mīhī is joining cannabis retailers across Canada with an intense focus on the customer experience, de-stigmatizing cannabis use and making it part of the everyday. By creating a sensory encounter and positive retail experience, mīhī is all about the consumer journey and how cannabis fits into that consumer’s life, addressing needs and discovering what really works for the individual. Cannabis Canada Buzz Founder, Linda Thompson sat down with Senior Vice President Guest Experience, Steffen Schenk for an in-depth conversation on all things mīhī and the future of the cannabis experience.
Linda: We are here with Steffen Schenk to talk about mihi. Am I saying that correct? Is it pronounced MEHEE or MYHEE?
Steffen: It is definitely MEHEE, and it’s a Latin word and it means ‘for me’. For us, the way we design our stores and the way we think about our guest experience, it’s all about personalization and customization for our guests. We felt like “for me” or MEHEE is a very fitting name for our retail stores and experience.
L: Have you visited many retail stores in Ontario?
S: Yes, our team has been to all of the Ontario stores. Personally, I’ve been to the bigger retailers, as well as a several stores out in BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. I think the one thing that is nice about not being the first mover, is that it actually gives you the opportunity to go out and learn from the people that are already out in the market.
L: Is there a shop that you’ve visited that is a favorite for you?
S: I like what High Tide is doing and it’s a different approach to retailing compared to mīhī, but what I really appreciate about their strategy is the way they go to market. They are laser focused on their segment, they’ve got a vast assortment of accessories, and obviously they have a long history and experience within the accessories business. They are true to themselves. They are not trying to be anything else, which means a somewhat transactional retailer that relies heavily on their product and accessory assortment to sell. Ultimately for successful execution you must be focused; you can’t be all things to all people.
L: Absolutely. How is mīhī different?
S: By virtue, many of the retailers we are seeing are very transactional. You may have some staff on the floor to help guests find the right products, but ultimately, you end up at a counter to purchase your product.
For mihi, we focus on removing barriers in the shopping experience and this can mean a variety of things. It means that we offer a needs-based store environment, because people don’t want to buy a product or a strain, want to feel a certain way. We went out of our way to make it very simple for guests to find what is right for them. For example, whether you are looking for something that energizes, or something that has a little bit more Zen, we have organized our environment to help guests find those products easily.
Another big differentiator for us is community. Everybody is talking about community, but we took that a step further by being an accelerator for the local artisans within the community that we operate in. We have partnered with artisans to create exclusive and custom products for mīhī. In return we bring them into our store environment and help them tell their stories. There are great artists in every community but some of them just don’t have the springboard or brand awareness to be known beyond their town.
Then we are focused on education and training. We designed a proprietary training program for our store guides. We call our staff and store employees ‘guides’ because they are guiding the guest to a solution that works for them. We heavily focus our education on soft skills; how do you have a meaningful conversation, what questions to ask and how, what does the customer’s body language tell me about the way they are feeling. Ultimately we want to be able to help them versus going straight to product specs. For example, if somebody walks into our store and asks for 3.5 grams of Purple Kush, our goal is understanding why they are after those 3.5 grams of Purple Kush and providing solutions.
L: How are you navigating the discussion at the store with the regulations that exist? What requirements are there for the ‘guide’ in terms of the proprietary education that you build out for your team as a way around some of those regulations?
S: It’s a huge challenge and our training deals in depth with that, because for us it’s less about getting around the regulations and more about how can we still have a meaningful conversation with the guest. We can’t prescribe or guarantee outcomes, but we can recommend.
L: What about the Burlington store? Are you selling products or just accessories?
S: Last December we were ready to scale up in Ontario. I think we all know what happened with the two lotteries, so unfortunately that didn’t quite work out the way we had hoped.
We realized early on that we need to build a concept store to perfect our operational model, to make sure that you really thought of all the different things that will ultimately make your store successful. It’s also important to get “off paper” because it’s easy to talk about the customer experience in a PowerPoint but the way you execute will ultimately set you apart. This store gives us the opportunity to optimize our planograms, and our graphics, as well as establish operational best practices. So, we built our Burlington store, we completed construction in early August and it’s been absolutely amazing. We decided not to open it up to the public since it’s solely an internal concept store and training point, but it really is great.
It’s nice to bring people out to the store from within the industry, or friends and family and get their feedback because after one year of developing the mihi story, the store and the customer experience, we are very close to the project, maybe a little too close. Getting other points of view on our guest experience approach helps us to be better every day and launch to the public in a meaningful and differentiated way.
L: When the lottery was changed, why not move to another province?
S: You know what? We ask ourselves that question every day. Ultimately it came down to the fact that we want to be a business that runs corporate stores. We believe that franchise environments make it very hard to create a consistent guest experience. It is also about focusing your efforts, making sure we perfect the model close to home prior to expanding into other regions. We believe that by focusing hyper localization versus trying to be national, you generate efficiencies that outweigh buying power. If you cluster your stores you will generate staffing marketing efficiencies as well as have a bigger platform to build a regionally relevant brand. You could argue that if you have 5 stores nationally, it’s almost impossible to build a brand because you’re not relevant in each individual region. Now mind you, when they announced the lottery we questioned those decisions, but I think ultimately we look at the lottery as a blip rather than something that will fundamentally change our business or the way we go to market.
L: We’re sorry to see that you didn’t win a spot in the last lottery. We are curious to know how many applications you actually submitted.
S: We followed the intent of the regulations and submitted one application per region. I believe that in the long run you want to be in good standing with the AGCO and the government to actually be able to build a long-term sustainable business.
L: How hopeful are you for the next approach to licensing?
S: If we look at lottery number two, at the media reaction and at some of the gaming that’s been going on with (you know 160 odd entries on a property, 600 entries linked to a single retail entity), then I truly believe that this is the last lottery that we’ve seen. I am very hopeful we go back to the old licensing approach, hopefully by early 2020.
The supply issue is the other piece, which was the main concern early on that lead us on the path of lotteries. We are now operating in a market that is oversupplied. Encouraged by the government agencies, LPs built out growing facilities but they now have no outlets to sell their product. Something that is obvious in the most recent quarterly results. It is imperative that we open up licensing and create additional customer touchpoints. This will lead to an increase in tax revenue, the creation of jobs, and ultimately the wider adoption of the legal market.
L: What’s your biggest win to date?
S: The biggest win to date is the Burlington store. Our team has worked tirelessly over one year to create the mihi concept, and nothing beats the moment when you walk into the store and you see it all come together, brought to life. There have been other memorable moments but ultimately, for me it’s the Burlington store. It’s always beautiful to see a vision come to life, and especially if it’s a vision you really believe will be differentiated in the marketplace.
Live Fully. Never Settle.
L: I wasn’t aware that the Burlington store is a training shop. Are you doing anything with the shop to monetize it in any way? For instance, are you hosting events or leasing it or offering training maybe to other retail businesses? Is there anything happening with the shop other than business?
S: This comes back to our commitment to community. We still hold on to 15 leases and early on we were brainstorming how we can turn them into something that provides real value. We’ve decided that we will make the space available for pop up experiences to likeminded charities and none-profits. For example, Queen radios funding has recently been cut and we are using one of our London locations for a fundraising event. It feels good to give back and It’s a lease we are paying either way, we may as well do something good with it.
L: Is it labelled as a mīhī shop or just an empty space that someone could use?
S: With the exception of our concept store, all our other locations are a white canvas. In Burlington we will soon start to host media events and workshops. With a focus on introducing our concept to our new retail neighbors and providing education to the general public.
L: We read online that the mihicannabis.ca team is filled with female entrepreneurs. How so, who and how is your team filled with female entrepreneurs.
S: This is something I’m really proud of. It’s a new industry and we believe there’s an opportunity to fill the roles with the right people. In fact, 70-75% of our staff is female. Beyond that, the majority of leadership roles are actually held by females.
Our Head of HR, Clare, helps us get the staffing and employee experience right. Our Head of Brand, Sharon, was our second hire and she is the voice of the brand. I don’t think anybody on this planet understands our consumers and our brand better than she does. Our Director of Education, Tabitha Fritz, has extensive experience with cannabis through a variety of her own ventures. She’s been the key driver of building our proprietary training program, making sure that we truly understand cannabis culture and the nuances of the plant.
L: Congratulations on that! As a woman, I love seeing companies supporting women in the industry. Final, fun question. Do you enjoy cannabis and if so what’s your favorite way to enjoy it?
S: That’s a great question! Yes I do enjoy and consume cannabis, but usually consume it with a specific purpose in mind. During busy times I have trouble sleeping and for the longest time I would take a sleeping pill to sleep. The issue with that; I would wake up the next morning at 6-7 am and could barely move because I was still tired.
I started using cannabis to relieve stress and help me fall asleep. I feel like it’s been doing wonders for me. Beyond that I use it socially from time to time, but I primarily I use it to relax on my own.
L: We are looking forward to the launch of a public retail space and look forward to coming to the mīhī grand opening.
For more information about mīhī and their approach, visit their site.
NB Edited version posted Dec 17th, 2019