The retail cannabis industry in Canada is growing, well, as they would say, like a weed. This kind of fast paced growth with new companies in an new sector calls out for experienced retail operators to help navigate and bring to the industry experience and operational expertise to survive and thrive in what is an increasingly crowded competitive market. Christopher Kane is a savvy retail operator that brings with him decades of experience in grocery, Pharma, and category management to his freshly minted role as the Chief Operating Officer at FIKA Herbal Goods
Welcome to the The Voice of Retail , I’m your host Michael LeBlanc, and this podcast is brought to you in conjunction with Retail Council of Canada.
The retail cannabis industry in Canada is growing, well, as they would say, like a weed. This kind of fast paced growth with new companies in an new sector calls out for experienced retail operators to help navigate and bring to the industry experience and operational expertise to survive and thrive in what is an increasingly crowded competitive market.
Christopher Kane is a savvy retail operator that brings with him decades of experience in grocery, Pharma, and category management to his freshly minted role as the Chief Operating Officer at FIKA Herbal Goods
Christopher joins me on The Voice of Retail to talk about the origin story of FIKA, their store and merchandising strategy, and all about his experience moving to the fast-paced world of retail cannabis
Thanks for tuning into today’s episode of The Voice of Retail. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss out on the latest episodes, industry news, and insights. If you enjoyed this episode please consider leaving a rating and review, as it really helps us grow so that we can continue getting amazing guests on the show.
I’m your host Michael LeBlanc, President of M.E. LeBlanc & Company, and if you’re looking for more content, or want to chat follow me on LinkedIn, or visit my website meleblanc.co!
Until next time, stay safe and have a great week!
Michael LeBlanc is the Founder & President of M.E. LeBlanc & Company Inc and a Senior Advisor to Retail Council of Canada as part of his advisory and consulting practice. He brings 25+ years of brand/retail/marketing & eCommerce leadership experience, and has been on the front lines of retail industry change for his entire career. Michael is the producer and host of a network of leading podcasts including Canada’s top retail industry podcast, The Voice of Retail, plus Global E-Commerce Tech Talks and The Food Professor with Dr. Sylvain Charlebois. You can learn more about Michael here or on LinkedIn.
Michael LeBlanc 00:04
Welcome to The Voice of Retail. I'm your host Michael LeBlanc. This podcast is brought to you in conjunction with Retail Council of Canada.
Michael LeBlanc 00:10
The retail cannabis industry in Canada is growing, well, as they would say, like a weed. This kind of fast-paced growth with new companies in a new sector calls out for experienced retail operators to help navigate and bring to the industry experience and operational expertise to survive and thrive in what is an increasingly crowded competitive market.
Michael LeBlanc 00:30
Christopher Kane is a savvy retail operator that brings with him decades of experience in grocery, Pharma, and category management to his freshly minted role as the Chief Operating Officer at Fika Herbal Goods.
Michael LeBlanc 00:42
Christopher joins me on The Voice of Retail to talk about the origin story of Fika, their store, merchandising strategy, and all about his experience moving to the fast-paced world of retail cannabis,
Christopher Kane 00:52
a great culture within Fika that we're going to continue to grow and grow. And you put those two things together the, the store design and talk more about the store design some key elements of it, that we put in was, you know, we have a beautiful flower pod in the middle of our stores.
Michael LeBlanc 01:13
Let's listen in now.
Michael LeBlanc 01:15
Christopher, Welcome to The Voice of Retail podcast. How are you doing this morning?
Christopher Kane 01:18
I'm doing great, Michael, thanks for having me.
Michael LeBlanc 01:21
Well, it's great to talk to you. You and I were just chatting off-mic is the lawn maintenance guys are blowing leaf blowers in our ears, respectively, about you know talking about grocery, talking about retail. So, I'm really looking forward to digging in and talking to retail cannabis boy, what a what a transition and what a great career journey you've been on. Let's start there. Tell us about yourself. Your career journey and your role now at Fika Herbal Goods.
Christopher Kane 01:46
My career journey goes from way back when I was 13 years old working in a convenience store. And that's where my love of retail started. From there. I worked for Sobeys for 22 years, great grocery chain in Canada. And then I moved on to the pharmacy world, I got recruited into pharmacy with Rexall Pharma Plus worked there for about seven years, I learned a lot about the pharmaceutical world and retail in the pharmacy world. And after that, I landed into the cannabis, one of the fastest growing industries in in Canada right now. And it's hard to not take such an opportunity in, you know, a brand new industry, you don't have that opportunity to often career, it was hard to turn that down. And then when Fika came about just an incredible opportunity to build something that is really going to change the landscape of how cannabis retail is looked at
Michael LeBlanc 03:02
You were right at that inflection point, right where pharma and grocery came together. And now it's hard to think of the two apart I mean, you know, many of the many of the big grocers are are partnered so strongly with, with pharma now as you said, you've jumped on and jumped into retail cannabis. I want to get back to that in a few minutes because I want to understand how you've adjusted from going to these big, big companies into, into cannabis and, and the size of cannabis in the industry. It is very exciting. But let's talk about Fika. So, a new type of cannabis retail I mean, you know, I talked to a lot of people and they all say something like that. So, tell me about the origin story of the brand. What makes it different, what got you excited about it, because I'm sure you've got plenty of options. So tell me all about Fika.
Christopher Kane 03:47
We are going to redefine cannabis retail and Fika as a it's often translated as a coffee and treat break. And one that encourages you to pause and enjoy the everyday beauty of life. And, you know, the vision for Fika came about because, you know, we truly believe that there's an opening in the cannabis retail space that, that really we don't believe is filled and I've had the opportunity of visiting hundreds of cannabis stores in both the US and in Canada. I've seen lots of really good things I've seen things that maybe aren't so good. But overall, there truly is an opportunity here to build a brand and and cannabis retail locations that are really going to resonate with a consumer and with a warm, inviting feeling and really making the customer feel at home and take away the stigma of cannabis. And so far in the in the one store we have opened in the Distillery District in Toronto, we have received great feedback. And it's just been an exciting journey. And looking at every piece of the operation, and everything I've learned, in my days in retail, we are sitting in a great position for success. And, you know, you said it, Michael, a lot of people aspire to do it. I'm very confident and comfortable that we are doing it and we're going to continue to do it.
Michael LeBlanc 05:34
Well, let's unpack a few threads. If I can mix metaphors there, follow a few threads, unpack a big, a few things. So, you have a store in the Distillery District in Toronto in Ontario. Visiting your website, it looks like you have other stores. So, you have one store, you have more stores, tell me a little bit just practically about how many stores you have and where you operate.
Christopher Kane 05:54
We have the one store and Distillery District. And by the end of 2020, we could have as many as 15 more open, we have partnered with AAA real estate sites, we have partnered with Smart Centers, we've partnered with Dream, and we partner with Cadillac Fairview, we have some incredible sites that are going in that are obviously high-traffic sites in with, you know, obviously the super centers that are anchored by some, some incredible tenants, Walmart being there, a lot of them having LCBO locations, etc. And we're really excited about these partnerships and the landlords that we partnered with really love, you know, what we put together, you know, in this fast emerging industry and, you know, there's no secret to the fact that a lot of landlords were a little uncomfortable venturing into cannabis out of the gate. But when we showed them, what we were going to put out there as a premium lifestyle brand catering to the modern consumer. We have heard nothing but incredible feedback on what we're doing.
Michael LeBlanc 07:07
You know, you said a couple of times we want to dispel any kind of any, any kind of myths or any kind of stigmatization. So, you know, as I hear that, I hear that you're not simply going after the OG, cannabis consumer that you're you, you really are looking for those consumers that have yet to indulge, or perhaps are getting back in and just tell me but your customers and, and how that plays in your thinking of the brand,
Christopher Kane 07:34
What we built, as I said, in our kind of warm environment in our stores, and our what we're looking for from our customers as we are, what we've seen so far is we are catering to the experienced consumer in cannabis, as well as a new consumer. And we are finding it's a real mix, both from, from age to, to the consumers, their experience and example. Some consumers are really excited about trying an edible and their consumers that have never been a cannabis consumer in their life so far, and they're excited about it. And we've built environments of the consumer where our people which are the number one piece of our, of our company of the of the Fika brand, have made it very inviting. They're very well educated, we invest a lot in training, the incredible people we brought on board to the Fika family, and we really regardless of consumers, cannabis knowledge, we will help them out with any questions that they have. When they come into our stores.
Michael LeBlanc 08:55
When you talk about we are you're an experienced, a very experienced operator. Tell me about your counterpart who, who is this business, who is Fika, who's behind the, the brand and how have you come together as a group of retailers.
Christopher Kane 09:10
It is a mix of a vision to do you know what I've talked about previously, to really fill a void in that lifestyle brand. for cannabis retail. We truly want to redefine cannabis retail. And it really is a mix of, you know, obviously the, the AAA sites that we are we're achieving, as well as a curated list of products that we carefully select. That is going to be there for our consumers beautiful stores that are warm and welcoming for anyone to come into. I always like to say it's a store where you can bring in your partner, your grandmother, your best friend And obviously, if they're of age, and come in and feel very welcome with the experience that they're going to have and
Michael LeBlanc 10:08
Christopher Kane 10:08
Most importantly, and I'll go back to that numerous times, our people and the culture within the company, are really key into what we're building here. So, you put those things together and that's really what we're building here.
Michael LeBlanc 10:26
Well, let's, let's talk about store design. I mean, the images and the store, it's very, it's bespoke, it's certainly not basic, clear, in my mind, there is an intention there to create an environment. So, tell me how you approach store design, you know, blank sheet of paper, then you've got an actual store in Distillery. And then what makes your people different, I mean, as again, experienced operator, you would hire a certain type of people, you look for certain candidates, but do you do different training, like, how do you bring those two things together store design, which has a bespoke feel to it, but then you need to complement that with a comparable experience. And that means great people, right. So, tie those things together for me.
Christopher Kane 11:06
So, you're right on, Michael, we started with a blank, a blank sheet of paper, as a lot of, you know, stores do, we work diligently and spent many hours we brought on board, JH&A, who's a leading retail firm, to help us design our stores, we went through many iterations, with our goal being to really bring this brand to life, make it an easy shop for the consumer, from everything from the millwork that we build to the floors to the lighting, every piece that's really going to make an experience. We worked very, very closely with JH&A on every piece of the store, we also have an in-house design team, very talented at bringing this to life. And we spend hours and hours finding that right look, probably, you know, we went through what we did go through multiple versions of it. Sure. And then we finally felt like, this is this is it.
Christopher Kane 12:13
And now we're you know, we're really in the stage of building, you know, we have about 10 right now that are that are being built being constructed, and many more to come in the next few weeks.
Christopher Kane 12:24
And, then on the point about, about people, we have a process that we follow, and the people that we bring on board go through, we meet multiple people on our team so we can talk to them about what Fika is all about the brand, Fika-, Fika Herbal Goods brand, with Fika local herbal goods brand, what our intentions are in the cannabis world, what we're aspiring and what we're doing to be as a retailer, and how important they are to our operation and the success of it. And we really want to be that retailer of choice, not just for the consumer, but also for employees. And we have had incredible success with the team we have assembled so far. And we're excited as we as we continue to build but again, they are the backbone. We, we have a very, a great culture within Fika that we're going to continue to to grow and grow. And you put those two things together the, the store design and talk more about the store design some key elements of it, that we put in was, you know, we have a beautiful flower pod. In the middle of our stores. We have a talk shop that highlights edibles, which obviously includes chocolates and gummies, as well as we've, you know, put a minimum of two refrigerators in every store. I'll highlight the growing beverage category. We have a Fika lifestyle section, we have an exclusive agreement with boy smells candles, which are infused candles. And the, it's a fantastic partnership there. We have an assortment of accessories.
Christopher Kane 14:10
And we also, in our flagship stores, have, we have a vintage section where we will showcase LPs and you know smaller growing regions. And it's a section that we're going to, you know, every three months, but in the new one or two LPs were actually do have sensory pods in that section. And really important, the local LP and the other thing we got away in our store design is if you go into our stores, we don't have vanity packaging. When you walk into the store, you don't see the packaging that comes in, you know when it comes into the OCS or the manufacturer LP packaging. We did it quite differently than anybody else using, you know, microscopes to look at the actual bud and actually have the, you know, pictures of the product. So, a consumer can see exactly what they look like. And not look at the, the packaging that's out in the marketplace, but really made the, you know, the goal, you know, the store design, the product and our people really being, you know, the star of the show.
Michael LeBlanc 15:17
Talk about your merchandising strategy, because you're, we're now at the point in the industry where retailers can start to define themselves better by making choices around the product that they sell, that wasn't always the case. Initially, it was just everybody sold the same stuff. And really,
Christopher Kane 15:34
Michael LeBlanc 15:34
the challenge of differentiating but now you're getting to the point where you can make some decisions based on who you think your customers are, who they want them to be, and who you want them to be in the brand. So, how are you guys approaching your merchandising strategy, and, and a follow up question to that as just so you can think about this, as well as is are you at the point where you're happy with the merchandise, the consistency and all that stuff. So first of all, talking about how you're approaching your merchandise strategy, and then tell me about a bit about the product and your perceptions at this point.
Michael LeBlanc 16:04
So, the merchandising strategy, I guess, it's, it's kind of twofold, we spent probably a good four to five months curating a list of products. After looking at the, you know, there's over 1000 products out there in the market. Now, I don't know what the latest number is. And really looking at it by category, we dissected each category, and looked at what we really felt were the best products, and what the consumers would be looking for, what our customers would be looking for. So, we spent a lot of time on that we don't carry an exhaustive list. But we really spent a lot of time figuring out what was required in our stores. And then not just what was required, but how are we going to properly educate our team on that product, to make sure that when the consumers in the store, they know exactly what that product is all about its traits, etc. And, and that was a really big part of, of how we, you know, figured out what our products are going to be now that obviously marries up with the merchandising, and to have to work together to to make it work. So, we kind of did them in parallel. And we kind of decided this is how many SKUs we want to carry. These are the SKUs that we believe are the best out there in the marketplace. And then here is how we want to play some to make it a very easy shop for our consumers when they come into our customers when they come into our locations. And very easy for one of our we call them. We have our managers, our lead educators and our ambassadors, but then to be able to walk a customer around the store and explain to them each product. And you know what they are in their trades, or within the obviously the rules of what we're offering the customer.
Michael LeBlanc 18:03
Right, right on, right on. All right, well, let's change gears a little bit. You know, I think about your background. Sobeys, Rexall, McKesson, recently Kohl & Frisch. Big, big companies, big infrastructure, regardless of the format that they're in, what was the transition like for you moving to Fika, I mean, that's like going into you mentioned it before, it's exciting category. But that's like going from a behemoth to a startup. I mean, McKesson is one of the world's biggest companies. Tell me about your, your observations about the transition, and what did you bring with and what did you leave behind, kind of, importantly, in this new role?
Christopher Kane 18:40
I would say what I brought was a lot of learnings and, and, you know, I say quite often a lot more what you didn't do right, then then what you didn't do, right, because you kind of learn from, you know, your mistakes, and, you know, we'll all continue to do them. And more and more by trying new things out, because retail is constantly innovating. And it changes, you know, literally by the week or, and so I brought a lot of learnings of what's worked in the past. And I do find in my, in my travels through my career, there's a lot of common denominators in retail, that are transferable into other retail environments. What I really loved about this, and I got the ability to do it in the other companies you mentioned, especially with Sobeys and with, with Rexall and Mckesson, as much as they're, you know, larger companies. They're still a big entrepreneurial piece that that exists in those large companies and I've always loved and had the challenge of building teams that love to build things. And when I say build things, in this case, building the building to think of brand, building our stores and and just watching something grow and I think that was a, you know It was transferable from the other areas that I had. And really just learning over the years, you know, the, the senses at retail, you know, the smell, the touch, the feel, the sight, the lighting, the flooring, the customer experience, probably the most important thing, and how you kind of bring that all together. So, it really gives you, your customers are, you know, the first time they walk in there and experience why they're going to keep coming back.
Christopher Kane 20:28
So, a lot of things I learned over the years, the one thing that when you move into cannabis, that's probably one of the most challenging pieces is some of the things in your previous roles with those companies called a grocery pharmacy, you can't do in cannabis, retail because of the the regulatory environment that it operates with. So, you have to find some, some ways to do that. to market your brand, what you're building, and that's something where it's been a, it's been a learning curve in the business now, you know, pre, pre-legalization, really finding ways on how to build a brand in an industry that's so regulated.
Michael LeBlanc 21:12
Well, let's, let's tie those two thoughts together advice for the retailers and the listeners in terms of, you know, what, what you brought with you what you learn, you know, what are the you know, if for those starting out on a similar venture, any, any words of wisdom or advice from your roots, long experience and your recent experience in the cannabis business still flourishing industry, we want it to flourish more. So, sharing is a great thing. Any thoughts of advice or, you know, boy, you should, I learned this, and I'm going to help you, I'm telling it to you now, any, any thoughts on that?
Christopher Kane 21:48
I always say any visions or visions are great. And when you look at what you want to build a company culture, I think those are those are key because you know, without having the right passionate team of people on board, I don't believe it's, it's going to be, it's going to be challenging to succeed in, you know, I heard that a long time ago, and I've always kind of believed this is that, you know, culture, trumps strategy many times,
Michael LeBlanc 22:21
Christopher Kane 22:21
and, you do need, you do need a good strategy. But at the same time, without a good culture, if you can have the greatest strategy in the world, it's, it's probably chances are, it's not going to succeed. And the other thing that you know, I, is in, in any retail environment, whether it be cannabis, you need to be able to pivot pretty quickly. Whether it's a change in shopping patterns, whether it's something you want to adjust in your store, you really need to be able to move quickly, not have a lot of, you know, layers that you have to go through to make things move which, which can happen, and bigger companies and understandably so because you're dealing with, you know, more locations, etc. And you make one move, and it can affect, you know, absolutely. So, you have to be careful. But you got to you got to move quick. And you got to make decisions quick.
Christopher Kane 23:16
And, you know, in the cannabis industry, you know, for those that have followed it for, you know, since inception, you know, it's probably evolved. I mean, to just throw this out there 10 times faster than any other business. That's, that's come to fruition. I mean, it went from a nascent bit now to a very evolved business. That's constantly changing. And the other advice I would give to, and this is specific to the cannabis industry, you know, there, there's a lot of competition out there. But what, what's really important for anybody entering is there are some areas where the cannabis industry does have the mold together. It is highly regulated. I believe I've worked with, you know, a few of the control boards across Canada. And I do find them, they can be quite reasonable. If you do, you know, come forward with them something that really doesn't make sense. I mean, they put this together fairly quickly. They are they're willing to adapt, but it's something that the industry as a whole has to work together on refining some of the regulations that are out there, especially as the business does get more and more competitive.
Michael LeBlanc 24:30
Yes, really, the business is maturing from that perspective for sure. And, and the good news, I guess, is that there's a review process coming up for the for the federal legislation. coming up soon. I've heard many retailers talk about opening up limits on things like the edibles and the consumption and the what, what goes in them. And so, I think there's, there's lots of that and I've always said that the I use the cannabis retail industry, you guys have, have dynamism and agility built into your DNA because you had to do it
Christopher Kane 24:59
Michael LeBlanc 24:59
and many I think readers are looking for lessons during the COVID era to cannabis retailers because, you know, you were, you were if anybody was ever ready for the times we're in there was probably the retail cannabis industry. So, listen, it's been great to get to know you and get to know the brand. Where can people go to learn more, what's your website, tell us about that.
Christopher Kane 25:22
So, firstly would be great if anyone wants to visit us at our store and Distillery District. We'd love to have you there. 49 Tank House Lane, visit our website, anytime. We have lots of wonderful stores up and coming we actually have a store opening up this week in St. Thomas you can visit our website anytime at Fikasupply.com and it will give you all the information that you need and it's a it's a beautiful website and it'll talk about our locations where our stores are has our last you can order a product on Dutchie and watch this Fika Herbal Goods brand grow over, over the near future and you will see us in a lot of towns and cities moving forward. We're really excited. We have stores coming in London, in St. Thomas, Sudbury, Windsor, Scarborough, Oshawa, Barrie, some more in Toronto. And we're so excited about this journey that that we are on and yeah, please visit, visit our website at Fikasupply.com. And that's we're really excited about what the future holds for for the cannabis industry. And as we we build these, these wonderful stores and grow our team.
Michael LeBlanc 26:56
Well, fantastic and certainly a retailer to watch. Thank you so much, Christopher, for joining me. Sounds like you're have a great success today. I wish you continued success. And once again, thanks for being on the podcast.
Christopher Kane 27:08
Yeah, I'd love to see you in a Fika Herbal Goods store soon and come and see us at DD, Michael, any time, love to join you.
Michael LeBlanc 27:14
Thanks for tuning in to today's episode of The Voice of Retail. Be sure to follow the podcast on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you enjoy podcasts so you don't miss out on the latest episodes, industry news, and insights. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving a rating and review as it really helps us grow so that we continue to get amazing guests onto the show.
Michael LeBlanc 27:33
I'm your host Michael LeBlanc, President of M.E. LeBlanc & Company Inc. and if you're looking for more content or want to chat, follow me on LinkedIn or visit my website at meleblanc.co
Michael LeBlanc 27:42
Until next time, stay safe and have a great week!
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