High Society Cannabis Co. opened its first cannabis retail location in Thunder Bay, (Northwestern Ontario), while navigating the pandemic in 2021. Coming from unique backgrounds in engineering and aerospace, Sam Cotton and Yasas Weerasingha, co-owners of High Society, are smart and resilient business owners. They successfully adapted to challenging restrictions set in place from the start and continued to thrive in an increasingly competitive landscape. High Society has recently expanded to the town of Marathon, ON, with two more locations on the horizon.
Thunder Bay is located on Lake Superior, the largest of the five Great Lakes, and the second-largest freshwater lake in the world. With a population of ~115,000 people, the city of Thunder Bay serves as a hub for the surrounding communities, and travellers passing through. Open to healthy competition, Sam and Yasas knew they could compete, even in a heavily saturated market with more than 20 stores, by centering their focus on product selection and education-driven customer service to grow their cannabis community.
High Society made some valuable early decisions to consult experts around store design, shopfitting, and marketing. By hiring an interior designer, they were able to translate their style and have it designed strategically for compliant cannabis retail. ‘Upscale in a different way’, their motto, lures you in to an inviting, luxury-styled space, designed to make you feel welcome, uplifted, and inspired. Using an industrial, Nordic design, High Society has a clean, open, and modern look.
With an understated elegance, their colour palette consists of white, black, and gold with light blue accents – evoking a natural, down-to-earth vibe, and in true Canadian fashion, it’s complete with maple wood cabinets and finishing. They created a high-end luxury feel to elevate their customers, and connect with their brand as a different kind of ‘High Society.’ It’s clever and fun and allows them to set themselves apart from the competition while maintaining style and brand consistency across locations.
Many retailers experience unforeseen hardships around licensing when they first start out, which often comes in at a relatively high cost. For High Society Cannabis, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) was slow to issue their first licence, and the subsequent Ontario lockdown resulted in delays around the entire shopfitting experience, which they built from the ground up, literally starting with a gravel floor. Cannabis retailers deserve a lot of respect as they need to be agile, open to change, and have the flexibility to move forward in unexpected challenging situations like these.
The lockdown in Ontario affected all businesses and led to increasing delays from building permits to construction. It pays to have a good relationship with your retail property landlord and Sam and Yasas were upfront about their plans to destigmatize the plant and bring it to the community. Their transparency enabled them to build a strong relationship with their landlord and they benefit by acquiring a long-term rental agreement.
The cost of switching out software systems can mean the difference between coasting along and being highly profitable. Smart retailers evaluate and streamline their processes while being mindful of costs. Some retailers may need to spend a bit more for a platform that performs well to be able to focus on internal processes and provide a better customer experience.
High Society had the benefit of using their store expansion as an opportunity to try out the Greenline software system. Most software systems designed for cannabis can provide the core set of features required, but a well-planned, cannabis-specific system like Greenline can put you in the lead when it comes to saving time, maintaining accurate inventory control, and fulfilling compliance requirements.
“We started with Greenline in our Marathon location, and we saw the difference right away. When we brought it over, we saw an increase in sales and we definitely saw more foot traffic. We have been increasing our sales ever since, plus, the industry itself is growing too.”
Greenline is very easy to use and helps to keep transition costs low with a simple, self-driven onboarding process. It helps budtenders and managers get up and running easily and quickly with strong support from Greenline’s customer success and support teams.
About the onboarding experience, Yasas says,
“The training is straightforward, and the onboarding team did a really great job taking us through everything.”
Sam agreed and added,
“When we have a new budtender, we literally show them a couple of things and it’s so user-friendly, to learn about the POS it takes one hour and then you’re done. You learn about it because it’s so simple, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to be able to figure it out.”
When asked about support for budtenders and managers on the Greenline software, Yasas says,
“I use the chat for compliance reporting if there’s an issue, but if there’s anything on the POS side, I like to talk to somebody to walk me through that. I like that the support team is knowledgeable and it’s going to be someone who’s been there from the beginning, and it just seems like we already know them.”
High Society came from using a system that was generally decent in terms of POS but the backend is where inefficiencies were identified, resulting in difficulty managing the entire operation. When you lose time, you lose productivity.
The main reason High Society switched to Greenline is its ease of use. Sam says,
“Greenline is just easier for us in the backend and lets us do more. The updates in the system get better all the time, but the backend is what really got us.”
Yasas agrees – they take full advantage of the backend functionality, and he loves the Reorder report, adding,
“Ease of use is number one for me, and even the frontend – it has more filters and it’s a lot easier to use.”
It’s essential for retailers to use their data effectively for back-of-house management and why High Society capitalizes on Greenline’s Advanced reports. They credit Greenline’s reporting system for being easy to access and more accurate than their previous system. As business owners, naturally, they value the sales reports and the flexibility to export, but most of all they find the Reorder report is an invaluable tool to gain insight on stock velocity and changes in consumer behaviours – and they use it weekly. The Reorder report provides the recommended products to reorder based on sales trends so retailers can easily make informed purchasing decisions and stay on top of their growth.
When cannabis retailers look for software for the first time or switch in line with expansion plans like High Society did, quite often some of the critical software features required to save time can be missed until it’s too late. Managing inventory across locations is easy with Greenline’s multi-location dashboard functionality. High Society appreciates that they can see everything in one place. With the multi-dashboard, retailers can efficiently perform cross-location operations including setting product prices and performing inventory transfers.
Another great feature prioritized for budtenders is the POS Search tool. Greenline built advanced search functionality into the POS dashboard so budtenders can move through the retail process more efficiently and faster.
High Society noted that even with small features such as Greenline’s automated penny rounding, it makes it so much easier for budtenders to have change automated for cash transactions. Imagine the cost implications over time for a business that doesn’t get this right.
Building a cannabis retail culture requires some operational techniques to bring your store to a place of strong differentiation. Staffing challenges are inherent within a widespread and diverse demographic, and retailers need to get creative to retain staff. Another important decision High Society made was hiring a marketing team to build out a proper brand campaign, create guidelines for staff to follow, and promote the ‘High Society’ brand.
High Society knows that if they pay more than minimum wage and provide some benefits, their budtenders are more likely to stick around. They empower their budtenders by helping them keep up to date with product information and providing an opportunity to share their experiences by creating an internal social chat group. It’s a fun, engaging, and incredibly useful way to highlight educational aspects of the plant, new products, budtender favourites, and most importantly build a budtender culture that not only enhances their experience but improves customer engagement.
“When somebody asks about a product, and it’s something we have in our group chat, our budtenders can say – let me show you a picture, somebody just posted about that.”
Product knowledge and customer interaction are key for High Society, and they make every effort to advance the product knowledge of their budtenders to help create the kind of conversation that delights the customers – going above and beyond to aid in their product selection.
There will always be variation by region and store, but it’s up to the budtender to educate consumers. High Society’s Thunder Bay location sees a lot of variety in consumers as it has more diversity than the Marathon location (3.5 hours away by car) – which has an older demographic who are more habitual in their consumption methods. Many consumers have become increasingly sophisticated with their selection over time, and it’s often thanks to budtender education.
High Society uses the Budvue digital menu integration with Greenline, and while it offers strong customization flexibility, many retailers lack a sales-focused, user-friendly strategy for their live menu boards. High Society likes to keep it simple with their menus because they have a lot of products. By showing top products, categorized by strain type, they can easily highlight their core product offerings. Strategic menu curation helps High Society educate their customers, but they take it a step further by supplementing the digital menu with a self-serve tablet located below the TV, providing a quick and easy ordering experience.
“We have one TV above the self-serve tablet that cycles through high THC indicas, sativas, hybrids, and pre-rolls so that usually helps people find something quick.”
Creating a strategy around merchandising is critical. It’s useful to help decide what to prioritize whether it’s a product that’s not moving, high margin, or easy-to-sell, fast-moving products at the counter. High Society created a membership program called The Secret Society, and it’s no secret that they take full advantage of specials to cater to even the most diverse demographic. Deals are created for every special occasion from Christmas to 4/20 to Black Friday, plus ongoing weekly specials – enabling them to cycle through their inventory easily. With cart, product, and bundled discounts, Greenline makes it easy for retailers to create and manage discounts for both in-store and online specials.
As a cannabis retailer, it’s important to question whether or not delivery is worthwhile given the regulation requirements around training, budtender availability, cost of vehicles, safety, proximity to customers, and lastly, the potential for profitability.
Delivery definitely makes sense for High Society and their customers appreciate the convenience. As delivery scheduling is unpredictable, they set up dedicated, CannSell-certified delivery drivers who can provide the flexibility of doubling up as in-store budtenders. They also set up 2 in-store budtenders to cover as delivery drivers when required. High Society provides vehicles for their delivery drivers and, to further cover the safety aspect, they don’t display logos on the vehicles.
As e-commerce continues to gain popularity, High Society looks forward to implementing Greenline’s new BLAZE ECOM with the rollout of their fourth location – enabling them to further build out their brand with an e-commerce platform that scales with their business. This will effectively alleviate the issues they’ve had with their two previous e-commerce platforms.
Built in to the Greenline software, BLAZE ECOM has a versatile set of compliant tools (delivery + age verification + payments) to let retailers control their own online store, generate more users (analytics + SEO), and save time and money running their omnichannel operations all from one place.
With strong brand visibility, High Society does everything right by creating an open and inviting experience for anybody that walks into their stores. They maximize their reach by engaging and educating their local community in an effort to bridge the gap and put an end to the stigma that still exists around cannabis.
The entire High Society team has the knowledge to drive and even change consumer habits – helping people explore their large selection of products and how to use them. Sam and Yasas go as far as using temperature charts to describe decarboxylation, so users can understand how to activate as much of the cannabinoid content as possible, without destroying most of the terpene content – which ultimately affects taste and smell.
Whether you want to vape it, dab it, or eat it, their educational tools include charts on terpenes, tastes, and cannabis uses which are useful for both budtenders and consumers. Their mission is to collectively educate and help consumers enhance their overall experience, inviting them to be part of their upscale yet down-to-earth lifestyle brand.
As High Society is set to open its 3rd location this month in Cochrane, and their 4th location in Geraldton, Ontario, Greenline is proud to be a part of the journey and excited to contribute to their continued success.
High Society Cannabis Co.
Photography by Charis Mesic
To learn more about how Greenline can help you transition your software or get you started, schedule a demo with our expert sales team!
By Lisa Martyn