The floor plans at all three Cinder stores in Spokane, Washington, are open, with clean lines and symmetrical designs. It reflects CEO Justin Peterson’s personal style and taste but often draws a comparison to another famous retail outlet known for its modern stylings and open layout.
“Some people refer to us as the ‘Apple’ of cannabis, but I find that term overused, personally,” he says, adding that Cinder stores, with their solid walnut display cases, are less “sterile” and more welcoming than the technology retailer.
Peterson would know. Prior to founding Cinder, Peterson worked at Apple, doing training for retailers and helping open several of the company’s stores in the Seattle area, as well as the one in Spokane, which took him to the east side of the state back in 2010.
But while the tech giant’s style wasn’t quite right for his stores, Peterson took Apple’s focus on customer service and inclusivity — instead of focusing on a single demographic — to help his brand stand out in a crowded retail environment.
Peterson says he learned the importance of customer service growing up in a family that owned restaurants. He says his father, who also had experience as a CEO in the hospital industry, taught him early that without returning customers, there is no business.
“I feel like anybody can go to any store and get any product, but what sets us apart is customer service,” he says.
The stores carry a wide selection of products at every price point, and each product has been independently tested for pesticides as part of the company’s Cinder Cares program to ensure products are labeled accurately so buyers can feel secure.“We don’t like to work with farms that lie to the consumer,” Peterson says. “Any price point, they’re looking for, we want to make sure it’s well-tested.”
Cinder’s North Spokane store is the largest, but the Spokane Valley store is the company’s busiest and they are beginning a remodel to nearly triple the amount of floor space.
“We’re really focused on renovating our valley location to provide better customer service than we already do, and then we want to start moving into new areas and bring what we do best to new markets,” he says.
Because Washington does not require pesticide testing, Cinder purchases products every month from its inventory and tests them at independent labs to ensure the product’s labels accurately reflect what is in the package. Results are posted on the company’s website. Brands that fail are given an opportunity to correct the labeling.
“If we find that we cannot fix the problem, the product will no longer be on Cinder shelves,” reads the website.
Cinder routinely racks up accolades and awards from local residents and the media, including winning the “Best of” reader poll in 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020 in the Inlander, a Spokane-area alt-weekly (Cinder finished second in 2017 and 2018). The company also won the paper’s Best of Spokane Gold Medal in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020, with the paper noting in 2020 “Professionalism, convenience and familiarity have helped Cinder set the standard for retail cannabis in Spokane since the very start.”
Cinder’s Downtown Spokane store is located in a brick building built in the 1920s and formerly used as a parking garage. According to CEO Justin Peterson, the company is reinvesting profits to slowly renovate the full building.
“We’ve kept a lot of the original structure to keep that cool feel to it,” he says. “I just really like old architecture and incorporating that into new stuff.”