This week’s Trailblazer is Jennawae McLean, Co-Founder, and CEO of Calyx + Trichomes, a provincially licensed cannabis store in Kingston, Ontario, and 2020 Canadian Cannabis Storefront Brand OTY finalist.
Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
Back in 2010 my partner and I were both fired from jobs in telecom and we wanted to keep the party going, so we opened a head shop, which evolved into the largest seed bank in Canadian history, 420 Kingston. Over the years we also had a vape lounge and a grow and nutrient wholesale company.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
A rose by any other name does NOT smell as sweet. My biggest gripe is when companies rename cannabis varieties. 9 times out of 10 we are friends with the breeders of the genetics they are using and renaming their work with no credit is like plagiarism.
“The market also agrees because strains with their original names tend to sell way better than pretentious “intents”.
Do you want a boutique vanity brand that resonates with only your board? Or do you want to sell weed? I’m here to sell as much weed as I can.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
One of the (many) restrictions I would change is the use of animals in branding. We have always had our great Danes as mascots, and we would have liked to continue. They were ultimately demoted to security detail.
One of the reasons LPs claim they rename cannabis is because they are worried the existing names are non-compliant. So far it doesn’t seem to be a Health Canada priority of enforcement, and if it isn’t being enforced what’s the point of the regulation? Just eliminate it! Give cannabis the same ability to market as alcohol.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
We are so limited in how we can effectively market ourselves and connect with customers, and effective marketing is really different from demographic to demographic.
Social media (especially Twitter) can be effective in gaining access to a select part of the market. Canna-twitter is a bit niche and Instagram can be almost too broad for us (as independent operators) because we get followers from all over the world. Our follow count is not indicative of who our actual customers are. Facebook is great for connecting with people who really care about you, and especially enjoy connecting with us authentically. That said, Facebook and Instagram both have challenges with deleting accounts and banning posts or locking accounts (as I type this I was actually put in Facebook jail for posting that we deliver, and earlier this week an Instagram account I run on behalf of another company was also deleted). It’s difficult to recommend investing too much energy into either of them if they ban posts or delete accounts.
In terms of traditional media, we have done a few rounds of TV commercials in the past, and radio ads. We’ve done radio, print, podcasts, and tv interviews. I also almost never turn down an interview. I turned down one once because it had to do with race and cannabis and I just felt my perspective didn’t deserve to be centered on that issue and another because it was related to an ongoing investigation. Otherwise, I always say yes. One of the best compliments I ever received was that I “add colour to the story”. I may have a face for radio but I have done a lot of local TV interviews, so people have gotten to know us and recognize me personally. That has been really effective for us. People genuinely care and are rooting for us.
On the day to day we have found the best way to market ourselves is to be our authentic stoner-selves (our personal values and brand values are one and the same), and providing disarmingly charming customer service whether in person or online. We try to make our website intuitive and easy to navigate and we text message as well.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
Across all mediums? Some if my faves are Kirk Tousaw, Mat Beren, Dana Larsen, John Fowler, Adam Greenblatt, Abi Roach, Katherine Perry, Trina Fraser, Jack Lloyd
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to people looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Read the law and don’t be a culture vulture. If you don’t use cannabis products you won’t be able to effectively sell them.
A big thank you to Jennawae for participating as this week’s Trailblazer! Stay tuned for another interview with a cannabis marketing Trailblazer next Thursday in the ADCANN blog.