From The Corner Office to the Sales Floor

John Fowler is one of the original cannabis CEOs and his brand, the Supreme Cannabis Company [7ACRES], quickly earned a reputation for making premium weed (and John also quickly earned a reputation as one of the few Canadian cannabis weed CEOs who actually consumed his own product). In a first, Fowler, who is now the principal of Blaise Ventures, a cannabis consulting firm, headed behind the counter at The Neighbourhood Joint, his local cannabis retailer, to better understand the consumer experience. Ben Kaplan spoke to Fowler before making his trip.
  • Ben Kaplan: It’s cool you’re doing this. It’s surprising more executives don’t.

    John Fowler: I’ve spent a couple of years selling into retail stores and spent time in stores as a customer but it is interesting to think that I’ve never actually spent time understanding how the retailers work.

  • BK: Where’d you get the idea?

    JF: Twitter.

  • BK: I love following you on Twitter. You’re … active.

    JF: It’s fun and a great way of hearing from the community and it was there that I heard from someone who actually worked with us at Supreme from Vancouver saying he wished more executives spent time in stores.

  • BK: It is true.

    JF: There’s a disconnect between brands and sales agents representing brands and it just feels like the value exchange wasn’t happening. I figured maybe I could help with the value exchange.

  • BK: I see you now all over Twitter talking about live Rosin. I know this is the big buzz among knowledgeable weed heads. Can you break down what it even is?

    JF: Rosin is a form of hash-making that uses mechanical separation, heat and pressure to separate the good part of the cannabis, the cannabinoids and terpenes, from the plant material. For “live” rosin, we start with plants that are frozen immediately upon harvesting, with no drying or curing process. The result is, to me, the most enjoyable cannabis consumption experience with full flavour and effects combined with greater convenience than smoking joints.

  • BK: What’s been your personal involvement?

    JF: I’ve been involved in concentrate “dabbing” since the earliest days in Canada with solid butane honey oil, known as “budder.” Back in 2008, I was one of the first Canadians to have glass art made specifically for dabbing. Over the last decade I’ve watched dabbing concentrates evolve in format and technique, but for me solvent concentrates stopped being pleasant around 2016. However, in 2017, a friend introduced me to a hashmaker named “Hasho,” who gave me my first dab of high quality live rosin, and the rest as they say is history. We formed a company this summer, partnered with our friends at Agripharm Corp., and in less than six months went from an idea to the second best selling holiday SKU in Ontario: BIG Critical Lemon Live Rosin Coins.

  • BK: And how can someone new, say, someone like me, get started? What do I need?

    JF: Rosin is not for newbies. We often tell people: if you need to ask, it's not for you. The best way to try concentrates is to find a friend that’s into it and has not only good concentrates, but also the gear, a specialized bong called a “rig” and a heating device, and try a small dab for the flavour. Like many cannabis products, start low and go slow is a great mantra.

  • BK: What’s another mantra?

    JF: To date, my partner Scott Walters is the only person I know who uttered the famous last words of “I smoke a lot of flower, give me a big one” and not only survived, but asked for a second one. That said, if you try it, be warned you may fall in love and it could change your lifelong relationship with our plant.

  • BK: Hilarious, thanks man. Let’s pivot back to the licensed dispensaries. How well do you know that world?

    JF: I get that the stores buy and sell cannabis, but I have no idea how they decide how they merchandise or decide which product to carry in their stores.

  • BK: Why does this matter?

    JF: I think the industry needs to better understand the customers, and also the sell-in and sell-through. But this isn’t me on behalf of a brand, this is me on my own.

  • BK: What are you currently up to?

    JF: At Blaise, we represent brands like Muskoka Grown and we also have our own rosin brand BIG, which stands for Blaise Independent Growers and is a platform to celebrate great cannabis produced by craft-minded cultivators, but this is just about me learning, not promoting anything.

  • BK: Why The Neighborhood Joint?

    JF: They have a cool store. It’s near my house. And I feel like I’m as excited to stock shelves as I am to talk with people coming in to buy cannabis.

  • BK: At kind, we really believe the budtenders are the soul of our business.

    JF: Oh yeah, I have a lot of love for people getting into the budtending scene. You have to go through the CanSell program, which I did, and really there’s so many products, flowers and concentrates and edibles, I mean, for me my rule is on day one just not to embarrass myself.

  • BK: There’s so much more now than just pre-rolls and weed.

    JF: There’s more than 100 different skews and I think brands aren’t making things particularly easy for the budtenders.

  • BK: What do you mean?

    JF: Well, we’ll see how The Neighbourhood Joint does it, but there’s just no way all of the staff could be experts on every skew. Employees would have to spend weeks to understand the data, and that’s not including sampling or purchasing for trial.

  • BK: What are you trying to learn?

    JF: I’m intrigued about ordering from the OCS. Store owners get an Excel spreadsheet with brand, price and THC range, and then have to make a critical decision: What to buy? I really want to see how this happens. How do they choose what they sell?

  • BK: What’s your connection to pot, anyways?

    JF: My name is John Fowler and I’ve been a pot dealer for the past 15 years.

  • BK: I love that.

    JF: I had a small period of time, through some bad life choices, where I decided to be a lawyer on Bay Street, but after that I spent five years building one of Canada’s top recreational brands and loved every second of it.

  • BK: And today?

    JF: I’m starting a new business and our focus has been providing excellent consumer value.

  • BK: What makes you good at your job?

    JF: I’m a cannabis consumer. I love the plant. And many of the products I’d been making, I wasn’t always excited to buy. So I’ve gone out today and worked with independent growers to make high-quality cannabis products at affordable prices.

  • BK: What do you want to see out of the legal system you helped build?

    JF: A lot of the cannabis products over the last few years had asterisks next to them. Like, “good, but expensive.” Or: “good, but a strain from ten years ago.” I want to put products on the market that are good and don’t have asterisks. Products that are just good—period.

  • BK: It’s always great talking to you, man. [John was in our roundtable in our 10.17 anniversary issue, and here’s that link. Best of luck to you and enjoy tending bud.

    JF: Thanks, man. And happy holidays. I look forward to smoking with you again soon.