Among weed shops, Superette stands out.
The Canadian-born cannabis storefront feels as familiar and comforting to the consumer as a warm hug. That’s because it’s a dispensary dressed up like a bodega marketplace-meets-flower shop. Its meticulous design won Superette’s Summerhill location a 2020 Clio Award.
Cannabis sits in display cases that look like fridges, packed full of cut stem flowers, (fitting since the weed consumers smoke is the literal flower of the cannabis plant). Vintage cigarette machines have been repurposed as digital menus. The store even sells antiques alongside its eclectic collection of merchandise: Edie Parker, Broccoli Magazine and Pieceworks puzzle collab, Laundry Day and Gatorbeug bright fruit-shaped pipes, and even a burger grinder from Another Room. Superette is partnered with over 100 different companies across the world. Every item is purposefully priced as .99 or .59. Joint papers sit in candy jars. Banana pipes fill fruit baskets. The normalization is imminent.
“The Superette experience has evolved quite a bit since its inception, but the original idea was to use the ambiguous aesthetic and product offering of an actual Superette and then add physical design inspirations from familiar and nostalgic retail environments: Deli’s, bodegas, supermarkets, flower shops, and even subway newsstands,” says Superette co-founder and Chief Brand Officer Drummond Munro. “For us, it was about creating a space that was innately familiar, but fun and could allow us to evolve and adapt depending on the community or location of where we were opening.”
Superette identifies as a small start-up, with just 18 employees. For a humble little Canadian company, it has garnered international attention since its founding in 2018, predominantly due to its unique design. Superette’s three storefronts are as transporting as they are clean, bright, elegant, and ephemeral. The company has opened its third Ontario storefront this year, with plans for two more in Trinity-Bellwoods and Glebe.
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“We wanted to make the cannabis buying experience as enjoyable as consuming it,” says Munro. Each store’s design reflects a unique aspect of its location. In their newest storefront in Spadina, upstairs you will find a liquor store, while downstairs is the Superette cannabis store. “It’s a one-stop-shop,” says Munro. This is the first in the entire province to have cannabis and alcohol retail stores housed together.
The company adds its brand to familiar market props (not for sale, although many people do attempt to buy them): Superette-themed crosswords, scratch and wins, lighters, detergent, fake candy, Sunny D bottles. Green and red baskets signify to the customer how they want to shop, with a budtender’s help or on their own.
Another unique Superette feature are their Burger Phone and Pizza Phone. Like a stoned super hero, the phone lines lead directly to restaurants. Spadina’s leads to Big Trouble Pizza, a Bipoc-owned pizza place in their neighborhood serving a Toronto style pizza, which I am told is in between New York style and Chicago style. Ask for the Superette special. Summerhill has a Burger Phone that rings the Rosedale Diner, a local mom-and-pop shop in their neighborhood. All the small businesses Superette supports have cumulatively made $10,000 through customer orders. The company also has a partnership with the food banks in Toronto and Ottawa.
Superette’s new Spadina locale emanates a subway convenience store. Neon flowers, displaying the Superette logo, peek out onto the street. Tiling mimics the subway, with hand-painted signs by local artists. Seth Rogen’s House Plant brand is proudly displayed. Superette even prints out their menu, like a diner menu, as well as displaying it on a light-board. No attention to detail is spared.
The familiarity of the space works as a guide on how to interact with it, says Munro, who founded the store alongside CEO Mimi Lam. I spoke with Munro about Superette’s new locale in the heart of Toronto, the team that helped him ideate such a unique space, and what the cannabis industry may grow into next.
Tell me, have you been able to pivot during the lockdown? I know cannabis was given some new pathways like delivery, curbside availability in Canada for different periods of time. How have you been able to pivot the business when COVID happened?
Drummond Munro: I am super grateful that we have been able to operate despite the lockdown and the craziness that has been 2020 and this pandemic. I wouldn’t quite describe it as a full pivot, but it has brought to light a lot of interesting ideas about our retail experience and naturally has shifted a lot of our focus to our digital/social channels. The idea of translating our retail experience virtually or into delivery and Click & Collect has been really fun.
How do we emulate that same fun experience our customer gets in-store, through these channels? Experience around ecommerce, delivery. It’s all things we wouldn’t have been doing otherwise. We obviously can’t go fully analog, so how do we take a digital experience and add that nostalgic element?
I saw that you have a branded product offering, Jumping Jack. Tell me, why do Superette branded items, and do you have other branded product offerings/collaborations consumers can look forward to?
I mean, why not? I’m actually surprised more retailers haven’t done it. At least 75% of the products you find in Superette are Superette-branded. It just makes for a more compelling retail experience, so taking that even further to cannabis was a no-brainer. We have built true brand resonance that goes beyond our four walls. Given the Canadian regulations, it was a slow process. A personal goal of mine was to build a brand where people were as excited to buy a t-shirt as they were to buy cannabis.
There are a lot of exciting things coming up, include multiple cannabis SKU’s in the new year which is really exciting, the launch of another collaborative brand on the product side, from hotel slippers to bath accessories.
Forbes readers love numbers, so I want to ask: How have the sales been at the Superette Spadina Toronto location since opening doors?
We opened three days after the city of Toronto imposed a lockdown on retail, so we actually opened a store that people couldn’t come in and experience. There’s that. However, delivery sales have been strong and people are excited. Our new Spadina location is probably the only cannabis retail store that has a full experience associated with curbside pickup, because of the window. So people can come inside the area and have the Superette experience.
Do you have a favorite feature in your design of each Superette that you just love to point out to our readers?
Each Superette has a special place in my heart for different reasons. I would say in our original location, it would be the vintage diner stools used to pull up a seat and seat with a budtender. One of the new features, I love our flower wall and the whole experience around picking up the scent pod as if you are picking a stem or flower from a bunch was always a fun way to innovate on that front
I always loved the idea of merchandising cannabis as if it was food, especially since it all comes in very sterile government packaging with massive warning labels. So anything you can do to make it feel more fun is a good thing. Evolution of the Burger Phone and the Pizza Phone now, supporting independent businesses. The Superette Special is a take on Canadian pizza, it’s got a Big Mac-type sauce on it as well. It’s delicious, it’s not overly healthy.
How do consumers react to the interior?
I would say, surprised is the typical reaction. But that quickly turns to joy. And a sense of glee. These stores are fun, aesthetically pleasing, and carry things you would want to buy even if you removed cannabis from the equation. In Canada, specifically, our industry has built these buzzwords like “safe,” “education-driven” that give off this innately cold vibe. Customers anticipate some sterile experience as it is some unknown scary thing… it’s not. At the end of the day, retail is retail. Cannabis is CPG.
Is this Spadina storefront an ode to downtown Toronto specifically in its design? What is your favorite feature in the new space?
We’ve always tried to look for real estate that feels like it emulates the brand prior to us even doing anything with. The Spadina location was this, but it was a very awkward space to work with. It has really low ceilings, limited natural light. So instead of shying away from that, we worked those characteristics into the concept. And so for us, it felt like you were going down into the subway station, so we built the experience around that, and built it into the concept. Now that is part of the charm of the space. It just quickly evolved, and we started playing around with that aesthetic.
Congrats on the Clio Award. What went into this award, and is this a new/rare title for a cannabis company to hold?
Thank you so much. We have an amazing team of collaborators since day one: from the design agency, DOB, that created our initial Superette identity, to every team member that played a role in creating the experience for our customers. It’s a huge honor. Coming from an agency background early on, the Clios have a special place in my heart.
Clio gives legitimacy to the industry. Especially in Canada, they seem to hand out awards like candy without ever taking a discerning lens on the businesses or brands within the industry. This is going to move our industry forward. It’s normalizing it, it’s judged by a panel of experts across industries.
You’re an innovator in the space, so I’d love to ask one final, ideological question: where do you see the international cannabis industry in 5 years?
I hope to see full U.S. recreational legalization and when that happens, I hope other G20 countries building out the infrastructure for a similar adoption. We should treat cannabis like any other industry and there is obviously a place for both recreational and medical. Cannabis globalization would propel brands, products, and even retail experiences to completely new levels. I can only imagine what we can do, it’s really exciting.