Sunday, November 17, 2019

Committed to Ethical Standards – Cannabis Briteline

Moss Crossing is excited to be a featured article in a Canadian cannabis business magazine, Cannabis Briteline. Use this interactive magazine to flip through the pages, or read the text of the article below…

Universally Accessible and Committed to Ethical Standards

Written by Jen Hocken

Moss Crossing is a locally-owned, award-winning cannabis dispensary located in the South Hills of Eugene, Oregon. Situated in the middle of a residential neighborhood, the company’s aim is to help expand the cannabis market by providing a more comfortable, traditional shopping experience.

I had the opportunity to speak with all three founders, and when asked to describe the company, Heidi Fikstad had this to say: “We had a review in Eugene Weekly that said ‘with its modern lines and its fancy accessories, this is not your grandmother’s dispensary,’ and we all thought: wait a minute, yes it is! We’re kind of known as the dispensary that people can take their parents and grandparents to. That was our goal: to create an environment that’s accessible to everyone.”

Moss Crossing’s primary goal is to provide a service that helps to ease the fear and discomfort associated with shopping in a standard dispensary. Many customers who have never shopped in a dispensary or who are new to cannabis altogether might be unsure about exactly what they are looking for, and they might not know how to have that conversation with the staff. Moss Crossing is working to build a low-stress environment suited to customers who are looking for guidance.

When the company was established in 2015, two of its founding members, Heidi Fikstad and Sylvan Magnus, were working as craft growers for the medical cannabis market. Through their interactions with existing dispensaries, they noticed a gap in the standard customer demographic. “We were noticing that people like our parents weren’t customers,” says Fikstad, “And we weren’t really comfortable either. We noticed that there needed to be a dispensary that felt more like a traditional retail environment.”

They began to search out a location that would attract the kind of audience they were interested in and settled on a 1,050 square foot space in a small market, next to an organic grocer in a residential neighborhood. It was far removed from the typical downtown dispensary, but it was exactly what they were looking for. From there, they began to stock cannabis products and accessories that would attract a more discerning clientele. They were seeking an audience that had not yet been connected to the cannabis market but had seen how cannabis products had helped their friends and family. They wanted to share that with people who hadn’t had the opportunity to experience it for themselves.

When Moss Crossing opened its doors in late December of 2015, there were just over twenty dispensaries in Eugene. Today, a few short years later, that number has more than doubled. There are now 52 dispensaries covering the same area. Unlike Washington and Colorado, when the State of Oregon legalized the sale of recreational cannabis, they did not apply restrictions enforcing local dispensary ownership. As a result, many out-of-state owners have opened cannabis stores in Oregon and the market in that region has become extremely competitive.

Further, the city of Eugene did not apply any restrictions to how close recreational dispensaries could be to each other, even though 1,000 feet had been the rule for medical dispensaries in the past. When recreational cannabis was legalized, state legislatures eliminated this rule for recreational cannabis, leaving the decision to retain the distance restrictions to be made by individual counties and municipalities, and soon dispensaries began opening up in overwhelming numbers. This rule has since been reinstated by the City of Eugene, but existing dispensaries have been allowed to remain where they are. This has further increased the competitive nature of the local cannabis industry.

Despite these challenges, Moss Crossing was determined to enter the retail market because the founders felt that it would be the best way to reach customers on a one-to-one basis, to hear their stories, and to cater to individual needs. As difficult as it is to remain competitive in such an oversaturated market, Moss Crossing’s leadership is optimistic. “What’s really nice about it is that if you’re succeeding in this market, it feels really great. It’s crazy competitive, but we are repeatedly voted the best dispensary in Eugene, which has the most dispensaries per capita in the state. That’s really rewarding,” says Heidi.

The cannabis market is constantly changing, but Moss Crossing is poised and ready to evolve along with it. The Oregon legislature recently approved out-of-state export and cannabis producers and retailers in Oregon are now awaiting opportunities to bring business from the other legal states on board as partners. The rules continue to evolve, as do the costs. Currently, low cost product is mostly unavailable in Eugene, and many of the small independent dispensaries in the area are suffering as a result.

“You have all these shops in Eugene that are basing their entire business model and strategy on a race to the bottom, dropping prices for super cheap product, and now that there are none available, they can no longer sustain the model,” says Cam McNeeley. Moss Crossing has built a lifestyle brand concerned more with quality than price. As a result, its clientele is willing to pay a little more and the company has been able to weather these economic fluctuations.

Many small independent dispensaries have set their prices too low to manage this challenge, and as a result, larger chains and corporate players are moving in to buy them up. As independent owners sell and the number of acquisitions rises, Moss Crossing continues to grow steadily.

The most significant challenge for Moss Crossing, along with all other companies in the American cannabis industry, is federal illegality. While recreational cannabis has been made legal in Oregon and a number of other states, it is still considered illegal at the federal level. As a result, operating a cannabis business comes with many difficulties and many of the conveniences available to the average business owner are inaccessible to Moss Crossing. “It would be nice to operate as a normal business, to maybe get a loan or to get funding from a local community credit union, or even just to have one bank account instead of multiple because you’re worried about one getting closed. It’s like they want to get this out of the black market but they’ve only given us half the tools to work with,” says Sylvan.

While public opinion favours legal cannabis, and things at the local and state level seem to be moving in a positive direction, things at the federal regulatory level have stalled. The founders of Moss Crossing believe that, in the near future, they will have access to the many federally linked amenities that are currently unavailable to them, and they are looking optimistically toward the next federal election.

Moss Crossing has cultivated a customer base that cares deeply about ethical and sustainable practices. It seeks to ensure that the companies it supports are sourcing locally as much as possible, that their cannabis is grown organically, and that their products meet high quality and ethical standards. The company has worked to build a network of vendor and farming partners that are able to meet these requirements.

When the company receives samples from a new vendor or producer, testing the quality of that product is only one part of the vetting process. Moss Crossing employees will be given an opportunity to sample the cannabis and return to management with their honest feedback. If they do not vouch for the quality, the store will not carry the product, but the vetting goes even further. “We look at packaging, ingredients, branding, marketing, how involved the company is in the community, how much they care about the industry, how they treat their employees, what kinds of sustainable practices they use, all the way to the effectiveness of the product. We have a very thorough, highly curated product offering, from our concentrates and extracts to flowers, edibles, and even the merchandise we carry.”

This commitment to values has been a key factor in the company’s ability to build a loyal customer base. In order to ensure that those customers are satisfied with the service, Moss Crossing is particularly focused on employee education, and customer education in turn. When considering new prospective employees, the company considers the candidate’s capacity for customer service. The product knowledge will be taught on the job but having a natural disposition for caring about people is what they are truly looking for.

Moss Crossing holds its employees and its partners to a high standard, but it holds itself to a high standard as well. The company is very involved in the local community; it engages with community members by attending festivals and events and by supporting non-profit organizations. Currently, the company is supporting the Cascade Raptor Center, which is a bird rescue project, Warrior Sisters, which offers free self-defense training for women, and the Nuleaf Project, which is working to help people of color find opportunities in the cannabis industry.

After only a few years operating in the Oregon cannabis industry, Moss Crossing has won numerous awards and has built a strong base of loyal customers. To potential new customers, Heidi says, “We advocate trying something you’re comfortable with. If you’re curious, try something that doesn’t make you uncomfortable and expand from there if you want to. We want you to find something that will work with your lifestyle.”

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