This week’s Trailblazer is Rianna Ford, Founder of RE.UP, a series of events connecting budtenders with brands to improve product knowledge and industry education.
Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
I like to say my start in the cannabis industry was a rose and thorn comparison. I got into the industry in April 2020, due to a government-funded training program from The Career Foundation for trim & harvester/cultivation tech. I wasn’t going to complete the program as I was heading to Pollenzo, Italy for a cooking competition I won with Airbnb. However, as we all know Covid happened and things got canceled for all of us, things we really looked forward to–gone; hence my thorn. Nonetheless, a new career blossomed like a rose with my start in cannabis cultivation at a small grow, where I was able to get my hands on all aspects of the plants from propagation, to feeding, pruning, curing, and more! It was a blast to see the start of cannabis prior to it getting to our hands with the finished and packaged product.
However, food and hospitality was my professional start so ended up in retail cannabis where the love of product began for me. Became a purchasing manager which provided me unlimited access to learn and better understand what’s on the market. With so much to purchase, I had to develop a weed diary on Instagram (@re.reelsreview) so I can at least try to keep tasting notes and track of what I like, try, and want to share. My time in retail also helped develop RE.UP, my event coordinating company where my interest began in executing a cannabis-focused event with 10+ brands/LP’s, for retailers to better our product knowledge and network amongst each other. RE.UP PK Sesh on May 3, 2022, was my first of many events focusing on brand and product awareness amongst retailers and soon consumers. Currently, I’ll be helping coordinate industry events under RE.UP and managing a store out in Aldershot; Uncle Louie’s Cannabis Shop (@unclelouiesofficial) and exploring different techniques to curate and build a menu that focuses on Ontario grows and quality brands that are truly moving the market positively. The over-saturation of brands and products now is all the more reason why I plan with anything I do in this industry is to learn and educate others on what cannabis is, can, and should be.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
I’d say just the transparency with some brands. I find there’s almost an outdated or B.C (Before Cannabis) list of brands, where I think it’s time to re-evaluate their presence or more importantly impact on the market. And not impact with investor money, backing, etc, I truly mean with genuine sales, cannabis quality, or really their preservation of employees.
Or when it comes to trying to support brands whether online or with other fun interactive initiatives to show products and brands to consumers it’s too heavily regulated and monitored. There’s still a huge market we are missing by not making cannabis marketing more accessible through paid ads on social media platforms, commercials online/tv, brand pop-ups at concert halls/theatres, option to host consumer sample-based events, etc; which in turn attract buyers more directly rather than just relying on the retailers in-store.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
A lot of it? I think the entirety of censorship or to “protect youth”, where this substance is no different in terms of age-gating with alcohol/tobacco, there are ways we can dramatically improve. Educational formats of ways to understand the plant and to show the product and how to use it; as a lot of users are new to cannabis. Potentially having medically trained professionals in stores as representatives for products/brands or cannabis, in general, to be able to break that barrier of what staff can/not say. More traditional ways of marketing with celebrity influence by allowing those faces to openly represent or have brands on the market as again no different than celebrity wine/spirits. Which provides immense visibility that can bring a whole other set of eyes and reach different consumer markets. Or with packaging, granted the whole debate of if we should be buying packaging or product. But inevitably as people, we are quite visual. So providing more unique options in comparison of the rigid parameters of ensuring Health Canada standards on packaging.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
Instagram may be the most approachable channel, however, usually brands on that platform are shadow-banned or removed. So oftentimes your page isn’t even reaching more than the common crowd of people in the industry; usually, those working in it. But Instagram is a global app, where people can eventually find your page.
I think the techniques that work best to connect with consumers are experiential facing events whether in-store, not pop-ups, or private events. A way to get people out the same way for other industries to connect with consumers with open and safe consumption.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
Cyrus Hambaz and Zach Gilmour from The Loud Plug (@theloudplugofficial), once their LTO dropped in October 2021 of the infamous Benny Blunto, I have had the pleasure of supporting and learning the industry alongside these Scarborough OG’s.
Steven Conville and Leshaunda Gray from Kronic Relief, hitting the market this year, Steven a ganja farmer by heart bringing kronic options and staying true to their roots.
Jessica Bonilla (The Niagara Herbalist and High’Q) and Vivian Wilson (GreenPort Cannabis), are two female owners of cannabis retail stores and event spaces who have just been so supportive and crucial in reminding me of my value/worth in this industry.
Xander Stephenson (@xanderwho), is a phenomenal artist who specializes in tattooing and screen printing. He came into my life at the right time, with just some of the dopest and realest imagery. This is why he made my first logo and he’ll be the first and only person to tattoo me.
Bret Unger, thank you for finding a diamond in the rough. Providing my first experience with the beauty that is the OCS, appreciate you for that opportunity.
My canna baddies, Juliet Jones Rodney (@julietjonesrodney), Ashenafe Neale (@shanzzox), Shebeka Curling (@420.hnh) all in the cannabis industry doing great and baddie things <3
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Media takeover, having a product coming out; get as many of us in the industry to try and share online. This model has been done with new brands that have completely dominated their online presence since then. Have to be constant, stop worrying about what you can or can’t do, and just do what resonates with the brand and can capture your market. At this point, we all just have to break the “rules” now and ask for forgiveness later.
A big thank you to Rianna from RE.UP for participating as this week’s Trailblazer! Stay tuned for another interview with a cannabis marketing Trailblazer next Thursday in the ADCANN blog.