The ground is constantly shifting in the cannabis industry, and One Plant, along with dozens of other cannabis retailers, hit more bumps in the road as the pandemic hit. Despite the challenges, both regulatory and economic, the team at One Plant has persevered when it comes to dealing with whatever comes their way.
Prior to opening One Plant, you helped start the Growth Op cannabis publication in 2018. What was happening in the industry during that time, and what inspired you to open your own retail store?
2018 was really a perfect storm of hype and media coverage around the emerging legal industry as over-valued LP’s with massive marketing budgets struggled to claim market share within the restrictive confines of health Canada advertising regulations.
I’m still with Postmedia and the GrowthOp, but working there has given me the opportunity to literally watch the rise and fall of the Canadian cannabis industry. I attended all of early trade shows and events and learned that there were more questions than answers as everyone tried to find their own path to success. That being said, when the Ford government announced cannabis retail would be private, I saw the Ontario license lottery as a huge opportunity to start my own business and gain a first mover advantage in retail at the same time.
What was your vision when it came to the branding and store concept? How has that changed since the pandemic hit?
We chose to open up One Plant in the heart of Kensington Market – a vibrant and diverse multicultural neighbourhood downtown Toronto.
We wanted the store to be “destination” for Cannabis users as opposed to just another cannabis store. As more and more stores open up and consumers have more choices, only those offering a truly unique experience will thrive.
I had a vision of creating a community space that was inviting, welcoming and accessible for all. It was important for us and the Kensington community that we maintain the look and feel of the market, so we cleaned up the store front, but did not change the façade of the building. We also gained permission from the owners to keep the iconic Fairland sign, and dedicated 700 square feet at the front of our store as an open community space where artists and DJ’s can perform, and our customers can park their bikes while they shop.
When the pandemic hit, we had to rush to get our store open for the first time, but we could only open for curbside pick-up and delivery. We didn’t have an existing customer base to draw from so we really had to hustle and provide excellent service to get the word out.
Today, we are excited to welcome our customers into our space. Our store is 4800 square feet, which makes social distancing easy, but as a result of COVID-19, we have had to reduce touch points within the shop. We’ve taken cannabis flower out of the sensory pods where our customers would normally be able to see and smell the buds. We also added standard plexi-glass partitions at the cash, and we offer hand sanitizing lotion and free masks to customers who don’t have them.
Anti-gentrification activists within the Kensington Market community, which have been known to oppose certain retail corporations, initially objected the opening of One Plant. What was the reasoning behind this, and how did you deal with that?
We did get a considerable amount of pushback from the community because individuals associated with a vested interest in other cannabis retailers spread misinformation about my store being owned by former police commissioner Julian Fantino. Fantino, who once compared cannabis legalization to murder, was associated with Aleafia Health (prior to his April 2020 resignation), an LP that purchased a small 9.9% interest in One Plant Retail Corp. an adult-use cannabis retail operation led by members of the Serruya Family.
None of it was true, and Fantino had no association with my store. I hired One Plant™ as part of a management agreement to run the retail operations while I maintain ownership of the store. But the misinformation caused serious backlash for us, and we’ve been vandalized multiple times, threatened with violence and boycotted by a small percentage of the community who took what they were told at face value. It’s unfortunate that we set off on a rocky start, but as every day passes and people learn the truth it’s all blowing over.
Strategy Online recently reported that brand awareness continues to be an ongoing hurdle in an environment with a wealth of choices, and little brand differentiation. How does One Plant support brand building?
We’re doing a number of things that set us apart, and based on early customer reviews and feedback it’s really working. We established three pillars for our business that we believe are the roadmap for success – offering the widest and best product selection, providing the lowest legal prices (so we are not undercut by the OCS and can compete with the legacy market), and finally, hiring experienced staff that know cannabis and love helping customers find the products that work best for them.
Our managers and staff came to us with a tonne of experience from both the legal and legacy retail markets in the immediate area, so they’ve done a great job of ordering the products that offer the most value at every price point and this had been reinforced by customer feedback.
Redecan has dominated in our value category and Broken Coast has been doing very well in our premium category.
We also host weekly special events – One Love Wednesdays celebrates the rich history of Caribbean culture in the market, and we do giveaways from our LP partners and have live music and food vendors from 5pm-7pm. And during One Plant Live on weekends, different local musicians perform in our lobby, adding to the already busy weekend vibe in the market!
How important are cannabis 2.0 products for your business, and how does your product selection help differentiate you from competitors?
Cannabis 2.0 products are incredibly important for legal retailers. Products like beverages, vapes, edibles and topicals have made cannabis very approachable for the canna-curious customer that may have been intimidated by rolling joints or using a bong.
A big differentiator for us when it comes to product selection is that everything we carry is based on solely on merit, and we are not beholden to any licensed producers.
Some retailers like Tokyo Smoke and Nova Cannabis have to carry mostly Canopy or Aurora products regardless of quality or consumer demand, but we try to support local brands wherever possible, and only carry the highest quality products that our customers demand.
What is one piece of advice you would share with future cannabis retailers?
I think the best piece of advice I could give is to check references and perform extensive due diligence on potential partners. Additionally, retain the services of an experienced cannabis lawyer which will cost money up front but pay off in the long run. Andrew Wilder from Torkin Manes did a phenomenal job for me and has a great reputation in the industry.