One Of A Kind: Grant Sanderson

What makes him great: An original 10.17 cannabis retail operator, Sanderson, in his role as Vice President, Operations, Nova Cannabis, a banner of Alcanna, lends a personal, authentic touch to one of the country’s largest retail operation brands.
What he represents: 32 retail locations in Alberta, one in Ontario on Queen Street West, and expansion planned in both provinces. Nova recently opened Deep Discount Cannabis in Alberta to match consumer needs. nWhat he stands for: “Focus on our communities.”
Ben Kaplan spoke with Sanderson from his home in St. Albert, Alberta.
  • BK: I love that you had one of the original 10.17 licenses. What do you remember about that first day of the end of prohibition?

    GS: So much energy! We had people camped out overnight to be first in line and as the sun rose, so did the energy in the line ups. There was just a feeling of community, high fives and tons of stories. People were creating memories.

  • BK: I feel like sometimes the novelty of the achievement gets lost. That history was absolutely being made.

    GS: I was in Fort Saskatchewan and I cut the ribbon with the mayor which is crazy to think about. We had DJ’s in the parking lots and huge line-ups…we had to get creative to keep everyone hydrated and fed since it was also a super hot day for October. Our Whyte Ave location had line ups around the corner for days.

  • BK: What about that time rings true to you to this day?

    GS: History was made that day and that never leaves you.

  • BK: Specifically, what do you see as the most important aspect of your job?

    GS: Building the right teams, especially at the store level. We need to make sure we are meeting customers where they are in their cannabis journey when they come into the store so it is important that our CER’s are dynamic and empathetic.

  • BK: Did you feel any stigma getting into cannabis retail?

    GS: No and actually, I can’t tell you how many times a week I get cannabis questions from my community, family and friends. I am personally hyper-committed to social responsibility and education and these questions give me a chance to educate people and remove any stigmas they might feel.

  • BK: I go to your store in Toronto and I’ve seen how that ethos rings true.

    GS: The boots on the ground people do a fantastic job of echoing that sentiment. They’re the driving force of our business.

  • BK: Cannabis, for a lot of us, is different from many other businesses. It’s personal. Does that also ring true to you?

    GS: I have a personal journey with cannabis and one of my favourite things to do is talk about it. I have spent time with many groups of all types, from athletic to community based talking about cannabis and how it is become a part of my life. I turned to cannabis after suffering an injury and I think sharing personal stories, even mine, is important. It’s not a weight. It’s something I’m happy to share.

  • BK: Is it wild to think how far the industry has come?

    GS: Definitely. Change has been pretty constant for us but is generally for the better.I remember in the early days just wondering: what could a cannabis store be like? The first thing that came to mind was customer-centric experience and a huge source of information and culture. The industry has come so far in a pretty short period of time especially with 2.0 products becoming available.

  • BK: What must a cannabis retailer do well?

    GS: Know the products, choose the right selection and have the best staff who believe in education and social responsibility.

  • BK: I love that.

    GS: The biggest compliment for us to see you come back in the store as a repeat customer.

  • BK: What have you taught customers about the cannabis retail experience?

    GS: Just that we’re not the scary pot shop on the corner. We’re a beautiful shop staffed by polite employees who are eager to answer questions and engage. The shops are bright and clean. We try to hire people from each community who represent our customers and that buying cannabis legally is safe and normal.

  • BK: We see so many new stores opening and I love your idea with Deep Discount Cannabis. How competitive is the current retail environment?

    GS: Very competitive. There are more than 500 stores in Alberta plus there is still an illicit market to contend with. Supply is certainly better but we are still battling for quantity of products. We decided to introduce the Deep Discount Model to both differentiate in a very saturated market as well as to ensure we are making cannabis accessible to everyone over the legal age who’d like access to it.

  • BK: What’s the current state of the legal industry?

    GS: I think there’s a lot of great things happening with a lot of great companies, both big and small. We’ve done a Grown Local campaign in Alberta and Ontario, focusing on locally produced cannabis, and that was fun, and I think that’s also on-trend. People like “craft” product and also the value equation—there’s a lot more quality value brands

  • BK: Hence, your new store.

    GS: Yeah, that’s definitely something we’ve seen that’s sought after—ounces, half ounces, quarters. It’s quality flower, but also value brands. That’s definitely very sought after today.

  • BK: Take us out of here as we approach the second anniversary of legalization. What do you think of our legacy today?

    GS: Cannabis went from illegal to essential in two years. Think about that. There was a time this summer where it was illegal to get a haircut, but legal to buy a joint. We have a long way to go still toward making a perfect legal system. But think about that. Two years in and I think we’ve done pretty well.