Fire & Flower’s marijuana retail tech strategy: Q&A with Hifyre President Matthew Hollingshead

Image of Matthew Hollingshead

Like other types of retail, marijuana retail is increasingly propelled by digital technology.

Major Canadian cannabis retail chain Fire & Flower exemplifies that trend.

Fire & Flower’s wholly owned technology subsidiary, Hifyre, is behind a cannabis retail software platform that includes:

  • Hifyre IQ, a sales-tracking and data-analysis program with utility for both retailers and producers.
  • Hifyre One, a software platform used by retailers to power menu boards, kiosks and e-commerce.
  • Hifyre Spark, a customer loyalty and rewards program.

“We started, really, with data at the center of everything we did,” said Matthew Hollingshead, chief innovation officer of Fire & Flower and president of Hifyre.

“And we built our tools in and around that data, to leverage it, to create a better experience for our consumers, to personalize it, to deliver the right product at the right place.”

Recently, Ontario-based Fire & Flower and Hifyre acquired consumer-facing cannabis websites Wikileaf and PotGuide as well as a Canadian cannabis delivery service.

Meanwhile, Fire & Flower has positioned itself to move into the U.S. via a licensing deal that includes the Hifyre platform.

MJBizDaily spoke with Hollingshead to learn more about Fire & Flower and Hifyre’s tech-centric retail strategy.

Say I walk into a Fire & Flower store and make a purchase. How does the Hifyre platform capture that purchase, in terms of data?

Obviously, we capture the standard purchasing data of any product purchased, any basket creation.

But really, at the core of it is, we encourage our customers to sign up for the Spark Perks (loyalty) program.

We’ve built a highly interactive recommendation engine that looks at each individual customer and ranks products on the likelihood that they’re products that they would be most interested in.

We’ve taken all of this core data from the group and tried to individualize it to each person.

The goal here is to capture that data, to encourage a better consumer experience, to personalize it and to contextualize the shopping experience and product recommendations and product availability to the type of customer that’s going to be in that store.

I assume it can only be personalized to customers if they’re a Spark Perks member?

If you’re not a Spark member, we are looking at overall store performance, what products are being purchased there, what types of consumers are in that store, because we do find a tendency for the same consumers to be in certain areas.

The whole goal is to optimize that store for the types of customers that are most likely to be shopping in that store, so we have the right mix of products, the right inventory levels, the right price points, everything.

Expert advice for a stronger shelf life

Learn the fundamentals for getting started in cannabis retail in this comprehensive guide curated by the editors at MJBizDaily with help from industry experts.

Inside the MJBizDaily Retail Buyers Guide:
  • Learn best practices for designing a cannabis dispensary.
  • Select display infrastructure that supports industry compliance.
  • Choose the right point-of-sale system for your operation.
  • How to incorporate e-commerce and home delivery.
  • And more!

 

Regarding the acquisitions of Wikileaf and PotGuide, neither were cannabis retail websites.

Neither of them are. We see this as part of the entire consumer journey.

Much like Amazon will make movies, we want to engage our consumers and potential consumers all the way down the value chain, including looking at how we can provide value to our Spark membership today.

That could be through written content, video content, any sort of access to information about (cannabis) strains, any way we can continue to provide value, not only to those we want to attract into our retail ecosystem but for ones that are already in there.

PotGuide is very much a listing of other dispensaries.

I don’t particularly see other retailers as my competition.

We see people like Dutchie, Weedmaps, Leafly as who will ultimately be our competition in the market.

When you say those companies are going to be your competition, are you speaking from the Hifyre point of view or from the Fire & Flower point of view?

From both, if you look at the trajectory of what those companies are doing. Our ethos has always been not to list our menus with them, not to have them as partners.

And that’s because we wholeheartedly believe (that) while it seems like it’s great to put a third-party menu on your website, data is readily available at all times.

Connection to the consumer is by far the most important thing you can own as a retailer, and as a brand, that engages with consumers.

What is it, if anything, that makes Spark Perks different from other cannabis retail loyalty programs?

The first biggest difference is, ours is ours.

If you look at anyone else running loyalty today, they are running on third-party software. That means that the retailer does not have absolute ownership over the consumer data.

(Some other companies) are touting information about how many (loyalty) users they have in their systems, etc.

If you don’t ultimately control that connection, or maintain that connection, or have your own software, you are at risk of those customers being diverted, one day, to a potential competitor.

All this technology and software that we’ve talked about – is there anything that is proprietary about it? What is there to keep your competitors from building their own versions of this technology and copying the strategy?

I think you see them all trying to do it anyway.

Because we’ve built purposefully from the beginning, and we built it in house, we’re not just going out and acquiring this and acquiring that, partnering with somebody else to fill this other gap – we’ve built for longevity.

We have really built this thing out to not compete today but to compete with who, again, we believe is our real competition, which are the tech companies.

Ultimately, in the long term, when something’s purpose-built from the ground up, you get a much better competitive advantage in the long run, (which) allows you to continue to move at a pace that’s quicker than others, to adjust.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Solomon Israel can be reached at solomon.israel@mjbizdaily.com.