How a group of laid off cannabis employees started a company to support micro growers.

An Interview with Ontario Micro Growers

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Ontario Micro Growers (OMG) works exclusively with micro growers from Ontario who produce premium small batch flower. We support local and partner only with the best growers who offer high-quality and unique strains by bringing their flower into the legal cannabis market. We are a small four-person company.  We started off as colleagues, then became friends, and now business partners.  We are also all family men with young children at home.

After being impacted by the mass layoffs in the cannabis industry, we decided to align our attention and combine our experiences to create OMG. So far, we have successfully launched two new micros and their strains in Ontario.  Slap N Tickle by Frost Cannabis (Burlington, ON) and Desi by Fiver Rivers Cannabis (Brockville, ON).  We are also launching a third strain; Devil Driver by F1NE Cannabis (St. Catharines, ON).  All of which have received amazing feedback and support from consumers.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

All of us joined the cannabis industry before recreational legalization.  We are all passionate about the plant and all had great experiences from the medical side of cannabis. We worked in consumer-packaged goods launching products for a large Canadian retail chain before shifting our expertise into the cannabis space.  Because we started pre-legalization, we saw the industry change and evolve over time.  The flower quality had started to slide as larger LPs focused more on producing high yields and lowering costs. We saw the smaller micro growers increase in numbers across Canada but were struggling to compete and navigate the commercialization process.

Micro growers are usually a 2-person, family-run operation with specific expertise in growing cannabis, but not necessarily on the marketing and commercialization side of the business. At the time of our inception, we noticed micro growers needed help to compete in the market, and our expertise just so happened to be in the curating, commercialization, and marketing side, so it was a perfect match.  We are a small, self-funded business, just like the growers, so there was a lot of trust right from the beginning.  This was the start of Ontario Micro Growers.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Launching the business started by meeting with multiple micro growers to see what they were currently doing, and gauging their interest in our service and the partnership we could offer.  We spent the first few months refining our business model and how our business would bring value to the growers and consumers.  Afterward, we met a handful of growers who all had positive feedback and wanted to work with us right away, which validated our value proposition and business model.  That’s when we knew we were on to something.

To align with the premium flower, our brand had to ensure every other part of the customer experience matched that premium quality.  We chose to nitrogen flush our pouches to remove all the oxygen to maintain its freshness, included a moisture pack, and put as much information as possible on the packaging.  We believe in transparency, so calling out who the grower is and what method they used was important to our brand. We even went a step further by individually numbering each pouch, as well as indicating how many pouches in total were packed out from that batch.

Once we narrowed down and partnered with the right growers, it was time to start our part - which was the commercialization process.  First, we spent time analyzing the cannabis market by reviewing the sales and competitive landscape and identifying gaps in the market.  We knew we wanted to focus on our home province of Ontario, as supporting locals is important to us. Ontario was also the biggest provincial market in Canada, as well as home to many micro growers.

We presented our brand and product offerings to the OCS in January 2022. Because of the longer listing process in Ontario, our first product hit the market in July 2022.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Consistency is key, both from an in-stock position and quality of the flower.  All four of our founders visit stores personally and tell them about our brand story, our growers, and their strains.  Most don’t understand the difference between the different grower classifications:

  • Standard growers have no restrictions.  They can grow in as big of a space as they want and normally use machines for post-processing.
  • Craft growers have no restrictions in space but can only produce a max of 10,000 kg a year and must be hung dried and hand trimmed.
  • Micro-Craft is usually a 2-person operation growing from a maximum canopy space of 10m x 20m.  They produce around 300 kg a year.  OMG’s criteria specifies: it must be hung dried, hand trimmed, and never irradiated.

Our consumers and customers are always number one.  We always listen and treat everyone as the most important person to our brand, because they are.  In our case, we have 3 different types:

  1. The consumer who smokes our flower
  2. The retailer/budtender who buys and sells our flower
  3. The provincial boards who buy and re-distributes our flower.

Each segment has their own unique requirements.  We make it a point to deeply understand each of these groups and make it very clear on how we are adding value to them.

We partnered with Grassroots Marketing to develop and lead strategic marketing initiatives.  Nima and his team have acted as an extension of our team in the launch of our new brand. We worked with Grassroots Marketing to push brand awareness and industry exposure.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Our first two launches were of limited supply, for a limited amount of time, in order to test the market.  Slap N Tickle has had great success.  Currently, it has only 1 last harvest left before we replace it with a new strain.  Desi was a very limited run of 1 harvest and has already sold out at wholesale, with only a few remaining in stores.  We are preparing for our next strain drop in January 2023 called Devil Driver by F1NE Cannabis, which is grown out of St. Catharines by power couple Josh and Eleanor.  It has an amazing candied/fruity terpene profile and tested just over 30% THC on the last harvest. Other formats like pre-rolls and infused pre-rolls are also on the horizon.

In addition, we have received a lot of interest from other micros in other provinces, so we are in the process of expanding our reach across Canada.

OMG is also in the medical channel under the Entourage Health Corp platform. We will continue to supply our different strains there, as well as other medical platforms.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Take the time to deeply understand your consumer and customers; what makes them tick, and what problem you are solving for them.  Layer that with market data to foresee and project what your business can do, and the resources that are required to execute properly.  Be strategic, focused, and patient.  Start small to prove out your business model and market.  If you are successful, expand from there.  Don’t take on more than you can handle as your execution performance might suffer.

Be nimble and reassess your strategy/tactics often, especially in the cannabis space.  If done properly, your strategy shouldn’t change much, but your tactics on how you achieve it can change often.  The cannabis industry is still young and dynamic - both from a consumer perspective, but also from a regulatory perspective.

Surround yourself with smart people and advisors.  Don’t be afraid to bounce ideas off of the people you trust, which is especially important from the 3 consumer segments mentioned earlier.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We’ve been keeping it pretty simple.  We use Google Drive to manage our documents, calendar, maps, as well as to conduct online meetings.

Ownr.co is a fantastic platform to create your business entity and incorporate it.  We also use Waveapps to manage our accounting expenses and finance tracking.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Alex Hormozi has a great podcast channel for overall business strategy and concepts.  We follow him on different platforms and get small valuable clips every day for lessons and inspiration.  He also has a book called $100M Offers, which captures a lot of his business/marketing concepts.

Headset.io and BDSA.com are great places to analyze macro and micro trends in cannabis, both from the US and Canada.  This is always a great start to understanding the cannabis landscape and more quantitative data points to help support your business strategy.

Store visits are probably one of the most overlooked resources that’s free and easily accessible.  Get out there and start talking to different stores and budtenders.  They have a wealth of information and love to share their experience and suggestions.  Ensure you get insights from different types of stores and regions as it varies significantly.  It’s a good source of qualitative data to then be verified by quantitative data.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Start something that makes you happy, that you are passionate about and you enjoy doing. Ensure your business is creating or adding value to your partners and consumers for the long term.  Your business plan should be anchored on real, long-term opportunities, and not just superficial trends.  Being first to market, or the lowest price is not a sustainable strategy.  Build consumer and brand loyalty by executing consistently at the quality level your brand represents.  Don’t only chase the money or get distracted from your core business strategy.  Keep it as simple as possible, and once you’ve achieved success at a small scale, then scale up.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for new micro growers to partner up with.  If there are any micros across Canada that need help in getting their flower and brand to market, please reach out, and let’s chat.  We’re always happy to network with others from the industry.

Where can we go to learn more?

Instagram: @ontariomicrogrowers

Website: www.ontariomicrogrowers.ca

Twitter: @ontariomicrogro

Email: info@ontariomicrogrowers.ca

Marketing: www.grassrootsmarketing.ca

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