Expect the unexpected in cannabis retail
In cannabis retail there is no guarantee that you’ll reap big rewards in this industry, and retailers take great risks to get in the game and stay compliant. Each cannabis retailer will have a unique story, and even if you’re fully on top of rules and regulations, you can still hit roadblocks when it comes to licensing.
Jazz Samra, owner of Sativa Bliss, applied for six locations in Ontario. For the Brampton location he went through the entire process, with everything in place, from public notice to renovations, from security cameras to shop-fitting, to staffing. He was all set and excited to learn from AGCO he would be receiving his license to open on May 3rd.
He then learned there would be a second school proximity check, which is done at the beginning, and again at the end of the process. This location had a school close by and, even though he addressed this complaint in the beginning, AGCO’s decision to reject the license was final. As a result, he was forced to take on a significant financial loss involving literally hundreds of thousands of dollars with no recourse – including all the employees that had to be let go.
Does this deter him from continuing expansion plans? Absolutely not, but he’s far more aware and willing to pivot in the wake of unexpected risks.
The power of word of mouth
Sativa Bliss got an early start in cannabis retail and when stores were starting to open in Ontario, most people really didn’t know much about the industry, and there weren’t a lot of POS software solutions to choose from. Jazz said,
“I checked with friends that own stores which system they used, and when one owner (who also tried out the competition) suggested I go with Greenline because it was easier to use, I chose Greenline.”
Managing multiple stores in Greenline
What makes Jazz savvy in retail at Sativa Bliss is that he knows the challenges that multi-stores have versus single-store operators.
“I found Greenline to be very useful as a multi-store operator. I’m managing inventory at 5 different locations with the ability to transfer product that doesn’t move to another location. I order all my product in one location and then ship it out to the other locations. I think you need to be that savvy because of the way the OCS and the industry works.”
“Centralized ordering makes it so much more cost-effective and allows us to control our inventory. It also allows us to be able to carry a much larger variety of products to offer customers. I don’t need to keep a full box of each product for each store. We can buy a couple boxes and split them up between the stores.”
Greenline’s ability to allow for transfers between stores has essentially saved Sativa Bliss possibly thousands of dollars a week.
Catering to the customer experience
The defining differentiator for Sativa Bliss is their in-store experience. The moment you walk into the store you’re going to see everything they have on full display.
As one who doesn’t believe in using digital menus, iPads, or self-service checkouts, and even after trying them out, Jazz adds,
“You cannot provide a truly great in-store experience when you can’t show products to your customers. It’s so much better to be able to show a customer 150 different pre-rolls on a shelf rather than trying to scroll through them on a self-service menu screen. This also allows our budtenders to have conversations and make recommendations. They all tell me they’re much more passionate about their job when they can physically show products to customers. Our customers also love this type of experience.”
This is why Sativa Bliss features separate shelves for edibles, separate shelves for pre-rolls, etc., The layout is beautiful, it’s stylish, and designed for good vibes. It really stands out being able to see all the product. As Jazz puts it, “It’s candy land.” And it really is, stocked full of every kind of product, very impressively displayed.
While most stores carry around 30-60 different pre-rolls, SativaBliss carries 150 at minimum. Jazz says the only way to appreciate that selection is when somebody can actually see the product sitting on a shelf. He loves it when customers say “Wow, you guys have a lot of product.”
“We just offer a huge selection, says Jazz, we offer mostly craft types of items and I let my budtenders make suggestions on products to carry. Our customers also tell us what they want, and we bring it in. Unlike the corporate chains, I don’t have exclusive deals with LPs, and we aren’t trying to push our budtenders to sell any particular brands. We sell what we are passionate about.”
Sativa Bliss is the kind of store that wants to educate people while offering a wide selection of higher quality product. The budtenders get more power with more products on the shelves, the customers are asking more questions and they’re getting more recommendations.
Purchasing and the OCS
We see first-hand the immense impact failed distribution can have with the recent Ontario Cannabis Store’s cyber-attack on their logistics partner on August 5, 2022, which has cannabis retailers reeling and scrambling to save money where they can – all while trying to retain customers. Jazz said,
“Our stores are around 70% empty right now, we haven’t had a delivery this week. Two large orders were not delivered this week and OCS just set a weekly order limit of 30 items at a time – normally we order over 400 items a week.”
Luckily, at Sativa Bliss, they have the flexibility to manoeuvre product amongst their 5 locations using Greenline. Not so lucky is the fallout resulting from the OCS cap on ordering, and slow recovery of distribution, causing every cannabis retailer to pivot with their strategies.
Jazz had to immediately change his focus with having his product-heavy offering reduced dramatically and instantly. Where he recently boasted having 600 cannabis products in his stores to sell, he makes do with about 400 maximum, for as long as he can, until inventory levels can be replenished to normal levels.
Going beyond expectations with your loyalty program
What differentiates Sativa Bliss’ Bliss Budz from other loyalty programs in the cannabis space is that they focus on what their customers want and go beyond their expectations.
Driving customer satisfaction through quality loyalty programs requires effective solutions to acquire a customer list and build out a quality loyalty program like Sativa Bliss does with Greenline’s built-in loyalty functionality. Creating a form of differentiation that makes sense for your demographic is key to building an effective strategy for loyalty.
Bliss Budz – giving back
The Sativa Bliss ‘Bliss Budz’ loyalty program has 2 great features. Members receive a 10% discount if they return within a week, and every time a member goes to the store, they collect points and, once accrued, they qualify for different reward levels. From t-shirts and hats to gift cards and in-store purchases, members can choose how they want to redeem their points.
And here is where Bliss Budz gives back – on selected days of the week, seniors (55+) get 15% off, students get 15% off with their ID, and they also offer savings for veterans and active workers such as police officers, fire fighters, etc., who also get 15% off. They even have exclusive deals for members throughout the month advertised in their flyer.
As each province sets their own rules around loyalty, cannabis retailers need to pay careful attention and ensure they remain compliant within the provinces they operate in. Although it’s the cannabis retailer that carries the responsibility to be compliant, Greenline works closely with customers to help build a loyalty program, built-in and compliant. More sophisticated loyalty partner integrations are offered in the Greenline Marketplace.
Budtenders – hiring, training, and the POS system
One of the more pressing complaints store owners have recently is the unreliability of budtenders. Sativa Bliss has a hiring strategy that’s straightforward and it works because they choose people who are going to be responsible, hardworking, and show up to work, not necessarily those who consume and have a lot of product knowledge as that can be learned.
Sativa Bliss ultimately wants to be able to create value for the customer, so they’re careful in their hiring approach. Allie Donald, General Manager for the Sativa Bliss St. Catharine’s location, says,
“When I hire, I hire for passion. So, if you have passion for the plant and passion for this industry, you’re more likely to want to learn everything from lineage to radiation to packaging.”
It’s important that new budtenders already know that a minor is not allowed in the store, and they should know why the windows are covered. Legislation should be basic knowledge since retailers are putting their license on the line by hiring them.
Budtenders provide the strongest avenue for customer retention, so they need a quality training process. Sativa Bliss designed their own training manual for budtenders with access to links for Greenline University.
Sammie Marett, a budtender for Sativa Bliss says,
“Greenline is super helpful and user-friendly. We do inventory every day and send transfers between our stores, and I find it really easy to use. It’s pretty straightforward.”
Greenline has a great feature to track budtender scan rates to ensure the right product has been selected, scanned, and verified into the system. While most operators, especially high-volume retailers use Greenline to scan products, surprisingly Sativa Bliss doesn’t do scanning anymore, and they still see reliable results with very low mispick rates of around 2 per week.
What works for some retailers doesn’t always work for everyone. Jazz created a system for his team at Sativa Bliss to ensure they are paying attention, without having to fully rely on devices.
“The customer tells us what they want then we go and find it in the POS, ring it in and when we bring the product out, we show it to them on their receipt and make sure they understand the product that they are given including the product name, the weight, and the THC content.”
What helps make it possible for Sativa Bliss to develop a strong relationship with their customers, while not having to scan every product, is Greenline’s new advanced filtering capabilities for the POS.
The POS search functionality was designed for budtenders to combine filtering and sorting for their product selections – so they can easily and quickly find products. Anything in the system can be pulled up instantly, making the sales process as efficient as possible. Allie says,
“I found the budtenders are a lot happier with the front end, the new search filters have been incredible.”
Discovering your Bliss
As a former motivational speaker and life coach, Jazz puts a lot of faith in his budtenders to provide an ideal experience for their clientele. He’s proud to say they know 50-60% of their regular customers on a first-name basis.
This is largely possible because he helps motivate his staff to gain a retail advantage by focusing on personal and career development – providing courses on how to remember people’s names, customer service, financial literacy and other skills required to be successful in today’s world. They even have a book club where Jazz shares books he has read that he feels would be useful to his team. He says their relationship-building with customers and employees is what it’s all about and he adds,
“We have our systems in place to run the business but all our employees we treat like family. We go above and beyond to support them to make sure they have a happy work and personal life balance.”
Jazz helps his managers by giving them the tools to be successful, both in business and personal life, Allie says
“His goal for us is to always strive to do better and he helps to set us up and to own our own company one day. He treats us as a partner in the business, not as an employee”
Jazz stresses the importance of creating quality relationships with both staff and customers because he realizes it’s instrumental to his continued success and ability to expand the Sativa Bliss brand.
Crafty menu curation
Menu curation is an integral part of every cannabis retail store’s success. The Saint Catharines location has over 15 shops, with five shops within walking distance. They even compete against the illicit market, but Sativa Bliss stands strong with their vast product offering, an intentional focus on quality, and most of all, extremely good customer service.
Sativa Bliss’s Guelph location has an older demographic so they carry a wider selection of craft which serves them well and helps them get an edge, creating a more constructive style of differentiation.
Analytics + reports
The Analytics report in Greenline is the most valuable. I can see my peak times, my overall gross sales, I can see my discounts and the amount that’s been discounted, and how many transactions have taken place. I think that’s the most valuable out of all the reports, personally, just because it gives all the data in one place, and I don’t have to go further.
With an extensive background in cannabis retail, Allie finds that using Greenline’s reports makes her life much easier. She enjoys the updated compliance reporting for Ontario that saves her valuable time. She also likes using Headset analytics so she can focus on each store to see how much they’ve sold at a glance.
By doing inventory every single day, Sativa Bliss staff can pinpoint discrepancies before they even happen, and new budtenders can be educated further on the process.
Jazz was proud of the fact that he has a very well-organized vault, where products are ordered by categories which are ordered alphabetically by brand name, attributing to an easy physical count. The count is made even easier by having their inventory sheet match the same order as how it’s placed in the vault. Once a month, they do a full audit of all cannabis products and all accessories.
Advice for cannabis retailers
With five stores operating and 2 more in the pipeline, Jazz’s advice to other retailers is to get help and advice from other operators before they get involved in the industry. Don’t necessarily trust an expensive consultant or lawyer, ask around first. Find someone who is an owner and carries the same risks and responsibilities, and has a vested interest in whether the store is successful or not.
“I like to tell businesses to keep it simple and for me, it works best to create systems, especially when you want to grow into multi-store, you’ve got to keep your system the simplest possible. Greenline is simple and easy to use and that’s what I think software should be.”
The value in communicating with other retailers
Jazz Samra is committed to being a catalyst for positive change in the cannabis industry and helping retailers remain profitable and competitive. He is open to sharing ideas, retail tips, and encourages being an advocate on industry initiatives to garner more support at the government levels. This is why he came up with VIP Media Group.
VIP Media Group has a mission to protect all independents and small chains, and they are gaining momentum through their exclusive network comprised of owners, managers, LPs, and industry experts in cannabis retail, facing the same issues. It is designed to help retailers save money, find new revenue streams, and figure out ways to survive and compete in this highly competitive market. Jazz said,
“The independents and small chains do not have the same buying power to compete with the big corporate chains. They have large data deals with LPs and much more access to capital. It’s not fair competition but I feel positive we can win this game. There is strength in numbers, our group will have over 300 members by the end of this year, and we will have the advantages we need to thrive in this industry.”
Using the LinkedIn platform, Jazz helps share the ways he does things, and offers tips on what they do in their Sativa Bliss stores that could potentially help other retailers. And if somebody else has ideas for him, connect with him, he’s always open to learning new ways of doing things as well.
Retailers need to come up with creative solutions to navigate the landscape to stay profitable. Jazz wants to help bring independents and small chains together to create viable solutions on how to compete against unfair and/or unforeseen challenges and restrictions. The value in communicating with other retailers will not only benefit retailers but can also help the industry thrive.
Schedule a demo with the Greenline Sales team and see how it can make a difference for your cannabis retail business.
VIP Media Group provides an opportunity to get connected and create opportunities for the future of cannabis retail.
Check out the recent VIP 420 Dinner & Dance Gala in Toronto on April 21, 2023.
by Lisa Martyn | Greenline