying that people from the street can’t see inside the store and people could walk in and rob you and no one would know,” she describes.

Bigioni also wants to see changes in regulations around how cannabis is advertised so as to decrease stigma. “I see a great opportunity in the market segment of people that have not yet consumed cannabis or haven’t in a very long time” she says. “The inability to advertise at the retailer or LP level to help people understand what it is we sell and what we do is a problem.”

Bringing Others to Blaze Trails with Her

Since winning the lottery, Bigioni sees it as her duty to help other retailers overcome the hurdles she did, often offering her time and advice pro bono to new retailers. “I’ve been fortunate and whatever help I can give is no skin off my back,” she notes. “I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with anyone else who is embarking on the journey.”

Photo courtesy of Lisa Bigioni

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