This week’s Trailblazer is Serena Somani, Owner of 4K Cannabis, an independently owned cannabis retail store in Ajax, Ontario that recently rebranded from Tweed Ajax.
Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
When cannabis was first legalized on October 17th, 2018. I knew I wanted to help steer this change and be a part of the movement. I joined the cannabis industry because I feel passionate about the plant. I have strong beliefs in the normalization and de-stigmatization of cannabis. There are so many benefits to consumption such as reducing stress and being able to wake up bright and early after consuming unlike alcohol with grogginess and hangovers. I’m a very active person who likes to get things done! Cannabis works well for me. There’s a big stigma to fight ideas like “Stoners are lazy” or “Cannabis couch lock”. Ahem…Have you heard of our friend Sativa lol.
The Dutch were a big inspiration and key to my understanding of cannabis normalization. I worked for Booking.com for a few years and traveled to our Head Office often in Amsterdam. The coffee shops, in the central area of the city where work happens did not disrupt the daily grind, they were a natural part of the community. I was inspired by the creative problem solving and way the Dutch tackle things with such outside the box solutions.
Originally I wanted to open a coffee shop on the waterfront, since we still can’t do that, the next best thing is a cannabis shop with a lounge! Cannabis legalization can be an avenue to creativity and a creative mindset with your work. Perhaps dutch coffee shops can drive inspired solutions here in Canada!
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
All the red tape and others not clearly understanding the rules around cannabis promotion have been big marketing challenges as well as what is and isn’t allowed per Health Canada, Federal and Provincial regulations.
My landlord was trying to list the name of each shop in the plaza on a one page ad in the Toronto Star, but could not get our shop name mentioned due to their fear of being reprimanded. For the record, you are allowed to share your existence. Promoting your brand’s name is allowed!
Also, it’s important to be aware larger LPs and chain stores are supporting each other across Canada. Because of this, independents have come together and created groups with purpose, and are now stronger and bigger than any one chain. Many indy brands now work together and support each other. I’m an advocate amongst independent retailer groups and a member of: IRCC, RCCO and an Executive Committee member of VIP Media Group.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
Allowance to advertise products for sale. This restriction makes it hard for customers to understand what differentiates one shop from another. For example, shops that carry premium flower should be able to share what brands and products you would expect to find on their shelves and help differentiate themselves from a shop that carries a variety of topicals and bath bombs. This will help customers discover the right cannabis retailer for their needs!
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
Instagram allows for connections once the customer already knows you and has connected with our brand. It has limitations in creating the connection due to the restrictions on all Meta platforms. We use Instagram as a tool to connect and show appreciation to our customers.
We find our very own 4K Cannabis Club has provided a great community that connects once a month to learn all about the product featured in the club box that month. We truly believe in our 4K Cannabis community. Our 4K Cannabis Club has monthly offerings that include opportunities for members to join us for special events and experiences.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Advertise to the consumers directly. There’s a lot of focus on intra-industry, but if you’re a consumer-facing business this is a missed opportunity. Don’t expect a small group to advocate for your brand, share your brand with those who will consume it! The consumers don’t have much brand loyalty yet, relying only on retailers to know and share your brand on your behalf leaves a big gap of information not making its way to your end consumer.