All Green Podcast Ep.9- Interview with Beau Cleeton; Brand Creator and Co-Founder of Canadian Lumber
Michael: Alright, alright, alright. Welcome back to the All Green Podcast. I am super excited because I am here with one of my heroes, Beau from Canadian Lumber. Basically, my name is Michael and I’m your host and I am the Founder of Eco Four Twenty, Today’s episode is really exciting so Beau, tell us a little intro about yourself.
Beau: Well my name is Beau Cleeton, I am the Founder of Canadian Lumber, the rolling papers… I don’t what to say about myself *laughs*
Michael: No problem! We got a lot of great questions and I truly think of you as a marketing master.
Michael: So I think there’s a lot of people who can learn from marketing, even if its their own small business, they can take your lessons and adapt it to so many different things. Basically we are here at Lift&Co, which is at the Toronto Metro Convention centre from May 12th to May 15th. We each have booths here! I actually met Beau first at a Lift&Co event and I think it’s just a great example of how many different people you meet at these shows. You get to meet people from wholesale, you get to meet people who are competitors, you get to meet people who are friends and, hopefully, lifelong friends.
Beau: *laughs* Hopefully!
Michael: Beau has taught me so much and I’m definitely super pumped. What’s something that you’re excited about at Lift&Co, so far, in the last two days?
Beau: I really like just how, as an event, we get to see different sides of the industry. How you have industry-facing people, you have consumer-facing people, and then even in the consumer side you have people that have a product that is direct to consumer. You have people that deal with the retail aspect of it but aren’t really producing a product.
Michael: The other thing we’ll do is we’ll start off with an interesting story. So for this story, it’s immersive reality. It’s like the Van Gogh exhibit here. But this is an exhibit that’s supposed to illustrate the impact of climate change. It’s called Arcadia Earth and the idea is it’s just people walk in and then there’s light shows about the issues of water and the issues of plastic. It’s just interesting in that some people might not care about recycling, some people might not care about “Can we reuse, reduce recycle?” But then when they see these kind of experiences, it’s immersive for them. Have you ever had an immersive experience like that? What do you think about this Arcadia Earth?
Beau: I think it’s an excellent way for us to actually start to get that message out. In all honesty, the best way to convince any group of people, small or large, is to talk to them through a shared experience. So something like an immersive experience like that, in order for people to truly understand the depth of that issue, is probably the easiest and most effective way to do that. Right? I mean, that’s why the Van Gogh series is so popular. It makes Van Gogh not only accessible, but an interesting experience for the people that wouldn’t normally experience art. That aren’t used to going to a gallery.
Michael: And then maybe they might see it from social media posts but then they’re being immersed in that way, too. I thought that’s cool about it is it goes viral. And, exactly like you’re saying, people who would never go to an art exhibit are now experiencing the benefits of art.
Michael: Do you think it’s effective in getting people to change their action? Or, what is the best way to get people to change their actions? Whether with climate change or whether with any kind of opinions.
Beau: Change action in a community is difficult because you’re dealing first with the individual’s personal habits and you’re also dealing on a level of a community, whether that’s a household, town, a city- a major city like Toronto. You’re dealing with a community at large that have their own social fabric. You have to fit that change into that social fabric. You have to make it an easy adjustment in order for, not only the community, but for the individual to change their own habits.
It’s something I deal with in branding and selling and developing Canadian Lumber- with rolling papers! It’s a very competitive market, there are hundreds of brands.
Michael: But it’s a habit market.
Michael: Once you get a paper you love. Like, I’ve been using Canadian Lumber for years and I will continue to use it for that reason.
Beau: But how to switch that habit. That’s the difficult thing. For me the challenge is, “How do I get my product into people’s hands?” As long as I get it into their hands and they test it, they try it, we have almost 100% success rate having people switch over. But, getting that product in their hands.
Michael: And that’s the immersive experience. It’s a great thing.
Michael: People might not know what our filters are- it’s wrapped in a box. But the minute they take it out, they feel it, that’s the comparison.
Beau: Right, which is why I think this is where I see the shortcomings in our industry. We can’t sell through experience, we can’t sell through lifestyle, we can’t sell through comparison. And that is the only way that humans make decisions. We don’t make logical decisions, even if you’re buying a house. You’re looking at 3 homes: 2 Victorian and one modern. You have no way to measure that one modern one against the two Victorian ones in your brain, because it’s not a comparable comparison for you. And this has been psychologically proven. There’s tons of studies on how our human brain makes choices. The first way is by comparisons so if we are in an industry where we can’t compare because we can’t share out product openly. I can give you a pack of papers but we can’t consume it together and the best way for me to sell my papers is for you to experience it.
Michael: To enjoy it!
Beau: To enjoy it! And it’s the same thing with your product, as a filter, the best way to experience it is to actually use it.
Michael: Absolutely, we get so many stores buying it the day after- they have to test it first.
Michael: And getting that experience here at Lift&Co is a great opportunity.
Beau: Sure I fully agree it is a great opportunity. My hesitation- there reason why there’s some hesitation in my voice is because I recognize that if these were drink, they’re allowed to share that experience. You’re allowed to sample the product in the show. We’re not even allowed to do that, we don’t even have a consumption lounge or section. The street/sidewalk has sort’ve become that but it’s not a real consumption section- so you don’t see a lot of actual business going down there. You see a lot of shared ideas, lot of shared concepts and talking and everything else, and it’s great! It’s just not a part of the sale, which I think is a missing connection in our industry.
Michael: I wish it would come soon, y’know? Where they would just loosen it, make it like every other- make it like drinks even. The amount of parties that they’re able to do.
Beau: Every other substance, you can share the product, you can give the product away.
Michael: We’re at the forefront of the industry though, isn’t it so cool to see- I think in 20 years we’ll listen to this podcast and be like “Wow, we were complaining about marketing stuff”, and some of these issues, they’re gonna have virtual reality testing and I think the future of marketing is very immersive as well.
Beau: I agree. It’s curious to see where we’ll end up with that. I think that, in all honesty, it still stems- especially for us, in this industry- it’s about a touch and feel thing. Even the bud itself, it’s about touch and feel.
Michael: Yeah! And it’s so hard when it’s just the smell jars and the small containers.
Beau: Everything is through a barrier.
Michael: And it’s one of the reasons I admire you as an entrepreneur because I think you overcome these obstacles very well.
Beau: I’ve tried. I will say our branding is very intentional. We’re red because everything else is brown, black or blue. That’ll stand out on a wall full of papers, that was an intentional choice.
Michael: It reminds me of Canada, like the actual lumber- I’ve worn those shirts my whole life all the time.
Beau: Right? Like I looked at the wall of papers when I had the idea of the brand and I didn’t have colours yet. I looked at the wall and I basically wrote down three colours that were missing every time I walked into the store. Red was one of the ones that was in that, and that was an obvious choice because it’s a Canadian colour.
Michael: That’s amazing, I never thought of that. Like the analysis of the current market as well, and in the same way, I did that with our competitors. Literally going up and seeing a wall of multi-coloured, it’s like, why was there no professional standard one? There were ones that were all flashy and great for juveniles but not one that was missing and I think you’re doing the same thing, you saw what was missing and helped fill it. You did an amazing job with that.
Beau: Thanks man I appreciate that. That’s really nice.
Michael: If I can ask, tell us a bit about your background and what made you want to start being an entrepreneur. I know you were from design and that kind’ve marketing side to this.
Beau: I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. The last time I had a 9 to 5 job was right out of university for about 2 years and since then I haven’t. I’ve owned clothing stores, for a long time I worked in marketing- specifically I partnered with a friend of mine and we had a small agency where we did a lot of brand development and a lot of product development work, which is part of the reason why I started Canadian Lumber. I had my father and other members of my family who turned around like, “You’re unhappy- you need to make a product for yourself and not for other people.”
Michael: That’s genius, yeah.
Beau: And that was amazing when someone close to you turns around and realizes something about you and says something so poignant, so matter-of-fact. You know you want to tell them to shut up
Michael: But they’re family, they know best.
Beau: They’re family, they know best, and you’re like “Aw damnit, why are you right?”
Michael: In the same way I was doing water filters and my dad knew legalization is coming, what are you doing about that? The amount of stores and the amount of investment that would come is untold. Really he helped inspire to do that, also his consumption indoors has helped inspire me a bit like that. It’s really cool that family helps in that sense.
Beau: Totally helps.
Michael: And your family still helps you now, too!
Beau: Absolutely they do! They’re without a doubt my biggest supporters.
Michael: Very awesome. I know with your background of visual arts, is there other ways you’ve incorporated that creativity? I see your booth is so creative, you know? Even in the backdrop, in the marketing of it. Is there any other aspects of creativity that you’d like to share?
Beau: Absolutely, as my background I went to school for design so this gives me an opportunity to play and I get to play like I was never able to with someone else’s brand. Where you have to- designers will love this- you turn around and you hear the client saying, “Make the logo bigger,” “Make it prouder,” “Make it standout more”, “Make it pop somehow”. And you just wanna smack someone.
Michael: “Look I already printed 10,000 of this I can’t do it right now.”
Beau: Yeah so it’s like I got to do it my way and I had a lot of fun with that. At the same time, being a small start-up, I recognize as most people do, you don’t have an infinite budget, you have a small budget and what I was able to do as a creative person was just play with that budget and see how far out of the box I could go with it.
Michael: And you do it well, even with the axes, with the name, even with the font. To a little minuscule font, you’re still caring about it and I can see so many other brands don’t. So many brands don’t even care about their website or “Can I do well on Instagram?”. They don’t care about it and I think it’s very cool and amazing and I look up to you for that alone.
Beau: Thanks man.
Michael: And I think it’s really amazing that you do that.
Beau: Aw, I appreciate that.
Michael: You know just going back to Lift&Co, I know we’re both here and it’s hard to do a booth and to attend everyday and you’re there for 8 hours. How do you do it? You’re flying all the way into Toronto too, I know there hasn’t been trade shows where you are but how has the experience been in Toronto and comparing it back home?
Beau: Yeah, we don’t have any recreational trade shows that happen out East. We have had a few conferences; discussion panel days kind of thing, but not a trade show per se like this. So that right there is the main reason why we come to Lift&Co, this gives us an opportunity to talk to the industry, nationally.
Beau: It gives us that podium.
Michael: People are coming in from B.C., here, it’s amazing.
Beau: I talked to a bunch of retailers today from B.C., I talked to one from Whitehorse.
Michael: Wow! That’s so cool. And I didn’t know that there’s people consuming there, but they are!
Beau: They are! Everywhere. And it’s funny, even the smallest town in Northern Ontario, they’ll come up to you and be like “Oh, we’re near Barrie.” Like, “How near Barrie?”. “Well actually, we’re not that near Barrie.”
Michael: *Laughs* 2 hours! And there will be 50 retailers between them and Barrie.
Michael: But they’re all carrying papers, they’re all consuming, in a healthy way too. So I think it’s really cool, like, this versus back alley dealing. It’s putting up the forefront.
Beau: This gives us the platform where we’re openly are having intelligent conversations not just about the product but how we sell it, how we buy it, how we consume it. All the accessories around it. The level of open conversation- this is what we need more of in order to break down the stigma, because there’s still a stigma.
Beau: Right? And I know that I’m privileged. I’m a middle-aged white man, I work in the recreational industry, I’m pretty privileged with that. Because of that I tend to push the limits as much as I can and I know I do. When it comes to advertising, when it comes to my own personal life. I will spark up and walk down the street, I did so middle of the day on Friday right down through the Bay district- the business/banking district here in downtown Toronto. And I got lots of stares, lots of looks, I parked my ass down on the steps.
Michael: Better be marketing the Canadian Lumber logo!
Beau: Oh, wearing big Canadian Lumber t-shirt, Canadian Lumber baseball cap and sat down on a big set of stares where other people in their suits and pencil skits sit there eating a little lunch in their lap and I sat there and blazed in the middle of the lunch hour.
Michael: And in the same way, how many of them are drinking wine or doing other things? It’s not like you’re gonna go then commit crimes and do crazy stuff, it’s just, I’m gonna go then be a businessman and I think that’s the coolest thing about it.
Beau: Right afterwards, yeah, I came here sat down and started talking to LPs and try to negotiate deals and talk to retailers and distros, the same thing. Because of the simple fact that society sees a consumer as what Hollywood portrayed it- that user glued to the couch. Well, only certain types of product do that and generally speaking, most people that consume daily only consume that specific product in the evening, we don’t consume that first thing in the morning when we wake up. We have a morning product for that time of day, we have afternoon product for that time of day, and you have couch potato product for Friday nights.
Michael: Yeah, it’s so unique now, it’s exciting to see.
Beau: Now I turn around and I say to someone “Well, do you drink a glass of whiskey in the morning, or would you prefer to have champagne and orange juice?”
Michael: To give them that good option to be able to do it is amazing.
Beau: As an occasional drinker, you drink champagne and orange juice at brunch, you’re not gonna sit down and have a glass of whiskey. Well, it’s the same thing, I’m not gonna consume a more sedating product first thing in the morning, I’m gonna consume something nice, light- maybe a California Cheese, something like that.
Michael: And it’s cool to be able to have these options, back in the day I never had the options. It was “This is the best, don’t worry, don’t worry!”
Beau: “Don’t worry, this is straight fire.”
Michael: And then I’m like “This looks exactly like the last one!” That was the best, and you just had to trust them, whatever it would be and I just like having the options. I know the store hours, I can go on Google maps and see the time. To me, it’s the convenience factor.
Beau: Having it mailed to your house! I love that.
Michael: Yeah! I never thought the government would be delivering our products. I know you’re on OCS, our filters got on the OCS, it’s cool to think that the government is delivering our products.
Beau: I agree with that, yeah.
Michael: It’s changed from prohibition so much. We’re just early on in the beginning.
Beau: We are and it will be exciting to see how this industry grows and changes. What I’m really looking forward to is the tourism aspect of it. As soon as we’re allowed to start doing tours, checking out where it grows, just like people do a winery tour, a brewery tour.
Michael: And the amount of partnerships that are available there. I know they were even trying to restrict the partnerships recently with co-branding and we do co-branding with stores so they better not do that!
Beau: I do co-branding with LPs, I do co-branding with big store chains, they pulled that out.
Michael: And they rather work with a well-known brand like Canadian Lumber versus trying to make it themselves.
Michael: You make it easy for them, it’s an easy collab and then free marketing. Is there any other advice you have for small businesses? Just to tell everybody, something that’s really cool about Canadian Lumber, they’re not just in licensed retailers, they’re also in Sobeys, they’re in tattoo parlours, gas stations. I think that’s something that’s really cool, it’s where you are buying your papers. Is there any advice that you’d have for small business owners or people who are just starting, think about your first year of Canadian Lumber, what do you wish you knew and would tell people?
Beau: Think about your product and how it fits into the industry, and what I mean by that is, how does it fit into the distribution channels? How does it fit into the selling channels? How does the consumer buy it? Because if you can answer those three questions, cleanly and concisely, you could turn around and sell your product nationally faster and quicker than most other start-ups.
Michael: It’s a very good point.
Beau: And that’s something that I clicked into about a year in, and then I activated. Now, if I had activated that in month three I probably would’ve been national within 6 months. You can do it that fast if you see the system and say, “This is how I fit, and this is how I disrupt.” You have to know how you do both.
Michael: A good analysis of the current market.
Beau: Right so, for example, with how I did Canadian Lumber as a case study for you. Rolling papers are sold in convenient stores, gas stations, licensed retailers and headshops. They have different forms of distribution, all four of them. So, let’s go to the legacy market, the old school consumers, they’re at headshops, let’s get deals with distros that sell to headshops first. Then let's go into licensed retailers because that’s where the general masses are buying their product. Then we need to become more of a household name so let’s go into gas stations and convenience. And then from there you go into gas and grocery to fill that last step.
Michael: And all different teams you have to work with.
Beau: All different distros, all different reps and everything else. This is the thing, you don’t have sales people to do it, you hire distro companies that will buy your product and sell them in those channels. It’s not so much that you’re hiring them, you’re signing a distro deal with them so that they are guaranteeing to buy product from you at a certain price and sell it at a certain price, for a certain period of time. That’s the key one that I add. I don’t just want you to pick me up and then three months later drop me, cause that’s not enough time for you or your audience to get used to you carrying this product. I wanna see an 8 month, 10 month, 12 month deal here. Where we’re gonna have a long enough period of time for us to try and market through you as well.
Michael: Make it a two-way win situation.
Michael: I totally agree and I know some of the great partnerships you’ve done with distributors, it’s a two-way relationship, I always see the marketing the other way, too.
Michael: And I really admire that about you.
Beau: I’ll admit some distros aren’t used to that. They get annoyed with me because I call them every week. I’m like, “So how many stores did you add this week? Okay, do you need more marketing material from me? What can I help you with? Do you want stickers? Do you want posters? Do you want samples? Do you want swag for your sales reps?” And they’re not used to- because our industry is new, and before it the legacy market was headshops. There’s no sales data, there was no marketing materials, the only company that ever really did marketing was Raw. Because all the ZigZag marketing that came out, that was done by the headshops producing fakes of ZigZag t-shirts and stuff like that, at first. It took ZigZag a long time to actually make their own merch.
Michael: Be like, “Now we’re in Canada”, kind’ve thing.
Beau: Right! So it’s interesting, you have those companies, and all my competitors never really did a lot of advertising. So for us now, this is how we do it in the store. It’s like trademarking material, support swag.
Michael: And then the stores wanna work with you more. The amount of budtenders we met today, those are budtenders who sell our products. They’re the people on the frontlines and in the trenches, so it’s really cool to have an interactive meeting and test our products. I wish we could do it in a more open way but someday it will be soon.
Beau: So do I.
Michael: You know, is there any other exciting plans you have for Canadian Lumber coming up? Anything you might want to reveal? You totally don’t have to reveal secrets but what’s Beau doing in the next 6 months?
Beau: I’m working on our product line, I should be doubling our paper products. So that’s rolling papers and cones in the next 6 to 14 months is really the timeframe that we’ll be dropping a bunch of new SKUs. We’re slowly but surely breaking into the U.S. here, we have California and Michigan that we’re focusing on so ideally I’d love to see us get through the States, get some serious distros.
Michael: Isn’t it crazy that’s there’s more people in California than Canada?
Beau: Yeah it’s mindblowing.
Michael: And the amount of investment there and people are ready to buy have items there so I think it’s exciting.
Beau: Their tradeshows there are so much different than ours. At their tradeshows people buy from the booth.
Beau: On the spot.
Michael: It’s interesting here you really have to email back and forth and have negotiations.
Beau: Yeah and here’s its a soft sell situation.
Michael: People there are like “I have 8 stores I would love to connect with you,” I was mindblown. Champs Las Vegas was always a great show as well. Your papers were there even through the distro companies so I think it’s amazing that you’re everywhere. One day we’re gonna see you on the moon, I think.
Michael: Tell people what’s the best way to learn about Canadian Lumber? Where can they find you?
Beau: You can always find us online on our website “www.cdnlumber.ca” and that’s also our handle on Instagram. If you want to you can email us at “firstname.lastname@example.org”
Michael: *Laughs* I love it. And most people, even us, we just do “email@example.com” so it’s very cool to have the “eh”. It even goes with the Canadian branding so.
Beau: That’s right. It’s all part of it.
Michael: And if I can just say, there’s been maybe 3 or 4 times where you’ve given me advice, I didn’t listen to it, and then I was wrong.
Michael: I really should’ve done it. I should’ve listened to Beau. So for everybody listening, I really think you should definitely listen to Beau, listen to his advice all the time because definitely I would learn a lot, I still learn a lot from you everyday. I just admire a lot of your work and everything you do. Thank you for coming onto our podcast, I know you have a very busy schedule meeting all these stores AND at Lift&Co so it really just means the world to us.
Beau: Of course, Mike.
Michael: Thank you so much everybody, just make sure to check out Beau and Canadian Lumber and you can find us @ecofourtwenty on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. Thank you so much for listening, everybody, and thank you for helping us make the world a greener place, one podcast episode at a time.
To get your hands on your own Canadian Lumber products, and learn more about Beau and the company, check out the links below:
- Canadian Lumber website
- Follow Canadian Lumber on Instagram , Twitter, and LinkedIn.
- Want to reach out directly? Shoot an email to "firstname.lastname@example.org"
Be sure to subscribe to the show and follow us on:
- Twitter: @ecofourtwenty
- Instagram: @ecofourtwenty
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