When Canada legalized cannabis in 2018, it created a unique retail opportunity in more ways than might be obvious. For one thing, the entire (legal) recreational cannabis industry was born on the same day.
For another, each retailer (depending on their location) had access to one distributor: the provincial government.
That meant the question of how to succeed in the market was not one of buy-for-less, sell-for-less, but of differentiation. With its network of thoughtfully located and designed retail locations that boast client-focused products and teams of educators, Choom has set itself apart.
“Very few organizations have a silver bullet; that is the one thing so much better than everyone else’s that nobody can compete with it. Because of how the recreational cannabis industry is structured here, a silver bullet isn’t even possible,” says Corey Gillon, Choom’s CEO. “The differentiation strategy I have employed is one of being 10% better than the competition, across all areas of retail, including our client experience, our people, product mix, operations, and store locations.”
Choom’s strategy has paved a way for new kinds of consumers to experience recreational cannabis. While many customers are cannabis connoisseurs (or OGs, as they’re known at Choom) who waved the flag for legalization, Choom also caters to experience seekers who want to try something new, medical-cannabis users who can now bypass the bureaucracy of the medical system, and—surprisingly, or not—parents.
“We have a proprietary focus in terms of how we service and sell to the customer,” Corey explains. “So when you come into a Choom location, I’d know your name, I’d know a bit about you, a bit of history about your preferred products, and I’m going to actually recommend some things to you as a result.”
In this way, Choom has created an alternative to mandala-laden bong shops and austere dispensaries, which many of its clients find intimidating. Instead, Choom’s welcoming atmosphere provides an ‘attainable luxury’ experience best described as chill.
It’s an ethos inspired by the Choom Gang, a group of friends in Hawaii in 1979, which famously included Barack Obama. For the gang, cannabis was about having a good time with good friends, about fun and relaxation, and it’s for these concepts that Choom is named.
The larger effect of Choom putting its consumers at ease with recreational cannabis use is that Choom is destigmatizing cannabis, one personalized recommendation at a time.
“From our perspective, there’s been a collective goal to take a sector that was legal/illegal/illicit, and bring it into the white market,” Corey says. “Destigmatizing cannabis is enabled through strong education in-store.”
Choom’s internal structure enables that client education. Talented specialists in Choom’s support office free up Educators to focus solely on the in-store client experience. It’s a very different approach to that of a typical startup, where a small number of employees wear a large number of hats.
Choom’s retail experience is similarly flipped. Rather than begin with a decentralized as an online store and slowly work its way toward a physical retail model, Choom started off “very centralized and specialized,” Corey says. “Usually it takes a company a little longer to get there, but we began this way by hiring top tier retail talent to fill specialist roles, centrally, and leveraging them to create elevated experiences in-store.”
Hiring awesome talent from educators to executives has set Choom up for its current success, and it’s something Corey continues to look forward to. “Someone asked me recently, What gets you amped up? For me, it’s the ability to attract, retain, and ultimately reward talent. The growth of the business can only happen with the right talent being brought in.”
And Choom is indeed growing. 2021 will see the opening of its new Yaletown, Vancouver, location and one in Liberty Village, Toronto, as well. While delivery of cannabis isn’t yet legal for retailers, Choom is poised for the task, already offering click and collect services on a variety of product categories, from flowers to concentrates, topicals, and edibles. The company will continue to enhance its digital presence thanks to its recent acquisition of a proprietary digital platform.
“We’re setting ourselves up to have a really strong presence online, as we are now creating a digitally-led experience,” Corey says. “We’ve been an industry leader in brick and mortar, and now we’re bringing it together more seamlessly with our investment in digital.”
From its digital platform and in-store experience to its new product categories and its focus on client education, Choom enables recreational cannabis to be all it should be: chilled and stigma-free.
“What excites me at a macro level is the migration of the customer, the ability to serve that consumer, and have some fun with it at the end of the day,” Corey says. “We’ve begun to change the market landscape, ensuring our customer base has access to the legal cannabis they want that they can enjoy when they want. In other words, we’re cultivating good times.