3 Keys To Succeed As An Ontario Dispensary Owner

February 16, 2022

We recently had the pleasure of talking with Brytany Melville, Cannabis Retail Strategist and founder of The Grown Group, for a webinar covering 3 keys to succeed as an Ontario dispensary owner. Using her 14+ years of high-volume retail experience, she treated us to an expert discussion of how cannabis retailers can organize their business to succeed within Ontario’s competitive ecosystem. 

Brytany, within The Grown Group, uses her extensive industry knowledge and experience to help you choreograph the success of your dispensary, make critical business choices, save time and money and assist with your brand development. Her 3 keys to succeed as an Ontario dispensary owner provide both new and existing stores with invaluable advice when navigating cannabis retail strategy.

In this article, you'll learn:

  • How to leverage loyalty programs to increase sales
  • Why motivating employees matters and how to do it
  • Tips on leveraging local industry partners to succeed 

Ontario dispensary owner

1 - How to leverage loyalty programs to increase sales. 

Leveraging loyalty programs. 

In such a competitive industry, there's a need to get creative with driving your sales and getting customers into your stores. Brytany’s advice is to deploy innovative loyalty programs to reward and lock in your guests for consistent and reliable sales. Here, she discusses the perks, costs and legalities of engaging with loyalty programs as a cannabis retailer, as well as giving you some ideas for promoting your Ontario dispensary without falling into those sticky gray areas.

Brytany defines a loyalty program as a retail program that attracts and retains loyal customers by rewarding them for their repeated business through special incentives. 

Loyalty programs come in a versatile array of forms, such as coffee punch cards or an online “wallet experience” where purchases are tracked and you gain loyalty points for consistent visits to the business. Toronto’s leading marijuana dispensaries—such as Fire and Flower, and Tokyo Smoke—have recently deployed new and creative loyalty programs and have been reaping the benefits in a steadily growing customer base.

The perks and costs.

Cultivating a reliable consumer base for your dispensary store depends on rewarding the customer for their returning visits. 

Perks can include notifications for new products—for example, if you’re a regular cannabis consumer and a new product with limited availability drops, you’d want to know so you can get it right away. This also means notifying loyal customers about price drops, discounts and store events through your loyalty programs, giving them exclusive insights into your brand.

Costs vary depending on the program you deploy, ranging from a simple design—like punch cards, for example—to more extensive digital leveraging through AlpineIQ, or the “points-per-dollar system” launched by SpringBig. Brytany explains that, even with punch cards, you’d need to factor in the cost of printing, materials, logo design and a lawyer review of the branding. If you’re considering launching a more complex program, you might want to consider more specific details such as the cost of sending out texts on a regular basis. She even suggests striking up a financial arrangement with your service provider, based on the regular dispatch of mass texts through their system. 

Cannabis compliance legalities.

Cannabis retail is a highly regulated industry that requires a lot of legal consideration, especially when avoiding those sticky gray areas to protect the integrity of your Ontario dispensary. 

Note: the AGCO is currently reviewing loyalty programs so, until new regulations come out, it may be wise not to roll out any overly extensive programs. When releasing new loyalty programs, be sure to put some verbiage in the terms & conditions along the lines of “the loyalty program is subject to change pending imminent legislation”. 

What you can’t do according to Ontario legislation:

  • Sell other unrelated products or services in stores such as coffee or cakes
  • “Buy-one-get-one-free” deals
  • “Two-for-one” deals
  • “Buy-one-get-one-discounted” deals
  • Giving things away for free, such as cannabis accessories
  • Smoking in buildings and other public places (Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017)

What you can do according to Ontario legislation:

  • Bundle deals
  • Free swag items (a gray area due to swag items that double as cannabis accessories)*
  • Edibles and beverages given away at events (a gray area due to it not being considered smoking)**

*can’t be conditional to purchase, they have to be inclusive to anybody who walks into your store

**provided the customer hasn’t consumed any already

Ideas for promotions:

Promoting your programs without falling into gray areas ensures safe and reliable marketing for your cannabis retailing. Brytany shows us how to deploy innovative marketing programs while remaining cannabis compliant with Ontario’s laws. 

Program promotion ideas:

  • Educate your customers about loyalty benefits—word of mouth goes a long way!
  • Text and email campaigns (but remember to avoid exorbitant emailing)
  • Be careful! Excessive marijuana verbiage will get flagged and your messages won’t get sent through. AlpineIQ tested workarounds for this, for example using graphic images in place of words that could be potentially flagged.
  • Promotions on social platforms and website subscriptions 

2 - Why motivating employees matters as an Ontario dispensary owner.

We’ve all had the experience of working in places where we didn’t feel motivated—where we’d call in sick for no reason, and begin to despise going to work in the mornings. It takes strong leadership to creatively motivate and inspire a team to excel. Here, Brytany shares some wisdom on the importance of instilling passion in your team, types of motivation, how to resolve high staff turnover problems, methods for securing the loyalty of your top team members, and how to engage with your budtenders to get them excited about what your store is all about. 

ontario dispensary owners

Types of motivation: 

Motivated employees create an inspired atmosphere that trickles down to your customers and encourages their loyalty to your brand. It’s essential to recognize these people as your biggest assets when building a motivating workplace environment. Brytany highlights the two main forms of motivation you need to be aware of when attending to team morale:

Tangible motivation:

Can be defined by its main incentive tools, such as holidays, bonuses, benefits and remuneration.  More personally motivating are the subtle actions in a workplace that leave an employee feel valued and recognized.

Intangible motivation:

Can involve verbal or written validation of the employee’s unique contribution, recognition of personal achievements and anniversaries, and calling out good work in public team settings. 

Problems with high staff turnovers.

A very common issue with cannabis dispensaries today is having positions with a high staff turnover. It’s vital for you to develop a positive work environment in which your team can grow and excel, or you will lose them to competitor cannabis stores or even a different industry altogether. 

Brytany has heard of big corporation retailers being pleased with high turnover, saying that it’s “the nature of the game”, “an opportunity to restart afresh” and offers direction for business transition. But Brytany disagrees. For dispensary owners a high turnover means the loss of key team members, the loss of your great sales leaders and managers, which can have a real downward impact on your Ontario dispensary’s success.

Retaining & valuing your budtenders.

You may now be asking how you can develop a positive environment for your team. Morale is built through understanding what staff value: a sense of community, strong workplace culture, supportive environment and being able to see a future there. 

Methods for retaining top staff members:

  • Involve your A-Players in high-level business decision-making conversations. 
  • Always ask for feedback from your team—these are the people who know your product and spend ~40hours on the floor, handling and talking about it!
  • All hands on deck when seeking input for accessories and brand rep choices.
  • Competitive compensation packages (e.g. a fair salary that’s competitive within the market and your business volume, vacations, bonus options, flexible work schedule, employment benefits).
  • Be vulnerable and ask for feedback. No one’s perfect! It allows your staff to feel heard, recognized, and emphasizes that their views matter. 
  • Positive recognition and constructive feedback on a regular basis.
  • Treat your budtenders to special events like grow tours, webinars and virtual workshops.

Engaging your budtenders and getting them excited about their loyalty to your store will reduce the risk of turnover. They value the opportunity for gaining experience at your dispensary, so even when your budget can’t stretch to paying high wages, discussing their career paths and providing support and room to grow can be a great alternative.

For example, an employee chatted with Aphria’s representative and found him deeply inspiring, so this employee went on to pursue that growth path in the future. A good team leader would introduce this employee to other local industry partners next time they visit your store to encourage their career pursuit.

Additionally, continuing to educate your staff on products will sow the seeds for their passion within the industry, allowing you to effectively promote from within! Brytany gives the example of having licensed producers from platforms like Leafly come in to give talks, cultivating that continuous learning environment that will be stimulating and engaging for your valued budtenders.

3 - Tips on leveraging local industry partners to succeed.

Cannabis consumers are very different to alcohol consumers, as Brytany points out. They care about where a product comes from and the story behind who sells it. In such a unique and competitive industry.

“Your network is your net worth.” - Tim Sanders.

Connecting with local, like-minded businesses and brands you resonate with is a great way to create mutual leveraging through your social media platforms, and cultivate your brand identity.

Differentiating cannabis stores in your province.

Brytany suggests several ways of gauging the comparative store experience in your local area. Bringing brands in to do pop-ups and activations is a great way to network and gain visibility in your province. This may take the form of screen-printing onto T-shirts, engravings on battery devices, or getting beverage partners to come in and provide non-infused samplings. Just be sure to ask for something in return, as this is prime real estate for these people, especially if they come in during busy periods like Friday nights. Suggest they provide lunch for your team, or engage in cross-promoting with your social platforms.

Another great way to network is to offer one-on-one education sessions for newbies who come into your store to get them inspired, and in doing so open their eyes to the value of all your products and accessories. 

Discounts for loyal customers, family and friends can also encourage your consumer base to explore your dispensary more diversely and appreciate the full range of your products. 

After-hours private shopping can create that special environment for people to treat themselves in your store. You’re legally permitted to sell until 11pm in Ontario, so logistically, you could close your dispensary at 9pm and reopen for a private event straight after.

Organizing charity events—for example, a walk that starts and ends at your shop—is an additional way to get your store on the map, and create a solid networking base in your province. Never underestimate word of mouth when promoting your brand.

Funding events advice:

Brytany’s vast knowledge with networking and business promotion lead her to share her experience with funding events and give you some ideas for your own store. Showing a customer how they can use your products is a great way to drive sales in areas that were stagnating. You could make smores infused with Legend Chocolates, or mocktails infused with the TGod Ripple Powder, where a bartender whips them up in a to-go cup for customers along with recipe cards to inspire people and show them the value of these products.

Brytany has even been involved in a pipe-making workshop with a ceramic artist in Winnipeg for a two-part series! Live demos of your higher-priced accessories, like a glass hookah bong seen in action, can also be a great way to show the potential behind these items that people may typically look straight past. A great story Brytany shares concerns OTTOGrinder by the Banana Bros, which grinds and perfectly fills cones for you. The store had it on display to stuff cones for people who walked in, creating a motivating and engaging environment that customers loved. 

How to approach partners in the industry:

Step One:

  • Make a list of potential partners you’d like to collaborate with (what a great opportunity for getting feedback from your team too…)
  • Consider location, brand alignment, and obviously be sure they’re  19+
  • Ensure it’s with people who will realistically consider the partnership, and who would benefit from being associated with cannabis retail 

Step Two:

  • Identify who on your team is community driven and leverage the creative, outspoken members to propel community engagement
  • Focus on people who know what’s up in your area, where all the spots of culture are and understand the community demographic

Step Three:

  • Visit businesses to meet the manager
  • Introduce yourself and find out if they’re marijuana friendly 

Step Four:

  • Come up with a team strategy for what type of event you want to host 
  • Decide if there will be a pop-up market, will they bring baked goods into your store, maybe have some posters to promote it (and make sure it’s not-weed related baked goods to avoid those legal gray areas of cannabis compliance!)
  • Compose an email with the team to send off to potential partners

ontario dispensary owner

How independent dispensaries can compete with big corporations

In our webinar, Brytany clearly outlines how Ontario dispensaries can set themselves apart from the competition to leverage sales and loyalty. Often, bigger corporations are slashing margins and running at a loss, which just isn’t an option for smaller businesses. There are still ways you can compete to succeed, such as price matching with neighboring dispensaries and promoting unique accessories. Another route you can take is through your brand story: educate your customers on who you are, emphasize how you’re local and let them know they’re supporting a trustworthy dispensary they can stay loyal to. As mentioned before, cannabis consumers really appreciate knowing the source of their product and understanding the identity of your brand.

4 - In Conclusion.

With Brytany’s industry knowledge, we covered the nature of perks and costs surrounding loyalty programs, as well as brainstorming some ideas for promotions and how to stay cannabis compliant to Ontario legislation. She highlighted the importance of motivated employees, including how to value your budtenders and prevent high staff turnover. Additionally, our discussion outlined vital tips on leveraging local industry partners, the significance of networking and defining your brand identity within the competitive ecosystem of cannabis retail. 

Brytany’s creative and insightful illumination on how to succeed as an Ontario dispensary owner proves valuable to small startup businesses and larger established brands alike.

Catch the webinar replay!

Listen to the webinar with Brytany here, and be sure to check out The Grown Group for strategic guidance for license holders and aspiring entrepreneurs involved in cannabis retail. You can also find Brytany’s Twitter and Instagram through these links. 

For more information, or if you have any questions about what we talked about today, don’t hesitate to contact us at KayaPush and we’d be more than happy to help. KayaPush is the #1 HR and payroll cannabis software on the market, ready to help you streamline your business with scheduling, time tracking, POS integration and reporting, with our easy all-in-one service!

Watch the webinar replay below!

how to open a dispensary in ontario

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