People often tell Alex Ledesma, how surprised they are that she’s a fan of CBD and other cannabis products. They’re even more surprised when they find out she’s one of the co-founders of Shiny Bud, a Toronto-based recreational retailer with a carefully-curated selection of cannabis brands and related accessories. As a mom of three young kids, she doesn’t fit many preconceptions of a cannabis consumer or a retailer, and she’s actually okay with that. After all, she happens to be in good company with Martha Stewart having recently announced the launch of a line of CBD products with Canopy Growth.

“The truth is that there are a lot of comparisons to be made between the prejudices surrounding women with executive power and the stigmas tied with so-called stoner culture, and it’s empowering to be in a position to start to break down some of those assumptions through education,” said Ledesma.

Ledesma believes that creating in-store learning experiences are so important. “While retailers always aim to exceed customers’ expectations with handpicked products and excellent service, a large part of what drives me every day is the opportunity to educate others,” said Ledesma. “Whether someone is a first-time visitor or a well-versed consumer, there’s always a chance to broaden another person’s understanding and enjoyment of cannabis consumption.”

Weaving opportunities to educate clientele is a vital element in building her successful cannabis retail strategy. This includes training staff to be knowledgeable about current industry trends. “Making education a priority is something stores can plan for, but one thing we could not have imagined was the impact of COVID-19,” Ledesma tells us. “For store owners, the pandemic threw daily operations and future plans out the window. There was also the added confusion when recreational cannabis stores were temporarily closed by the Ontario government in April and then allowed to do click-and-collect and curbside pick-ups.”

For almost all retailers, not just those in the cannabis industry, COVID-19 served as a pivotal moment. How do brick-and-mortar establishments survive when people are encouraged to stand six feet apart and overall foot traffic is drastically reduced? And we all know winter weather will be here soon. So, how can we all move forward as consumers and shop keepers?

“There were many challenges for Shiny Bud, but we did manage to push ahead. In addition to our Toronto location, we opened a store in Windsor in June, and another two locations in Cornwall and Hawkesbury in July. The process and timelines to getting each store open were long, and the smaller footprints of stores in towns like Cornwall and Hawkesbury meant we had to wait for the right legal retail spaces to become available. Being able to adapt to circumstances while remaining dedicated to our core goals has allowed us to continue building on our successes,” said Ledesma.

She’s also at a very exciting moment of growth in the cannabis industry and tells us this is supported by the increased access to legal recreational cannabis through private cannabis shops, which are opening rapidly across Ontario. In fact, Ledesma tells us the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has an estimated 800 planned cannabis stores in the application queue, with up to 30 new applications coming in on a weekly basis.

“A great element of this growth has been a shift in cannabis culture. With more access to safe recreational cannabis, people are gaining a better awareness and appreciation for the products themselves. There’s a whole range of items including edibles, infused beverages and capsules that many people don’t know about. These products also have varying effects due to the different chemical compounds in cannabis. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) imparts a sense of euphoria, while cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to help with anxiety and depression,” explains Ledesma.

“I’ve seen a lot of visitors come into our stores who end up browsing and asking about products they’ve never seen before. This is where those preconceptions about cannabis users begin to break down, because we’re showing customers a variety of cannabis products that cause different effects and can be consumed safely. When that perspective widens, more and more people begin to think beyond what the stereotypical consumer looks like.”

Like everyone else, she’s had to focus on work-life balance because of COVID-19, and that’s also made her rethink how she needed to plan and accomplish everything she wanted on any given day. Many of us were overwhelmed at the early stages as kids were being pulled out of schools and everyone was forced to shut down and stay home. “CBD oil has been helpful in making me feel more balanced, even when I was juggling work and trying to homeschool my kids through the early days of the pandemic,” said Ledesma.

Women often assume the role of invincible supermoms, but the reality is that no one can do it all. For Ledesma, shining a light and learning about how female business owners can succeed during challenging times is closely tied to how she believes we can start dispelling preconceived notions. “If COVID has shown us anything, it’s that we can overcome uncertainties by remaining adaptable and prepared for change. This also applies to how we view stereotypes when it comes to women in business and cannabis culture as well. By keeping an open mind, we can all move the conversation forward in a meaningful way to educate and change assumptions.”