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Cannabis Retailers Must Invest in the Consumer Experience to Survive, Says Fire & Flower CEO Trevor Fencott

This post is brought to you by Fire & Flower.

When Canada legalized cannabis back in October, there was no shortage of interest among consumers who were drawn to the novelty of buying legal cannabis for the very first time in their lives.

But novelty alone can’t sustain an industry. In order to maintain consumer interest and thrive in a competitive market, canna-businesses need to offer a retail experience that helps consumers find the products that are best suited to their specific lifestyle and individual needs, according to the Alberta-based retailer Fire & Flower.

“Retail is the next frontier of the cannabis value chain,” said Fire & Flower CEO Trevor Fencott. “Because of its accessibility, we anticipate consumers will purchase more diverse products, with much more regularity than the medical market.” To Fencott, the key to crafting an excellent customer experience is to offer a wider variety of cannabis brands and products than other retailers—many of whom give precedence to their own products, regardless of what is best for the consumer.

“The Apple Store is the Apple Store, I love it, but I wouldn’t go there if I wanted a broad variety of devices that may or may not be appropriate for me. You would go there because you only love those products, not for variety and a curated experience.” But Fencott believes that most large-scale retailers have taken the Apple Store approach because they are connected to licensed cannabis producers. That means they’ll always prioritize selling their own cannabis over providing a truly independent, curated experience for the customer. 

By maintaining their independence, companies like Fire & Flower are uniquely positioned to provide quality advice for customers, according to Fencott. His company’s goal is not to push a particular brand but rather to determine what product will provide the best possible experience to every shopper that walks through the door.

That approach, he argues, is necessary to thrive in a market that does not have major brand names as of yet. 

“No one goes in looking for a certain brand, there is no Coke or Pepsi of cannabis, that is still years away.” 

Because of that, it’s up to retailers to help customers navigate the new market for retail cannabis. And that landscape is especially confusing for first-time consumers who are unfamiliar with cannabis and need help with selecting the right product to enjoy their first time.

“That is our privilege, but it is also our responsibility,” Fencott said. “They will need new products explained. In a year, edibles and concentrates will be whole new topics of conversation.”

When customers enter a Fire & Flower store, they’re greeted by what the company calls their “cannistas” (think barista but specializing in cannabis instead of coffee). Cannistas are there to recommend the right strain or other products to customers—whether they’re first-time consumers or cannabis connoisseurs. The cannista’s job isn’t to sell a specific strain or brand but to help each customer choose the product that’s best suited to their needs.

Fire & Flower hopes this approach will build trust with consumers and encourage repeat business. And it’s been successful so far. Since cannabis legalization took effect in October of 2018, Fire & Flower has made well over $10 million from its nine locations. While Fire & Flower intends to retain its leadership position within Alberta, where it continues to see the greatest opportunity for growth, it also plans to extend its reach across Canada. Just this week, the company opened two new stores as part of Ontario's first wave of licensed retailers.  Fire and Flower hopes to roll out more than 50 stores across the country over the next year, with the highest concentration in Western Canada.

Banner Image: Grand opening of Fire & Flower's Ottawa location on Monday, April 1st 2019.

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