There is a great deal of value in connecting with locals and growing a positive community vibe, and that’s how Akshthal Kalia, owner of GoodVibes Cannabis, expanded to three stores in less than a year. As the first and only cannabis operator in the area, GoodVibes Cannabis built a diverse, education-forward, community-driven brand in Three Hills (northeast of Calgary), the village of Vilna (home of the world’s largest mushroom sculpture), and the town of Crossfield, Alberta.
A large part of Akshthal’s success lies not just in his curiosity, inquisitiveness, and genuine nature, but also his prioritization of cannabis education, innovative technology, and his penchant for driving positive change in the community. He set out on a mission to do cannabis responsibly and met with the mayor to discuss future growth plans and see how they could attract visitors and make cannabis retail work for Three Hills, indigenous reserves, and the surrounding communities. Once Akshthal secured his retail license and an appropriate space, he went on to introduce himself to the people – educating them about cannabis and its effects and spreading good vibes.
Akshthal’s journey is all about how to be in good vibes and his motto is simply good advice.
“Be in good vibes, do in good vibes, and stay hydrated! Once you can be in good vibes, then whatever you do automatically converts into good vibes.”
This definitely holds true for Akshthal – he’s authentic and he practices what he preaches. He credits his mother who gave him some early advice, “Earn people first, the rest will follow.” He wants to promote cannabis through the people and for every customer he serves he adds, “be in good vibes, do in good vibes, and stay hydrated!” He genuinely cares about the people and he’s forging a path to make a positive social and economic impact in these rural communities.
Three Hills, Alberta is a small, religious town with the highest per capita of churches in the region. With a peaceful, respectful approach, one that truly epitomizes his warm, good vibes energy, Akshthal visited all the churches, had engaging conversations with pastors, and slowly started the journey to help destigmatize cannabis while advocating for its benefits and safe use.
By building trust within the religious communities and being mindful of the diverse set of principles held by others, Akshthal brought logic and education to his story. He cleverly opened the cannabis conversation around cannabinoids (CBD, CBN, CBG, CBC) as opposed to THC. In this way he could articulate that cannabidiol, CBD, one of the more popular cannabinoids, is essentially an herbal supplement that doesn’t contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and more importantly, it doesn’t have the psychoactive ingredient that produces a high. CBD is formulated as an oil, but it’s also sold as an oil-based capsule, an extract, or a vaporized liquid. By highlighting the benefits derived from the plant, slowly people came around and began to support his efforts.
Always on the path towards innovative solutions, Akshthal uses guidance, education, and good vibes to create differentiation and make a positive impact. He takes education a step further when it comes to the youngest consumers exploring cannabis, some for the first time, and for many, using products they know very little about. He started educating people about cannabinoids, CBD, CBG, CBN and even converted some, 25 and younger, from using high-potency THC products to non-intoxicating cannabinoid products including CBD, CBN, CBG, and CBC. CBC is a new cannabinoid product for GoodVibes Cannabis, sold in the form of edibles and vapes, and he sees increasing conversion rates from THC-only consumers.
“Until you’re 25, the frontal lobe is still developing, and all long-term life decision-making happens there, so I started pushing this idea, and because of this I was able to impactfully change consumption habits for many young people.”
Even with retail cannabis regulations in place, high-potency THC can be dangerous, especially for teens. Without much experience in the cannabis industry, Akshthal knew he had to focus on quality education but also the methods he uses to ensure regulatory compliance ongoing, all while keeping an eye on evolving industry and regulatory changes. This has been especially important for his budtenders, so they can confidently educate customers and help them make informed decisions on the products they choose.
Connecting with the community and educating people is vital in cannabis retail. Considering he doesn’t come from a cannabis background, this gave Akshthal a deeper motivation to make an impact, and he achieved that through building a strong relationship with the provincial regulator, Alberta Gaming, Liquor, Cannabis (AGLC). CannabisSense was formed by the AGLC to educate Albertans and help them make informed decisions on cannabis use and its possible risks. Akshthal adds,
“The government (AGLC) created CannabisSense – I just need to make it bigger.”
Working within regulations and trying to build out a store can be daunting for newcomers to the cannabis industry. Education was key for Akshthal’s own success and a channel he could use to build momentum but getting started posed some unique challenges around his language barrier, especially when it came to finding a contractor to carry out the work in a compliant manner.
Akshthal is beyond grateful for the help he received from Phyllis Arseniuk, the AGLC inspector who not only helped him with his licensing, sourcing a contractor, and communicating cannabis retail regulation details, but most of all, she was instrumental in helping to create GoodVibes as a brand. Akshthal also credits Phyllis for connecting him with the cannabis program specialist for CannabisSense, Danielle Matthiessen. Over the course of several months, this partnership resulted in GoodVibes Cannabis setting up the first-ever, retailer-hosted, cannabis public education event with AGLC in August 2022. These are women in the cannabis industry who, Akshthal notes, represent the best of what public service can offer. And service is very important to Akshthal, it’s the pinnacle of customer engagement and it’s what he’s here to do – ‘love all, serve all’ – (adopted from the late Indian guru, Sathya Sai Baba). Akshthal adds,
“I resonate my service energy through cannabis.”
In order to be successful, cannabis retailers need to align their operations with innovative software technology. Akshthal is able to achieve his goals using Greenline’s compliant POS and inventory software system for his GoodVibes Cannabis stores.
“Greenline is definitely a catalyst in the whole business process, I haven’t even completed a year of operation and I’m on my third store already, so I couldn’t do that if I didn’t have the convenience.”
As someone who likes the latest technology, Akshthal chose Greenline because he was impressed with the vision and happy to support a Canadian-focused, technology-driven software system.
“I talked to a lot of people and when I learned that Greenline was a company started by techies to provide technology solutions specifically for the Canadian cannabis industry, I thought, this is the kind of brand I need to align myself with.”
An important question that retailers need to answer when selecting a POS system is, will this system be intuitive for my budtenders, and will they be supported? Training, onboarding, and support was made easy by the entire Greenline team, and this was important to Akshthal as it’s his first foray into the cannabis space.
“The decision to go ahead with Greenline was a very positive transition. The sales and onboarding teams have so much personalism and help me with everything. Support is very quick and compliance reporting is easy. All in all, it’s pretty effortless.”
Akshthal notes that Greenline’s product catalogue updates, analytics, and easy compliance reporting are especially valuable so he can manage GoodVibes Cannabis with control, precise inventory management, and real-time data. With three stores under his belt, he appreciates Greenline’s multi-dashboard functionality most of all, as it allows him to see store progress across all of his locations in one place. It’s a useful tool that also enables retailers with cross-provincial locations to facilitate transfers. He adds,
“I love it. When it comes to decision-making, there are so many parameters to think about. When you’re empowered with data, and have access to it right away, it helps a lot.”
Now that Greenline is a BLAZE company, the entire Greenline software system has evolved into an all-in-one solution with built-in tools such as loyalty, SMS outreach, and now e-commerce with the recent rollout of the new BLAZE ECOM™ offering. This platform is made possible through BLAZE’s acquisition of the Tymber e-commerce platform, and with it comes a strong injection of resources where the focus remains on advancing technology and providing the best tools for cannabis retailers in Canada and the US.
Greenline’s new BLAZE ECOM™ gives retailers the tools to expand their brand online, make more sales, and manage their operations seamlessly – all from one place. E-commerce and delivery are areas where retailers need to make sure it makes sense for their business as it may not be profitable depending on location, and regulations in Alberta also require SellSafe certification by the delivery person. The AGLC removed their own online cannabis sales platform in Alberta on March 8, 2022. Even with an updated online presence, a must for any retailer, e-commerce and delivery doesn’t make sense just yet for Akshthal, so he will continue to focus on people in the community, engaging in conversation and inspiring new interactive ideas for his GoodVibes brand.
In response to the recent influx of discount cannabis retail stores opening across Canada, a pattern is emerging where brick and mortar shops are going all-in on community focus, and each with their own unique, creative, and demographic-driven differentiators. By harnessing demographic differences, which for Akshthal includes pastors, farmers, politicians, indigenous reserves, local businesses and communities, he is able to capitalize on his most valuable resource, the people.
“We do a lot of things, and cannabis is one of those things, but conversation, community, people, and connections are the topmost important things for positive energy and to create a positive impact.”
The good vibes don’t end there, Akshthal’s support comes from acting on issues that are important to the community. Advocating on behalf of the community can only strengthen the message and by working together and listening to the people in the community, he has brought innovative solutions around housing, transit, and clean water to fruition. To make housing affordable, as a landlord, he focuses on those less fortunate, single parents, people with poor credit, or those in recovery. He hopes to effect positive change for people on reserves and in surrounding communities to have better transit options. For clean water, he set up a water refill program with the local grocery store for members of GoodVibes Cannabis.
GoodVibes Cannabis’ pivotal campaign, ‘Stay Hydrated’, is designed to give people the best cannabis experience. Akshthal says,
“We are made up of 70% water, so to give yourself the best cannabis experience, make sure your body is fully equipped and you’re hydrating yourself completely, while smoking as well. The campaign for staying hydrated became such a subconscious thing, we started handing out bottles of water to customers.”
Engagement is a powerful tool to grow a business. GoodVibes Cannabis attracts culture and spirit from community interaction – drawing unique and creative expressions from the locals. Akshthal says he’s in the business of earning people first, and he gathered local support while renovating his first store. His openness to conversation and collaborating on innovative ideas led to building a diverse community collective of local artists from the Cree Nation all the way to Vilna’s Ukrainian community. He found artists to design murals for all three GoodVibes Cannabis stores and encourages local emerging artists to display their work, creating a space where people can get to know their resident artists. It’s also exciting that he plans to expand on his accessory product lines and he’s proud to include local female entrepreneurs. There’s already an impressive array of artists lined up producing glass pipes, bongs, boxes, roach clips, and stickers.
GoodVibes Cannabis spreads the love with a collection of artful stickers sourced globally, the designs are so cool they even draw people into the store just to collect them. Akshthal hopes to continue making new branded products for GoodVibes once he can put his cannabis profits back into the business – just another quality indicative of what a great retailer looks like. He wants to continue to change cannabis perceptions and promote its diverse sharing community.
Great results have been achieved with cannabis destigmatization since legalization in Canada, and while the continued advancements around the democratization of cannabis are helpful, it’s time for more serious change with respect to decentralization. Alberta does not have farmgate sales yet, and with its strong farmer community, retailers are hopeful.
Akshthal envisions a future where decentralization can exist, where regulations can change to include purchasing cannabis from local growers and even support local testing facility options. This way he can continue his diversification journey – spreading good vibes, guiding consumer habits, embracing technology, and building a powerful lifestyle brand out of cannabis.
As Akshthal says,
“Actual, truthful purpose is good vibes, so be in good vibes, do in good vibes, and stay hydrated.”
Visit GoodVibes Cannabis
GoodVibes Cannabis mural art in the Vilna location (left) by Wade Stamp, Saddle Lake Reserve, Cree Nation, and mural art in the Three Hills location (right) by Taryn Kahler.
Schedule a demo with Greenline and see how we can provide a complete cannabis retail solution for your single or multi-store operation.
An abridged version of this article first appeared in the 420 Retail edition of Cannabis Prospect Magazine.
by Lisa Martyn