How Startups Can Adapt to a New World of Retail

Even as a CEO in an industry where I feel most at home, I am continually learning from the people around me, and growing in my understanding of how independents are truly the backbone of the Canadian retail sphere.

The retail landscape in Canada is constantly changing and businesses have to adapt their processes and lean on one another in order to be able to succeed. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a small group of Lightspeed-powered Toronto- and Montreal-based retailers—ETIKET, Wonder Pens, LoversLand,, and Tokyo Smoke—to discuss how they’ve thrived in the past decade, succeeded in customer retention, formed a network of other business owners and embraced the power of omnichannel.

The most important aspects to their success are included below.

Building your brand

From the beginning, your brand is the foundation of who you are as a business. In the current competitive retail landscape, brand consistency becomes a key focus for our independents, ensuring that they meet their customers with the same messaging, wherever they are: in-store, online, and social media.

Jon Chan, the founder of Toronto-based retailer Wonder Pens, spoke about how he and his wife, who started the business together, weave their personal narrative into all of their social media content. This approach solidifies a relationship with their customers in the digital space, giving the brand an opportunity to expand and build a lasting relationship.

As your brand evolves, aspects of your independent business may grow and change, but your core values and your authentic voice should remain.

Embracing change

Independent retailers thrive when they embrace change. Customers expect the same level of service and efficiency in-store as they do online, and they also expect the system to be totally integrated.

One of the biggest objectives in launching our omnichannel product was providing independent businesses with the tools they need to seamlessly integrate their bricks-and-mortar POS with their ecommerce system, giving them the agility to manage customer profiles, sales and inventory all in one place. More and more, consumers will see a seamless synergy between the in-store experience and online.

A fully integrated system means that you know when your customer has made one purchase online, and you can follow them through to their next purchase in store.

Linking products directly to social media channels, makes it easy on the consumer to find and purchase what they need.

Social media also plays a huge role in marketing among our independents, a trend we had not seen until recently as digital mediums really took off. Business owners, such as LoversLand now spend more than four hours a day curating their social channels, growing their digital audiences and engaging with potential customers. ETIKET, and Tokyo Smoke have all even dedicated full time staff hours to social media content, committing to this new wave of marketing.

Company Culture

Independents have a huge advantage of being able to adapt their business quickly, but the biggest consideration is maintaining the brand integrity and level of service that is in place in your first location.

Lightspeed grew quickly, from 50 employees in one office to more than 600 employees in seven global offices. I learned very quickly that what works in one office space in Montreal, may not translate into another office space in Europe. The importance is in having common aspects of the company culture that weave together.

From a consumer-facing approach, you want to be able to provide the same experience in a second or third location, that your customers would receive in the original location. It’s important for business owners to spend their time working “on the business” and finding ways to remove themselves from working “in the business.”

Retail business = sales acquisition business

Data is an important way for independents to measure their success, acquiring information about their consumers that will help them to grow their business. Independents need to know where the bulk of their customers are, how they are shopping and interacting with product, which will translate into how they can then approach those customers and retain them.

Toronto-based retailer Tokyo Smoke is not only selling product, but also selling a cannabis lifestyle. The brand’s strongest success comes from forming authentic relationships with their consumers and educating the public on the complete brand experience. Having a bricks-and-mortar location helps Tokyo Smoke to create a sensory experience, and eCommerce extends that experience to a more global audience.


Independent businesses thrive most when they maintain a community of comradery. Different than the past exclusivity of the retail space, independents have the power and openness to discuss ideas, plans and challenges with other independents in their neighborhoods and cities. This sense of community means that small and medium size businesses are learning from one another, sharing tools and successes that will ultimately help the entire neighborhood or business area to thrive.

On a personal entrepreneur level, it’s deeply important to have a mentor. Someone who will act as a sounding board, when you strive to make decisions that will benefit your business.

Dax Dasilva is the CEO of Lightspeed, a commerce company based in Montreal.