I remember growing up in a small town in Ontario and visiting my local convenience store daily, where the shopkeeper knew us all by name. We'd go in, buy candy and sit outside for hours laughing and playing in front of the store. That's the beauty of small towns, it's easy to build community and belonging. This is exactly what Bob & Marie have built with Bob's Bud Emporium in St. Thomas, a store authentically built for the community and done with passion and love for the tradition of cannabis.
All great projects start with a unique insight, passion for the customer, hard work and love. Bob & Marie have these qualities in abundance and have built a special cannabis community hub as the first official cannabis retail store to open in St. Thomas, Ontario Canada.
One thing I can say is I don’t do anything halfway. Common sense goes a long way in making decisions before jumping into anything in life. The same is said for deciding to open our store.
Another quality I remember while growing up in a small town was how hard everyone worked and how much passion people put into their careers and families. These qualities still hold true, and if small businesses are the growth engine of our economy, Bob & Marie are on the front lines leading the way, one customer at a time.
We recently interviewed Marie and asked her a few questions about opening the first cannabis dispensary in St. Thomas with her husband Bob, and what makes Bob's Bud so special and unique. Spoiler alert, it's Bob & Marie and their trusted friend/manager, Chuck who can be found most days behind the counter helping customers. Their passion for cannabis, resilience, determination, respect for cannabis tradition and responsible approach to cannabis retail make Bob's Bud a must-visit for anyone in southern Ontario.
What is your background, and how did you come into the cannabis industry?
My career paths have been twofold. Initially starting as a hairdresser and then moving on into the legal office environment for 30 years. Never being opposed to cannabis, I have seen firsthand how it can enhance the lives of those you consume, legal or not.
What motivated you to start your current business?
My husband, Bob, has been a consumer for many years. When I first learned that cannabis would be an open market, I said we should do it, you are not getting any younger and won't be able to continue hard labour forever, so our journey began.
Describe a previous failure that was instrumental in developing you as a person, business owner, and entrepreneur?
While I would not actually describe it as a failure, I am a high school dropout. Now I say not a failure as the direction I have taken since then has made me the determined and strong person I am today. I was a young mother having two kids by the time I was 21. I returned to school twice before the time I was 27. After that, much of my career was spent within the legal environment, most of which was the defence side of criminal law and then in labour and employment.
What have you and your company done to develop your culture?
Well, first off, the culture has always been there. Cannabis is not something that is new, so we are essentially just carrying on the tradition only now it is legal and more widely accepted.
For us, we do not judge. Even with legalization, there is still a stigma attached for some due to their positions in life. For others, it would be a relief that they don't have to hide anymore or fear the law.
Additionally, we try to educate as best we can under the constraints we operate. While there is still work to be done to educate and support the consumer, it will take time. We must remember for years, society judged cannabis as an evil plant when alcohol and tobacco were just a way of life.
What social values do you support, and how do you actively instill them at work?
Good question. One of the things people don't realise is that it is easy to build up a tolerance to THC. Sometimes, you just have to say, "maybe you need to cut back or use lower THC products for a while."
We all remember the old saying, weed is the gateway drug. Yet, it is the legal stream of the industry that has made the amount of THC percentage the main objective for every product that comes to market.
I mean, did you go to your street dealer and ask what the THC percentage was before you bought it? No, you took what you got, and all was good!
We would like to see more focus being put on what terpenes bring to the experience.
Every day, we use products for taste and smell, be it spices or essential oils. Terpenes contained in the cannabis plant are no different and account for a good percentage of the entourage effect and experience for the end-user.
Why do you think your employees like working at Bob's Bud?
We like to keep it casual and lighthearted where everyone feels welcome and relaxed. I can't tell you how many times we have had people come in and say they would like to work at Bob's Bud!
How do you engage with your customers?
Whether you are a new or legacy consumer, everyone gets treated the same. We have our store set up with the products categorized in displays, with all the information listed about the product together with the "out the door price." People like the fact that they can come in, see what is available, know their budget and pick a product.
What effective sales, marketing, and social media strategies have you used to attract customers, develop your brand, and increase customer loyalty?
Initially, we were ready for December 17, 2018, when the open market was to commence. At the 11th hour, the government changed its course of action and instituted the "lottery system." St. Thomas did not have the populous required to even enter the lottery, so we were shut out. We modified our business plan to that of an accessory store, and Bob spent the next year or more talking to people in the neighbourhood, building our brand and what we were about and what we were trying to do. When the actual market opened, we were ready, and we became St. Thomas's first cannabis store opening in May 2020.
We are not on social media and would rather engage with our customers firsthand. You won't find anyone pushing a tablet in your face when you walk into our store. Customers can also go to our online menu to see what we have and place an order if they so choose.
How do you differentiate your product and services compared to your competitors?
Well, given that all cannabis products are ordered from the same wholesaler (OCS), it is hard to differentiate from one store to the next. Right now, the difference comes from what inventory each store chooses to stock. We don't stock everything available so as not to have any ageing products sit there for months on end. Today's consumers are very knowledgeable and particularly aware of the cycle of products that have been offered since legalization.
Also, know the demographics of your area. Make sure you have products in the price range for all. Not everyone has the budget to pay $40+ for 1/8 of an ounce.
We also have customers coming in and requesting certain strains or products, and we make every effort to bring those products in. However, many of the supply chain issues are with availability. Essentially, there are not enough of the popular products to go around, so stores will lose out.
We routinely are told that our customer service is by far better than most of our competitors.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the cannabis industry?
At present, I would say, think twice, make sure you have a passion for the industry and want to see it move forward. Too often those that have gotten in the game are the ones that have been against cannabis for a very long time.
How can customers, potential employees and fans engage with your brand?
What can I say, Bob is a real person and not just a name picked out of the blue! Come on in, say hi and see what we are all about.