Ben Kaplan: Tell me about a Cannoe budtender that you have that you think best represents your stores—who and why.
Matthew McLeod: Nikki DeMarco is the first name that comes to mind. Nikki isn’t a budtender, she’s our general manager at our Summerhill shop, and she represents Cannoe in a really unique way. Nikki is our longest tenured employee. She is a positive, knowledgeable, friendly face for everyone that enters the Summerhill shop and I am very proud to work with her. My colleagues are the reason that Cannoe is a great place to work and Nikki is representative of our entire group.
BK: What makes Cannoe different than other retailers and who's behind it?
MM: Cannabis retail is really competitive and characteristics that perhaps used to make retailers different are effectively table stakes at this time. Cannoe has been working on our retail model since before legalization, and before the lottery system.
BK: What’s the model?
MM: We focus on people, our customers, our neighbours, our employees and our stakeholders; this is an approach that has attracted some legends of Canadian retail, which gives us more experience to lean on to be constantly improving. The founders of Roots, Michael Budman and Don Green are investors and advisors to Cannoe and have provided advice on granular details like making the website more user-friendly to high-level advice like the selection of a marketing agency partner.
BK: Who else is on the team?
MM: Stephen Arbib and Jonathan Goldman, both of whom have had immense success in cannabis and other industries and have been instrumental in the direction and people-first approach that we take. The main reason I joined Cannoe is the people that I get to work with, obviously at the store level, but also the board and advisor levels.
BK: You currently have two shops and you're building two more, is that right? Where are they and what are they like? Is the goal to make one store different from the others? What differentiates your vision?
MM: That’s right! We have our first shop and corporate HQ open in Summerhill in Toronto (1238 Yonge St.), launch our second shop the middle of September in Riverside (800 Queen St. E.), our third shop in October (1092 Queen St. W), and our final shop planned for this year is in an amazing location downtown Collingwood (66 Hurontario St.), and we’re opening it in November just in time for holidays and the ski and snowboard season! The shops are really beautiful, and we’ve worked with great design groups from Public Address to Williamson Williamson Inc. our architects to create approachable, comfortable, friendly spaces. This is one of our keys.
BK: I just saw your mural on the Riverside shop and I know you have murals planned for Dovercourt and Summerhill. Can you tell me about the idea behind your mix of art, charity, and cannabis?
MM: It’s been an interesting project to get to work on. It started with the realization that we weren’t using our outdoor spaces well; we have these big beautiful walls on all of our Toronto stores, and they were just blank. Then we started to talk about what we could do and the idea of a mural came up, but we didn’t want to be another set of Instagram angel wings or anything else superficial. We wanted something attractive that could be thought provoking. The real light bulb idea was finding a way to make a positive impact in our neighbourhoods, which we’re doing by partnering with various groups to make the projects charitable.
MM: In Riverside, it was an easy choice. Canada is going through a long overdue reckoning for the treatment of First Nations people and when the opportunity to work with the artist Que Rock came up, we jumped at it. The result is unbelievable, and the message behind the mural from the artist is impactful. For our Summerhill and Queen West stores, be on the lookout because we are supporting two other great causes and by year end those walls will be anything but blank.
BK: What do you like right now in weed?
MM: Carmel’s constantly updating their SKUs and Garlic Breath has been a big hit for us. Color has some great products, and have a great Mango Haze, which is a favourite of mine. We’ve also always got Flowr in stock, and their BC Pink Kush is some of the best out there!
BK: Seems like the retail space for cannabis in Toronto is getting really crowded. How many stores are there currently and how many are being built and, is there room for them all? Who will, ultimately, survive?
MM: It’s a very competitive space right now and I think it will be crowded for a while. Coming from the licensed producer (LP) space, it almost feels like history repeating itself with a flood of people into the market, only to realize that it is so competitive and challenging and that you have to be really passionate and effective to make it work. I think that we’ll see a lot of consolidation in the industry, with various operations being purchased by other retailers. I also think you’ll see a lot of store closures, with the bigger chains and franchises shutting down some locations and some other groups closing up shop completely.
BK: As we move into the fall and, of course, holiday: what do you predict for cannabis, both with regards to retail and with regards to products we'll see on the shelves?
MM: I think we’ll see some creativity in cannabis retail with promotions and holiday sales; I know we’ve got some great ideas up our sleeves that we’re rolling out in all of our shops. I know it isn’t until the new year, but I can’t wait for the OCS to implement their flow-through program, because it will finally be a way for retailers to stock exclusive strains and products. The big news item for me though in the coming months is the launch of our Collingwood shop just before the holidays. I think it’s going to be really cool to see Collingwood swell with people the way it does that time of year and we’re thrilled to have an opportunity to serve the local population there as well as the tourists. I’m looking forward to Cannoe being a great addition to that neighbourhood.