We had the great pleasure of sitting down with Adam Coates, chief revenue officer for Decibel Cannabis. The company is home to iconic brands like Qwest and General Admission. We spoke to Adam about the meteoric rise of General Admission, how they got to be one of Canada’s most popular brands and where they’re going next.
Edited for clarity and length
Stok’d: What’s the backstory of General Admission (GA)?
Adam: It’s funny because General Admission is sort of a “little engine that could” in a lot of ways. It kind of started in 2020 when General Admission was just something off to the side. We had some vape hardware, and we had some packaging and we said, let’s figure out a way to try and compete in the vape market. And this was at a time when every large company was throwing tons and tons of money at vapes. We happened to own a few retail stores in Saskatchewan, and we saw what the brands were doing and what was missing.
Knowing that we were a much smaller business, we just listened to the consumer and what they were looking for was a larger cartridge. So we were one of the first to come out with one gram carts with those big sweet flavours and high potencies.
It wasn’t by accident, I wouldn’t say, but we thought of GA as something small that we could play around with. Obviously fast forward to today and it’s the number one brand in the country by market share. It’s really well loved and respected. I think it’s looked at as one of the sort of true innovative brands in the cannabis space, over the first five years of legalization.
Stok’d: That’s definitely a fair statement if not an understatement. How does General Admission fit with everything that’s going on at Decibel?
Adam: First and foremost, GA’s tagline is “All are welcome”. We want to be a brand that is very welcoming to a broad set of consumers and has mass appeal. From both its price points to its products. That’s really important. And I think about what we think about when we think about General Admission as a company. General Admission products, now, and going forward will always be about ready-to-consume formats. It started with vapes, next we pioneered the infused pre-roll category and recently we’ve launched edibles.
I think, importantly, as more new consumers come into the cannabis segment, those are the products that they’re gonna start with. I don’t think you’re gonna have a new consumer, who’s gonna go out and buy a gram of shatter or a half pound of flower as their first starting point. General Admission has always been about potency, convenience and big loud flavours. We are always pushing the envelope.
Stok’d: Can you dive into the infused pre-roll story?
Adam: We had started thinking about infused pre-rolls in early 2021. It was something that we noticed coming out of the US was gaining rapid popularity. We also knew that, just because something works in the US doesn’t mean it’s gonna work in Canada. And it led us back to some of the key principles that we know about Canadian consumers: They care about potency and flavour.
We launched our first product in November of 2021, with kief-infused pre-rolls. Super exciting, everyone was pumped. We did a huge launch in Alberta and BC. They hit the market about 10 days later, and my heart sank, because consumers found they couldn’t smoke the pre-rolls as they were too wet. Our R&D that we did on a few thousand joints, they worked. But when you’re doing tens of thousands, the process slightly changed and it was a disaster. Honestly, it was. And so there was a lot of trust that we had to build back. It required a lot of customer service management and thinking about ‘why didn’t this work’? That was a tough moment, but one that I think made us really strong and really let us move more forward in the right direction using distillate as the concentrate.
Stok’d: We’re learning so much in this conversation. Since many of the customers actually learned about infused pre-rolls before GA’s vapes, can you catch us up on that storyline?
Adam: Vapes are the hero SKU for GA and, frankly, always will be in my heart. The reason for its success and the traction that it’s gained over the last three years. We were one of the first to come with a really attractive price point on the one gram. Another innovation is that we fill to .95 gram and there’s a specific reason for that. Filling to a full gram in those 1 mil carts can often lead to a lot of clogging and leaking issues, and so just a little bit under doesn’t allow for oil to get caught up into the mouthpiece or any leaking or spillover during the capping process. We also bring some unique flavours like Tiger Blood, Peach Rizz and Honeydew Boba.
We’re always coming out with something new, two or three flavours every quarter and retiring some of the old ones. Even if they’re doing well, we want to keep the rotation. We want to keep people excited about the next thing that’s coming from General Admission. and I think we’ve really achieved a good following because of that strategy.
We also have our own sales team, we didn’t farm it out to an agency. So we stay really, really close to our customers. Our customer service team is very high touch and I’ll be honest for the first couple years, I was a customer service team, a c-suite executive at a public cannabis company! When they wrote in with an issue of their vape cart, pre-roll or whatever it was, I found a solution for them. It was amazing how many times I’d receive a visceral email from someone very mad that they spent 50 or 60 bucks on a cart and it didn’t work. I’d answer and walk them through how I’m gonna solve the issue for them. It’s amazing how much goodwill that has built up.
Stok’d: What can people look forward to in the near future?
Adam: Today (October 19), we launched General Admission Blinker, which is our foray into a closed loop vape system. It’s a proprietary pod system, with a battery and we think that this is the future of vaping. The 510 technology is 25 years old, it hasn’t really changed that much. We know that consumers want a better vape experience that they’re tired of buying one or two gram carts and getting halfway through and then crapping out on them. They’re tired of that burnt taste if their batteries are running too hot and they happen to singe the oil or their coil busts. They’re tired of leaking and clogging especially in the winter, when it gets a little colder out.
So we looked at how we can make vaping better? And the answer was not trying to improve the 510. The 510 is so cost competitive, you have to be very very inexpensive and so adding more investment into that hardware didn’t feel like it made sense.
For Blinker it’ll be no more expensive than if you buy a 510 battery and vape cart. We’ve got 10 flavours that are launching through our mix packs, as well as single strains. I think GA’s got credibility and it’s something that people know and trust already. I think consumers will be more inclined to try something from General Admission, then maybe a brand that they haven’t really heard of before or is coming from the US as a new entrant to Canada. So we’re super excited about it. Feedback has been excellent.
Stok’d: Awesome, we look forward to trying it out!