Creating Competitive Advantages

By: Bella Mitchell

Entering the cannabis scene as an independent retailer is certainly no simple feat; with the cost of rent skyrocketing across Canada and a difficult economic period following the pandemic, there is a lot to consider before jumping in headfirst.

A lot of the difficulties that smaller independents are facing, are not ones that larger retail franchises or chains need to consider simply because of the financial backing perspective. To help with that a lot of co-operative and similar businesses have popped up that bolster buying power for mom-and-pop shops.

Independent retailers benefit from being more agile and can separate themselves from the big-guys with exceptional customer service, loyalty programs, and product curation based on direct customer feedback. They can also develop strong connections with licenced producers and suppliers.

The Price-Matching Battle

The biggest piece of the puzzle is how to compete on pricing, without having economies of scale. There are a few options that independent retailers can benefit from, which cost little to nothing to participate in, and some even include rebates! Leveraging group buying is not a new concept; farmers and communities have found the benefits of cooperatives and community support for centuries, so it’s only natural that these business models extend into cannabis. As retail competition grows and changes, group buying has become even more important.

Weedpool Co-operative (
Like all cooperatives, Weedpool started from humble beginnings, with the mission to help support independent retailers and give them a leg up on the large chains and franchises. Formed initially for Saskatchewan retailers, Weedpool has expanded its bulk-buying power into British Columbia and Manitoba. It also offers support in areas such as marketing, networking, and gaining access to exclusive products. This cooperative, with its name inspired by Wheat Pool, has grown exponentially and is now supporting many retailers. Membership is free and Weedpool is also hosting conferences and networking events.

Independent Retail Cannabis Collective (
The IRCC leverages group buying opportunities for retailers across Canada and offers more in terms of revenue support opportunities. IRCC works alongside vendors with sales licenses, that are offering rebates and/or discounts on products and passes these savings along to retailers. IRCC shares an information sheet with its members that highlights which vendors are offering fixed or variable discounts for the retailers to benefit from. Retailers can choose as many products as they want, or none. At the end of the month, stores send their consolidated receipts to the IRCC, which takes a small fee and sends the rest of the rebate directly to the retailer’s bank account.

Christina Michael, Marketing, Engagement & Culture, IRCC says, “We are launching our Member Benefits & Savings program February 2023, and our Member Area will also host additional opportunities to experience the IRCC Advantage.”

The Member Benefits Program offers group insurance, health benefits, POS support, webinars and other education opportunities, sampling, and more. IRCC is also developing an in-house Learning Management System to further support product education and growth in the industry.

Senses Cannabis Group (
Senses Cannabis offers a free membership leveraging high-volume discounts with their group purchasing program. Member get exclusive pricing with leading cannabis retail vendors including store insurance, group employee health and dental benefits, payment processing, POS systems, digital signage, security, and more.

Develop Strong LP Connections

This may be a more difficult one to tackle, as a lot of focus from licensed producers is pulled towards the big guys. However, if you reach out directly to the brands you sell via Instagram, LinkedIn, or even their website, you may find that their internal marketing teams are more than happy to support you and provide sales tools, merchandising support, and education to help you sell their brands. A great way to connect with LPs is at networking events like Lift, KIND, House of Flowers, etc. A lot of brands find it difficult to reach independents as well, and that’s why the cooperatives are a great avenue to take, not just for pricing, but networking and connection.

Curation is Key

A lot of the big companies serve the mass consumers’ pallet. However, as an independent you have an opportunity to learn from your customers, take their feedback into consideration, and purchase products that meet their needs. Examine the demographics and buying habits of your geographic region and curate your selection accordingly. Especially in major cities, a unique selection is critical so you can stand out as the go-to edibles and drink store, or the best store for topicals. While these are smaller categories than dried flower consumers, finding a competitive edge in your offerings can really help build your brand.

Last, But NEVER Least

Customer service is always something that smaller businesses have been able to bank on in a way that large corporations cannot. You can maintain and set the standard for how you work and treat your customers. Maybe there is an opportunity to hire a full-time delivery person or set delivery hours for a part-time hire. Either way it becomes something your customers can rely on. This concept extends further to education, consistency of product options, quality, etc.

Offering loyalty benefits is another way to stand out from the crowd. By leveraging daily consumer feedback (get curious, ask questions!), you can build a loyalty program that really speaks to and supports your regular customers, and appeals to new ones.

Becoming a retailer in the cannabis landscape is ripe with opportunity. It’s even more fruitful when you can leverage and meet the right people, vendors, and collectives to learn from and grow with.