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Developing Community In Cannabis Across Canada
"I love the fact that each store in each province, in each region, and in each neighborhood is essentially a completely different market"
A question that’s been top of mind for me of late is when each cannabis retail store has access to the same products — how does one stand out from the other?
A recurring theme that is now appearing in the conversations I’m having with some of the most successful stores in Canada, and in the U.S is that to succeed in cannabis retail — it’s essential to have a deep understanding of the community which you are seeking to operate within.
On its face, this might seem like an easy task, whereas in reality, the opposite is true as operators have to contend with a multitude of variables to ensure that every action they take is within the best interests of the community they are seeking to serve.
For today’s edition of Four PM, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Cecil who is an expert on all things retail-related in cannabis.
In his current role as the V.P of Business & Ethos at Spiritleaf, Cecil has leveraged all of this expertise to help build one of the most successful Canadian cannabis retail chains with a clear focus on integrating each of their stores into the communities they serve across Canada.
Cecil Horwitz is the former founder & Acupuncturist of Whole Family Health, and is currently the Vice President of Business & Ethos for Spiritleaf.
What was the lightbulb moment you had that led you to work in the cannabis industry?
There wasn’t one specific event where the lightbulb went off and I felt that I had to get into the cannabis industry, rather there was a series of serendipitous events that took place over a period of time where I developed an understanding of the industry and the potential impact I could have within it.
Having an understanding of herbal medicine, and Chinese herbal medicine in particular certainly helped me to develop this understanding of the industry, and having been a consumer of cannabis from a very early age accompanied with a strong passion for working in retail I felt I could help influence the foundation of this industry here in Canada with a strong focus on inclusivity whereby there would be opportunities for everyone — from those who are brand new to cannabis industry as well as the OG’s who helped build this industry.
I just really felt like because cannabis has had a long history of racism that perhaps in some small way I could have an influence and to bring those groups of people that have always been shut down and written off into the fold.
Cannabis can be a great catalyst to bring people together and so that’s how I saw it. This is an industry where we have the opportunity to be fully inclusive.
How important has your background in Chinese Herbal medicine proven in your work within the cannabis industry?
When I had a private practice that specializes in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, I was highly aware of the history of cannabis within the Chinese pharmacopeia (a book containing directions for the identification of compound medicines, and published by the authority of a government or a medical or pharmaceutical society).
With this background, I found it provides an easy on-ramp to understand all of the complexity of cannabis and all of the chemical constituents as in Chinese Herbal medicine 100 people with a migraine might very well receive 100 different formations based on their unique needs, and I think that's what we’re currently seeing play out with cannabis.
I’m very glad to see all of the research that’s now being done on terpenes, flavonoids, and each of the different cannabinoids, and I know that these are very important aspects of cannabis consumption, however, it’s also important to note that the general public knows virtually nothing about these subjects, and whether we like it or not 99% of consumers who come in-store today still identity with terms like Indica and Sativa, and it’s likely going to take a lot of time to move away from with model so it’s important to have patience along the way.
What has to change for the Canadian cannabis industry to become the best version of itself?
The ability to perform e-commerce sales in each province across Canada alongside delivery would be such a game-changer.
Right now this is only possible in Saskatchewan, and despite the fact that there were some changes made during the pandemic, it doesn’t seem very likely that these changes will be made permanent which creates this uneven playing field between the legal and illegal market in that I can have cannabis delivered directly to my door from an operator in the illicit market, however, a cannabis retailer operating in the legal market isn’t permitted to provide this same service.
In addition to having the ability to perform e-commerce sales, I’d also like to see a reduction in the barriers to entry for craft cannabis producers such that more growers from the legacy market are able to participate in the new legal market.
What has you most excited about the future of the cannabis industry?
What excites me the most about the future of the cannabis industry is that as challenging as it is, I love the fact that each store in each province, in each region, and in each neighborhood is essentially a completely different market.
It’s such a challenge to have the right mix of products for each of these stores, and it requires an almost constant review by looking at our data analytics, gaining feedback from budtenders, gaining feedback from our customers all to ensure that we are best serving the needs of the communities we operate within.
Bringing all of this together is far from easy, however, the constant evolution that’s occurring in each of these markets is such an exciting process to be a part of, and having the local partnership eco-system we have in place provides such a unique competitive advantage in that we can tailor each of our store’s offerings based on what works best within each of these communities across Canada.
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