Today, Cannabis is one of the fastest-moving industries around. Thus, the ability to pivot quickly to take advantage of the opportunities and challenges is critical to an organization’s success.
“To know when to pivot, when to innovate, and when to keep charging forward is important for a leader. If communication lines stay open and intentions are clear, we will drive the industry forward,” says Jenelle Kitto (Communications Manager at Trees Corporation).
Driving the company forward with her dynamic and foresightful approach, Jenelle is an experienced small business owner with a successful history in the nutrition, yoga, and cannabis industries. Jenelle is a strongly independent and entrepreneurial professional, who excels as a Team Leader and Educator in Yoga, Stand-Up Paddleboarding, Health-driven Lifestyles, Team Building, and Business Management.
An Illustrious Background
Jenelle studied herbology and holistic nutrition in her twenties. By 2004, she had started a small health company and taught herself to build a WIX website. At that time, Facebook was budding and she was also a new mother. To support and help grow her passions and entrepreneurial pursuits, she naturally learned to leverage social media and networking for marketing purposes and by 2017, her services included yoga and paddleboard classes, wellness events, and facilitated international retreats and teacher training.
Meanwhile, whispers of cannabis legalization came around at the same time Jenelle’s son was entering his teenage years and the long-term impacts of her physically and emotionally demanding career started weighing on her. Consequently and fortuitously, she landed an opportunity to join a marketing team with friends and family in the rapidly emerging and recently legalized cannabis industry.
Introduction to the Cannabis Industry
Jenelle’s role in cannabis started many months before legalization in October 2018 with NewLeaf Cannabis. NewLeaf was one of the first cannabis retail chains in Alberta and it rapidly grew to 25 stores before being acquired by High Tide Inc. by the end of 2018. After the sale, Jenelle was fortunate to join some of the original NewLeaf executives when they formed Ontario Cannabis Holdings Corp. (OCH) with the ambition of repeating their NewLeaf success in Ontario. OCH quickly became an early pioneer in Ontario’s cannabis retail roll-out, providing consulting and advisory services to licensed retailers while growing their own footprint of corporate stores, against tremendous political headwinds in Ontario throughout 2019.
The company was one of the first in Ontario to receive a Retail Operators License in early 2020 and quickly moved to open its first store in St.Catharines during the early and unsettling days of the COVID-19 outbreak. A second store opened in Scarborough in February 2021, and 14 more stores are set to open over the course of the next 6-8 months.
“Jack of all Trades”
Like most other successful leaders, Jenelle also had her share of challenges. As a communications manager at OCH, her goal is to spread the word about newly built and operating licensed cannabis retail stores in Ontario from its head office in Calgary. However, marketing cannabis comes with a long list of restrictions, so Jenelle had to familiarize herself with the regulatory framework and compliance side.
“Our primary focus was to build loyalty and trust with our staff, our customers, and the communities in which we operate, while also developing working relationships with suppliers aka licensed producers (LPs) in order to bring the best products to market” comments Jenelle.
As a leader, Jenelle is creative, innovative, and has a lot of transferable skills to offer. Thus, she manages multiple responsibilities including—marketing, graphic design, content writing, public relations, social media management, and community engagement. “At times, it’s been too many hats for one person, but my team is growing, and all of our hard work is paying off,” she continues.
Thriving in Uncertain Times
With OCH, Jenelle navigated the legal framework for marketing cannabis and came up with innovative solutions to educate consumers about socially responsible cannabis use. OCH’s team was contracted to successfully build and open one of Ontario’s first and most successful legal cannabis stores on the first day of Ontario retail legalization (April 1, 2019). From there, the company opened a second partner-owned Corner Cannabis branded location in Burlington, in February 2020.
Shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, OCH quickly shifted to a work-from-home policy, which was a major change to work habits, but it was manageable. While OCH operates in Ontario, its head office is in Calgary, Alberta, but fortunately, Jenelle was used to managing teams remotely in different time zones. According to her, a major challenge was constantly responding and pivoting to ever changing government regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic, a challenge she is still managing to this day! Throughout the pandemic, the company has had to endure multiple periods of province wide store shut-downs, the halting of construction on new stores and modified operating procedures to address safety of staff and customers. Sadly in the early days of COVID, with uncertainty for the future, the company had little choice but to respond with downsizing and a round of lay-offs. Almost a year later and many of those staff have fortunately returned to the company as growth and activity ramp up once again.
Jenelle and OCH are relieved that cannabis was declared an “essential service” and for most of the pandemic months to date, cannabis retail has been allowed to operate with curbside pick-up (and for a brief period, even home delivery service was allowed.) During these times, effective marketing and communication lines between consumers kept the company connected and profitable. “The most significant transformation I witnessed in this transformative period was less rush-hour, less cooler-talk, and increased productivity even though we had a trimmed team,” adds Jenelle.
Preparing for the Future
As a consultant, the most challenging decision Jenelle had to make in 2020 was to either drop another client or take a risk and expand her team. She believes that this was the best decision she could have made personally, creatively, and for the company. “I am less stressed and able to focus on doing my favorite tasks while employing three other creative women to help me with the processes,” says Jenelle.
Furthermore, marketing regulations and restrictions are one of the biggest and complicated challenges faced by the cannabis industry. Cannabis marketing restrictions are more similar to tobacco than alcohol and some of the current rules limit the industry’s growth and prevent valuable education from reaching consumers. Moving forward, Jenelle is optimistic that when the Cannabis Act is reviewed in 2021, some of those restrictions will be eased.
Strengthening the Footprint
In January 2021, OCH announced a merger with Trees Corporation—providing access to a premier British Columbia-based brand with a deeply rooted and proud history of Cannabis retail. “We look forward to opening TREES CANNABIS stores nationwide, beginning with 14 stores in Ontario over the coming months, including eventual conversion of existing CORNER CANNABIS stores, and 8 more TREES locations in British Columbia,” asserts Jenelle. She is excited as this merger strengthens the OCH team both in numbers and experience. She anticipates greater things for the company in the future and is excited to be a key contributor to its long-term success.