Q&A with BC Cannabis Stores

Published on September 3, 2021 by David Wylie

BC Cannabis Stores' Kelowna manager Luke Worden, left, stands with Kevin Satterfield, the director of retail operations, cannabis operations, at the BC LDB. Photo: David Wylie/the oz.

During a one-on-one tour of the BC Cannabis Stores’ new Kelowna location, the oz. spoke to the BC Liquor Distribution Branch’s director of retail operations, cannabis operations, Kevin Satterfield.

He has decades of experience in retail, including with Best Buy and SportMart. He pivoted into cannabis about four years ago.

Here is our Q&A:

the oz. — What look are you going for?

Satterfield — Our underlying theme has been a West Coast casual kind of feeling—the colours we use, the textures we use all lend themselves to BC, but really to the West Coast at the same time. When you first walk in, your immediate impression is ‘not what  I expected from a cannabis store.’ It’s nice bright light colours; it allows you to be drawn into the store based on the cleanliness of the displays. We use the same fixtures in every single store, we just have to lay them out differently in order to make sure they fit.

the oz. — How did you find staffing?

Satterfield — We’re very fortunate that 75% of the staff here are all transfers from other stores—Kamloops, Oliver, Vernon, Cranbrook—all transferred to be full-time regulars in the store. It’s a beautiful place. The fact that we could get so many OGs to come to the store set us up for success. We’re all set, ready to go. Hiring auxiliaries was a little bit tougher. Getting part-time into the building was tough, with COVID and getting people who met the minimum qualifications was tough.

the oz. — What do you look for when it comes to products?

Satterfield — We have a great merchandising team that does the selection for us. They take a look at the top sellers that are going through the wholesale department and we are able to take those same items and bring them into these stores. Each one of our stores is classified a little different based on its size and projected sales. The assortment is catered to the market in order to make sure that we have the best selling items in the store and in stock. Convenience, discretion, availability, that’s what really selling it.

the oz. — How do you differentiate yourself from the private stores?

Satterfield — I’d probably say the breadth of stock that we carry is probably our biggest differentiator. We try to make sure that we have a good selection of all product lines. At the same time, we’re market priced—we’re either market leaders or market priced in order to be leaders in the different product categories. Our number 1 mandate is to remove the illicit market. So we want to make sure that we can supply to the community in order to make sure that we are meeting that mandate. That’s our number 1 goal.

the oz. — In the private stores, there’s a little bit of hostility toward BC Cannabis Stores because they view the BC Cannabis Store as competition to them. How do you smooth those relationships?

Satterfield — Again, we come back to our mandate, which is to remove the illicit market and we’re happy that private stores are also opening because that helps us with our mandate overall from a BC LDB perspective. We recognize that when we come into markets that the private stores may look at it as being competition, which we fully expect. But then it becomes very much a competition in a competitive market—not government versus private, it’s just another competitor. We go through exactly the same hoops that everyone else goes through: municipal approvals, provincial approvals, in order to open stores.

the oz. — It’s a rough sea to navigate…

Satterfield — Everybody anticipated it being a strong retail sector. I think it’s taking a while for it to find its supply chain, its pricing, its spot in the overall sector. Layer the COVID pandemic on top of that, and then later on a lack of tourism and forest fires, it’s been an interesting challenge for a lot of the sectors and I don’t think cannabis is any different from that challenge— and be able to say we’ve got the right product at the right price at the right location… where are the customers? Some of the customers dwindled away because people weren’t travelling. We’re positive the market is in a growth mode and we’ll see that continue as the market recovers.

the oz. — What was the challenge getting into to Kelowna?

Satterfield — I’ve been working on this store for over two years, and going through lease negotiations, going through getting it ready, going through design, getting the tenant improvements done. It’s been a long time coming. Our original plan to open was back in 2020 then COVID hit and slowed everything down. We have to keep moving it out until we were satisfied we had the right product, we had the right pictures, had the right location built the way that we wanted it to be built based on the evolution of our stores. The location is just perfect.

the oz. — What’s the status with the store in West Kelowna?

Satterfield — We put that on hold for right now. We’ll revisit it. I think this (Kelowna) store helps us connect the rest of the Okanagan—Now we’re Oliver, Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon. That connects the major markets within this area. I would say West Kelowna is on wait and see right now based on what’s happening with a number of other retailers there and how that bears out.

the oz. — Do you have plans for another store in Kelowna?

Satterfield — Not yet. I think the market’s reaching that point where we’ll see what happens in the market and see what happens in the overall store growth and how the store performs overall before making any decisions. We’ve got other markets we’re looking at closer to the Lower Mainland.