Mimi Lam describes the Superette cannabis retail shop as “1950s diner meets convenience store,” where everyone from the canna-curious to daily recreational users can feel as comfortable shopping for pot as they are, say, grabbing a cup of coffee or picking up a dozen eggs.
That’s why Lam and fellow co-founder Drummond Munro named their store “Superette,” another name for a convenience store. It’s a place for customers to feel innately comfortable, casual and welcomed.
It’s a simple strategy which has rocketed this small startup to stardom. This past week when Lift & Co. Corp. (TSXV: LIFT)(OTCQB: LFCOF) released a sneak peak of the shortlisted nominees for the Canadian Cannabis Awards and Superette was named in five different categories—the most of any company.
The team is nominated for Startup of the Year; Top Retail Store for a Single Location; Entrepreneur of the Year (Munro, as co-founder and ‘chief vibe officer,’ or CVO); Womxn in Weeds—Trailblazer (Lam, as CEO and co-founder); and Top Bud Tender (Ellen McKay).
Winners of the CCAs in 32 judged and consumer choice categories will be announced at a black-tie gala on November 8 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
Canadian Cannabis Awards celebrate the spirit and ingenuity of of the country’s first year of legalization
“When you look at the CCAs it’s like the Oscars or the Emmys. To be able to participate and be nominated is such an incredible feeling—but we’re not building businesses to get recognition for it; we’re here because we’re passionate about it,” Lam told Mugglehead in a phone interview.
The team has had a whirlwind year. The concept was founded by Lam and Munro in September 2018 when the pair decided to strike out and start their own cannabis company.
They met when they started working at retail store Tokyo Smoke one week apart in 2017. Lam’s background was in investment banking and Munro’s was in retail buildout and they loved the brand new industry they found themselves in.
“The excitement with Tokyo Smoke was it was up against the world from the get go,” Munro told Mugglehead. “Not going against the man but being up against the odds and creating something really new and special and fun.”
But Tokyo Smoke was acquired by Canopy Growth (TSX:WEED)(NYSE:CGC) in the fall of 2018 which changed the company dynamic. All businesses want to be successful, and there’s no bigger checkpoint for having ‘made it’ than being bought by the largest cannabis company out there, said Munro.
With the acquisition the pair felt the entrepreneurial spirit they loved so much was fading, so they decided to turn down comfortable new positions at Canopy and pursue their own adventure.
Working in the brand new cannabis industry is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
“This is really an incredible industry,” said Lam. “It’s the only industry of this size and magnitude on a global scale that will be at this stage in our lifetime. It would be such a miss to not take the risk and to try something cool on our own.”
The pair had originally decided to build Superette as an online brand, but quickly found themselves opening an Ottawa retail location instead.
In the cannabis industry you’re forced to make business decisions on things that are not yet set in stone, while trying to be proactive and avoiding shooting yourself in the foot, laughed Munro—so you better be comfortable dealing with ambiguity.
The Ottawa store was built quickly to meet the team’s ambitious goal of having its doors open just seven weeks after signing the lease.
That meant firing on all cylinders to completely build out the store; finding, hiring and training the entire team; setting up their new point-of-sale system and organizing inventory; and buying and having $1 million worth of weed delivered, said Lam. Oh, and keeping up with the ever-changing rules and regulations in an industry that has never existed before.
“What we were able to accomplish was really because of the strength of our team,” emphasized Lam. “In a very short amount of time we were able to rally our troops. And when you have a great group of people who are passionate and working towards the same goal together magic happens.”
The store opened its doors April 1, 2019—when the Ontario government first permitted businesses to do so—and Superette has been a bustling business ever since. At first the team thought the rush of business was due to seasonal sales, but the sales didn’t ebb and flow and just continued to grow, said Lam.
After seven months of operations the single retail location has sold around $8 million worth of cannabis, she added.
A skilled budtender will connect you with more than just “the good stuff”
It’s been an incredible seven months and it’s only going to get better from here, Superette budtender Ellen McKay told Mugglehead.
She’s another member of the team shortlisted for a CCA in the “Top Bud Tender” category.
“It’s really crazy and a lot to wrap my head around,” said McKay. “Best in all of Canada? There has to be 500 other budtenders out there so it’s pretty amazing.”
Learning about cannabis is fascinating and ever-changing right now, said McKay. She’s watched customers evolve from just asking about THC potency to coming in wanting to know more about CBD.
Most customers come in and ask her “what’s the good stuff,” and it’s her job to help guide them to the perfect product—for them.
It’s not as simple as pointing them towards the “good stuff,” she said with a laugh. She needs to judge a customer’s THC potency preference, flesh out what terpene flavours they’d enjoy, delicately check how much they’re willing to spend (high quality cannabis is more expensive after all), and figure out what the customer wants to get up to after consuming cannabis. Different products will give you different outcomes, such as being social and energetic or curling up in bed and getting a great night’s sleep, she added.
“Whether it’s the first or 50th customer of the day I always try to consider how I would like to experience the store and bring that to the customer,” said McKay. “If they need it short and sweet that’s fine but I’m always ready to have super extensive chats with them too because this is what I’m passionate about.”
Part of Superette’s success was keeping it a private company
It’s been a difficult year for the industry and a lot of public companies—no matter how big—have felt the crunch.
“It’s a blessing to be a private company right now. The public markets have not been particularly friendly,” said Lam.
It is easy to look at the industry and instantly get a competitive mindset and to be jaded, she added. Too many companies with too little customers competing in too small a market.
But that’s thinking too small.
“I feel like this is our chance to all work together so that Canada can be on the map now and in the future for everything cannabis,” she said. “We are literally writing history and we can all do a better job working together.”
Superette will be offering second-wave cannabis products, such as edibles, extracts and topicals as soon as regulations allow them to be sold around mid-December, Munro said. The store, and it’s brand, will also be expanding across Canada and hopefully into California over the coming years too, he added.
A huge part of their success comes from sticking to their original vision, said Munro. “Especially in the cannabis industry, given all the regulations, it’s easy to make concessions to your business vision. But stay true to your vision because that’s what will produce the best work.”