RJ Fafard of The Pot Shack is Proudly Independent.

Our new member interview series highlights independent retailers who found themselves priced out of the marketplace by monolithic corporations. Determined not to give up, we’ve pooled our resources and gained the leverage needed to negotiate a fair price and equal opportunity to compete in the marketplace.

What is your store and where is your store located?

The Pot Shack. We have two stores in Saskatoon, one in Yorkton, and one in Esterhazy.

When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?

I first became involved in 2018. My friend, Geoff Conn, reached out to me when he won one of the 51 licences through Saskatchewan’s permit lottery system. He asked me to help him build and run the store – the rest is history.

How has your relationship with cannabis and the industry changed since opening your store?

My relationship with cannabis hasn’t changed too much, other than the fact that we’re much more knowledgeable about the products we’re selling. Since legalization, we’ve learned so much. Especially since 2.0. When 2.0 launched, we started to gain knowledge about even more. We’re learning about CBD, CBN, CBG, and CBC. These cannabinoids are exciting.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced when working with cannabis companies?

Probably the biggest challenge would be the consistency, or lack thereof, of suppliers’ product offerings. A lot of times, when a new product was offered, it was completely different from the previous week’s offerings. There were products that customers gravitated toward and loved, but we couldn’t get them in for long periods of time. Another challenge was product deliveries. Turnaround times were all over the map and I would rarely receive ETAs. It was difficult in those days to plan retail strategies when you were not sure when the product is going to arrive.

In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the cannabis industry right now?

Price compression. This has been going on for quite some time, and margins have shrunk to the point where a lot of stores are unsustainable. The worst part is, many LPs have aligned themselves exclusively with some of the discount model retailers who, make no bones about it, are knocking out the independent retailers. Some LPs reward these discount stores for their low prices by finding ways to subsidize them. The ‘playing field’ is not healthy right now; it’s not level as the value chains accept extremely low margins and force out other stores. They’re competing not only for low margins but for the industry as a whole. When LPs get into the mix with these discount model stores, it just makes matters even worse.

What is the greatest piece of advice you have been given? In general or in the cannabis industry specifically.

The greatest piece of advice I’ve been given is to focus on value for customers. This is about their benefits from shopping at our store. It’s about the quality of the product and the quality of service. It’s simple but it works.

Why did you first join Weed Pool and what has kept you involved?

The Pot Shack joined the Weed Pool to protect ourselves from the giants out there – the big, publicly-traded companies that we had no way to compete with. As a small, independent store, we have a limited amount of money that we can play with. Joining the Weed Pool gives us access to a shared pool of resources with like-minded retailers who also want protection.

In some cases, these large companies also control pricing. We felt there was a two-tiered pricing system which was troubling. Now, we have access to better pricing and better selection than we ever could have imagined.

How has the Weed Pool helped your business succeed?

Its product offerings have helped us succeed. We have access to lots of craft products from across Canada. We’re able to present our customers with high-quality cannabis at fair prices that will continue to be available. This has helped our business immensely because we’re offering different products than the chain stores and large LPs have.

What do you believe is your biggest competitive advantage as an independently-owned business?

It’s probably our ability to make our own decisions on what types of products we want to carry. This allows us to change and adapt quickly to an industry that moves extremely fast. What’s popular one day, might not be the next and vice-versa.

What’s your favourite product right now? Please tell me the brand and product name and why.

Any strain for Elevator is my favourite. These strains tend to be high-quality terpenes. Often, they’re 3.5% and above, and the potencies are always good. These products are a staple at our stores because our customers love them, too.

Shop it here at The Pot Shack.