Our member interview series highlights the stories of proudly independent retailers who are dedicated to a thriving grassroots cannabis industry. Together, these community-minded innovators have pooled their resources to negotiate a fair price and equal opportunity in the marketplace.
Cierra Sieben-Chuback is the owner of Living Skies Cannabis and Dallas Pocha is the Vice President.
Where is your store located?
CSC: We have four locations in Saskatoon, SK.
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
CSC: I got involved in the cannabis industry at the start of legalization. When I was 21, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. This led me to use cannabis medically. At the same time, I was at university studying business, and I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur. So, I went through the lottery application process with the provincial government and ended up winning a licence to open a dispensary. It was crazy because I had just finished writing the final exams for my degree and here I was about to open my own business (one of the original 51 retailers than won the lottery).
How has your relationship with cannabis and the industry changed since opening your store?
DP: I am still very passionate about the plant and what’s going on in the industry, but my relationship has evolved along with the industry. Cierra and I were both in our early 20s when Living Skies was starting up, which only deepened my passion for cannabis. I do think the lust of the industry has died down a little, and a lot of people who wanted to work in cannabis retail have realized there’s procedures and processes to be followed just like any other retail gig. I still enjoy cannabis very much, but we have to focus on building solid teams and giving customers the best service possible. We want to help grow the industry in a direction that favours mom-and-pop shops.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced when working with cannabis companies?
CSC: In the early days of the store, we used to purchase a lot of products from large producers as there wasn’t much variety available to us, especially in Saskatchewan. Communication was a major challenge for these companies. We would be given different contacts – one contact for POs, one contact for accounts payable, one contact for shipping, and many others in between. Then you add in issues with products that arrive and complicated return processes; it just gets tricky to navigate.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing the cannabis industry right now?
CSC: The biggest challenge for the industry is competition and a saturated market, especially in Saskatchewan. As soon as the market opened up, it was flooded with stores. Every national chain was opening a store here. This was extremely difficult for locally-owned shops like Living Skies.
Now, we see over-production of cannabis which makes it hard for us to make purchasing decisions. When we sit down to make purchase orders, it becomes a puzzle given so many producers and wholesalers and each one has different order forms and processes.
DP: Marketing our business is also a challenge. It can be difficult to get our message across without having social media posts removed or our accounts shut down. We once had our Facebook page taken down for highlighting celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day with a post featuring Indigenous cannabis brands we carry. It hurt, especially for me as an Indigenous person.
What is the greatest piece of advice you have been given? In general, or in the cannabis industry specifically.
DP: The greatest piece of advice I have been given in this industry is to move fast. You know, make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward. It’s a very fast-paced industry, and you have to be adaptable to the changes as they come to you. This helps us stay competitive.
CSC: I get a lot of advice from my dad, whether I asked for it or not [laughs]. He’s a successful entrepreneur so I listen to him. Probably the best piece of advice he’s given me is to not get complacent, and never feel comfortable.
Why did you first join Weed Pool and what has kept you involved?
CSC: I got involved with the Weed Pool at the very beginning. Jim Southam of Prairie Cannabis had approached me wanting to meet at Robin’s Donuts. I thought it was a bit weird at the time because I was meeting this random dude [laughs], but I went anyway. Jim spoke about wanting to start a cannabis cooperative, and I was in right away because I felt like I wasn’t doing anything else other than just surviving. Jim had this great idea of joining together with other independents to act like we were a bigger corporation and get products for better prices. That’s why I first joined the Weed Pool, but both the selection of products and the community have kept me involved.
It’s really encouraging to have a network of like-minded people. If I didn’t know them, I think I would feel isolated and alone in this industry. It’s nice to be able to connect with other retailers who are going through similar challenges and where we can talk about and resolve them together.
How has the Weed Pool helped your business succeed?
CSC: Access to a large selection of products at fair prices in one place is key. If we were to go and purchase the selection of products we have in-store today directly from all these LPs, we wouldn’t have time for anything else. It’s a one-stop-shop and the selection is more than enough.
DP: It’s cool to see Weed Pool supporting the smaller LPs, too. Not only are we able to purchase lesser-known often high-quality products, but Weed Pool’s new InMarket brand activation program allows these smaller brands to have pop-ups in our stores. Our customers love it.
Another plus is the lead time. The Weed Pool is great for making sure we have a steady flow of products in our stores. Being in Saskatoon, if we order before noon, we’re likely to get the product the next day. With some LPs, the lead time is weeks before you receive your product, which is difficult if we sell out of something and need it fast.
What do you believe is your biggest competitive advantage as an independently-owned business?
CSC: I think our biggest competitive advantage is living, working, and contributing to the community our business is in. All of our upper-level management are in all of the stores every week, which allows us to oversee things closely and fine-tune the store quickly. We were both born and raised here, too, which means we have a lot of support from the community.
DP: I would add that, in addition to being “true locals,” being young in this industry has helped us. We’re putting our blood, sweat, and tears into this, and the community sees that.
CSC: Agreed. I also got a lot of media attention when I first opened Living Skies because we were one of the first stores in Saskatchewan, and it was owned by this young university girl. This definitely helped promote the business.
What’s your favourite product right now?
CSC: Pocket Fives 1:1 edibles. I’ve really been liking edibles lately.
DP: Western Cannabis Orange Slushee 510 vape cartridge. Hell yeah, they’ve been pumping out some great cartridges!