8 Tips for Getting Started in the Cannabis Industry

Advice From First-Round Cannabis Lottery Winners

Danielle Poirier
Jan 30 · 5 min read

What had started out to be an impossible task, turned into their golden ticket opportunity of establishing themselves in the cannabis industry.

This past November, Verda attended a seminar hosted by Cova Software, where aspiring cannabis connoisseurs gathered for a crash course on the industry. Among the years worth of knowledge that the CEO of Cova shared with us, the owners of Sessions Cannabis, a dispensary chain located in Collingwood, Toronto and soon to be opening 2 more locations in Hamilton and Cambridge, presented their story of how they got their business off the ground after being one of the first cannabis retail lottery winners that the province has ever seen.

The Owners of Sessions Cannabis share their knowledge and experience from when they launched their business on April 20, 2018.

With regulations loosening and now that Ontario introduced an open market in place of the previously run cannabis retail license lottery, the guys at Sessions had plenty of tips for dispensaries looking to seriously set themselves up for success.

1. Differentiate yourself from your competition

You’ll either want to either become a Tim Horton’s or a Starbucks of weed depending on where you’re located, what clientele you’re serving, and what your competitors are doing.

Dispensaries compete with illicit dealers, and now that an open market has been introduced you’ll have a more fierce competition going forward. Keeping in mind that you’re all going to be selling the same products, establishing a kick-butt consumer experience is what’s going to win over your customers in the long-run.

2. Find your niche

Being a master of one instead of trying to be a master of all can work in your favour. Some dispensaries find their unique trait through novelties like edibles, pre-rolls, vapes, topicals, etc, that they carry. If there is a high enough demand for those products, then people will come from near and far to get them specifically from you.

3. Put your big sellers near the back of your space

Never, ever, ever put your main offerings right near the door. If you do, your customers will come in, buy, and leave without exploring everything you have to offer. Position your products near the back of your store. Doing this forces your customers to walk all the way in and then all the way back out again. If something catches their eye, they’re bound to stop and check the rest of your products out.

4. Merchandize with purpose

Stocking 30% of your shelves with items that only make up maybe 5% of your sales isn’t a very efficient use of space. In retail, your shelves act as important real estate. By establishing what your sales are made up of versus what products you’re carrying really helps with ironing out the efficiencies for products you carry and quantities you’re able to sell. Pinpoint the products that the majority of your customers are looking for and stock accordingly.

5. Retail experience is nice to have

If you have management or retail experience, it could really help you when it comes to having a dispensary. By pinpointing your level of comfort and deciding how hands-on you intend to be with your business, you can better gauge what kind of skills and commitment you’re looking for when it comes time to hire.

6. Success is based around the people who work for you

Customers can see right through staff who don’t know what they’re talking about — and the reality of it is that many customers that come to dispensaries could be homeschooled cannabis connoisseurs. To train your staff, you could have them learn from fellow budtenders with more experience, or you can bring in your staff for budtender training.

7. In-store education is key

Illicit market versus legal

With grey markets still thriving, you’re going to want to educate your customers about the importance of buying legal. This education is going to be an integral piece when it comes to eradicating the illicit market, improving your bottom-line sales, and kicking-off conversation about how the cannabis initiative is boosting local economies.

People want to know more about what to expect

In Canada, it’s illegal to try and pin a mood or effect as part of a product description, so educating your customers about what to expect based on an experience you’ve had with the product is probably the best thing you can do in terms of trying to inform them.

New users are itching to learn the basics like the difference between Indica and Sativa. Most people will come to have a preference between the two or opt to get a hybrid for the best of both worlds, but guiding your customers to this point will be one of the first goals to reach for your in-store education.

Dosage, dosage, dosage!

When it comes to items like edibles or THC vapes, providing a starting point and a window of time to wait out the effects is really handy for users without much experience. People want control over their highs, and many who have not experienced control with cannabis in the past are afraid that it will happen again. Loyalty is rooted in trust, so once your customers begin to trust you and your professional advice, you’ll have new customers for life.

8. Market yourself the old fashion way

Right now, marketing regulations prohibit the promotion and sale of marijuana, which makes promoting your store and advertising your offerings very difficult, even impossible aside from word of mouth. However, there are ways to improve your customer journey before, during and after the purchase.

You could also take initiative to introduce yourself to the major players in your community such as the Chief of Police and Fire, Ministers at local churches, etc. It’s important, especially in the cannabis industry, to have your community on your side.

Maybe make an effort to participate in local events where it’s appropriate and make a point to educate your community about the lengths of security you go through to operate and how the main objection, aside from just keeping the business running, is to ultimately take money out of the hands of criminals and the illicit market and put it back into the local economy and toward community initiatives from the tax revenues earned.

You want to be presenting yourself in the best manner to support your community. You’re aiming to educate the citizens and make cannabis a safer topic overall. By creating the right persona around yourself, your presence in the community, and your brand, you will be incentivized to run the best business you can for the sake of your community and the cannabis industry as a whole.

Hey Ontario! You can differentiate your dispensary by adding online ordering. Ontario introduced a new ‘Click and Collect’ model, where you can give your customers the ability to reserve their products online and come pick them up in-shop later! Contact us if you’re interested in accepting online orders for in-store pickup!

Miss the last blog? Read the master compliance checklist that could save your cannabis retail license here. And you can check out the full interview with the owners of Sessions Cannabis from the Business of Cannabis Live Podcast, here.


Verda’s Blog

Danielle Poirier

Written by

Content Marketing Manager at Verda Innovations Inc. Sharing my knowledge and learnings within the cannabis space. Always looking for ways to grow!


Verda’s Blog

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