Flint & Embers is relatively new to the Cannabis game, not that anyone in Canada is “old hat” at this point. They also stand out from the rest in a lot of ways, which is not an easy thing to do.
So, in a new and budding industry (pun very intended), how does one dispensary differentiate itself from the others? According to Flint & Embers’ Dawn Sinclair and Ryan Sanders, there is a litany of ways that they’ve gone about it.
The first notable difference is their collaborative approach to decision making within the business. The management team of F&E “genuinely try hard” to have everyone feel comfortable saying anything they’ve got on their mind according to Sinclair. “What’s different with us is that a part-time budtender that works nine hours a week has a say,” she says. “Our entire team makes decisions.”
Sanders adds that the staff are heavily involved in all these decisions “while being on the sales floor all day, too.”
This attitude goes beyond their words as well, with the whole management crew’s business cards carrying the words “Management Team” instead of the standard “General Manager” or “CEO” titles many others use to report their importance to the business. They really do make decisions as a group, and that’s not something many small businesses can tout.
They have a very small team, so they look at themselves as a tight-knit community. “We look out for each other professionally and personally, and even more personally, really,” lauds Sinclair. Especially now, during the pandemic, Sinclair recognizes that “mental health is critical,” and she feels that the community approach makes everyone feel involved and important.
While this decision-making process is their preferred method, they do seem aware that there are times it doesn’t necessarily pan out as they hope. “We’re humans so we make mistakes,” says Sanders, adding, “our motto is, ‘we’ll see what that looks like…’”
They seem cognizant they have some cons to go along with their pros, but they like how being small and including everyone allows them to gain an advantage in a lot of ways. “We can move very quickly when making decisions,” Sinclair points out. “Other companies have to take the time to run things up the chain.”
This team decision approach doesn’t seem to have any boundaries, either. Another unique aspect of the Flint & Embers mentality is their hiring process. Even then, when selecting potential new teammates, the entire group is involved.
Dawn Sinclair claims that “everyone working at the time takes part in the interview process.” She does acknowledge that it can be intimidating to applicants, but laughs that bit off.
Sinclair also mentioned, “we didn’t look at their experience as much as we looked at the skill they bring us.” This is another interesting departure from the norm, shirking the traditional ‘relevant experience’ strategy most businesses apply to their hiring procedures.
Sanders said they recently had three new staff members who are not just involved in the interviews but have already begun leading them. “It’s this weird ‘circle of life’ thing to watch happen. It’s not standard, by any means.”
Alluding to just how unorthodox these interviews can be, Sanders laughs, “One of the guys asks which Marvel superhero you’d be, whereas I just ask things like ‘do you know how to roll a joint?’”
As much about what makes them stand out is derived from their desire to avoid certain aspects of retail life. Things like ‘corporate culture,’ quantity over quality, and lack of passion are all on that list.
“No middle of the road shit,” Sanders declares when I ask about this. “I don’t want to sell you an eighth of mediocre weed for fifty bucks that is super harsh.” At this point, he went into a lot of industry-specific terms and calculations that honestly lost me a bit, but suffice it to say he is adamant that quality products are the only products he wants to be associated with.
“We spend a lot of time listening to the public, their feedback, keeping our ears to the ground and seeing what’s out there,” adds Sinclair. She did admit that sometimes they wait until it’s too late, also admitting, “it’s painful, but we learn.”
One thing that will jump out at the average consumer is their passion for the product. Every employee in the building has a love for what they’re selling. This passion hits you in the face the second you walk in the door. Other cannabis shops in town have very friendly, very knowledgable staff as well, but there’s just something different about the feeling I get walking into Flint & Embers. It’s hard to put into words without you experiencing it yourself.
As if all the above wasn’t enough to illustrate how F&E is setting itself apart, the biggest outward stance they took was when they initially emerged on social media and proudly announced that they were the first 100% indigenous-owned dispensary in the province of Manitoba. The Peguis First Nation is fully responsible for the brand. This was met online to raucous support.
While the support was vocal, there is a feeling that the announcement has hindered their growth. Sinclair concedes, “I think we have not grown as quickly as if we hadn’t announced it.”
The declaration was bold, and many would say necessary. The F&E staff prefer to think of this manoeuvre as a way to bridge the community and bring people closer. Ryan Sanders ponders, “There are all these ideas about unity, how do we bring people together, and with a cannabis brand, of all things?”
Not to go too deep down the politics and racism rabbit-hole, but it does deserve to be discussed to a degree that Sinclair and the rest of her Band realize there are still many out there, even in 2020, that don’t see all people as equals. “It hurts me to say this,” Sinclair begins, “but Winnipeg does struggle with racism, and there are people out there that don’t want to support us.”
The team accepts that this is still the right way to move forward. “Business for us is balance. It’s not just about the money,” clarifies Sinclair.
There are other cannabis companies in town that are partially indigenous-owned, but that aspect isn’t discussed in conjunction with their brands. “We took a riskier approach,” asserts Sinclair. “If you look at our challenges — we have a young team that doesn’t have a lot of experience — but we have a lot more challenges in front of us because of who we are.”
Here’s hoping those bridges can be built and, over time, the city as a whole can be more of the ‘we are all one’ mindset. Until then, F&E will continue to navigate the uncertainty of a new industry during the uneasy time of a global pandemic, all while maintaining their identity as a small, passionate retailer of some very relaxing products.
Sanders says, “It’s easy when you’re passionate, but hard when you’re the smallest in size. Lots of sharks out there trying to eat the small fish.”
Sinclair, on the other hand, has nothing but positive feelings for the future, stating, “In my mind, everything in our path is meant to be there.”
For Black Friday, F&E will be holding a “budtender discount sale” which essentially works out to be employee pricing, and they wish to be clear that those deals will extend to their online store as well. Head over and shop at flintandembersdsp.com to see the full extent of their Black Friday offerings.