3 Key Challenges Facing Cannabis Retail in Canada & How to Overcome Them: Experts

By Retail Insider

With the legalization of cannabis in Canada, we’ve seen a surge of unique spaces emerge in retail – each with their own distinct vibe, personality, and clientele. In 2018, Vancouver-based design firm Cutler put together an internal case study of a fictitious cannabis brand, an exercise in creative development and design to put themselves into the shoes of a newcomer to the industry. The goal: to learn and test what life is like in the world of controlled substance retail.

Fast forward to 2019, we’ve since taken this knowledge to the streets and have worked with several cannabis brands bringing their own individual retail spaces to life. One year later, one year wiser, and with some new projects under our belt, we’ve come across three common challenges in opening new cannabis retail locations and have some suggested solutions on how to best prepare for them. In this blog post, we’ll share some of our key learnings.


Gaining General Knowledge about Cannabis Retail Licensing

Each provincial jurisdiction has its own outline for licensing cannabis retailers. When planning for a new store, it’s important to find out the licensing framework and timeline that apply to your location and the documents you will need to submit. There are often restrictions beyond just securing a location and sending the address for approval. For example, in BC, cannabis products cannot be visible from outside the store. Applicants must submit pictures or renderings of the store exterior to show that they meet this requirement. It’s typical that a detailed floor plan, security layout, and site plan are also needed as part of the application.

Working with a design and project management team experienced in cannabis retail can help prepare you for this process. An experienced design team will have inherent knowledge to navigate you through all the hoops of logistics and will provide a purposeful and professional drawing package to help complete your application efficiently.


Ready to Roll, but Waiting for the Green Light

Some jurisdictions also require cannabis retailers to have a lease agreement as part of the licensing application. However, when licensing lead times are long, this can provide difficulty for retailers who need to comply with specific open to market dates within lease agreements. For example, in BC, most stores in the licensing process are still waiting for their municipal and provincial licensing to go through. BC has mentioned that they are in no rush to license new stores to ensure that there will be sufficient stock, these delays are postponing store openings and compromising business plans.

All is not lost without a license. While waiting for your license there are many other opportunities to effectively adhere to your lease agreements. Working with an experienced team will provide an opportunity to adjust and explore options – opening your store as an education center, pop-up retail store (selling non-cannabis items), or a marketing hub to build brand awareness and engage with your community.


Building the Right Team to Build Your Cannabis Retail Experience

When opening a new retail location in any case, there are many components and contributors to consider. Cannabis retail can be fast-paced and volatile – not having essential members of your team onboarding early can delay a project, add unforeseen project costs, and contribute to site challenges. Choosing the right vendors and suppliers can mean all the difference in the success of your business.

Onboarding your team early will access professionals that can provide insight and guide you while assembling your licensing application. They will also be able to give a better understanding of the overall project scope and costs early on. Some common types of vendors might include application advisors, leasing agents, branding and marketing specialists, interior designers, architects, physical security consultants, and IT technologists.


It’s not just a store, you want an experience

While there are unique challenges to this new and exciting market, hiring a design consulting and project management firm early in the process can help you be better prepared to overcome the challenges and open the cannabis retail environment of your dreams.

Interior designers and architects will work with you to develop a space to echo your brand voice, bringing your vision to life and all the while aiding in the daunting licensing process. Throughout the project they can produce brand design guidelines, drawings, review existing site conditions, plan major project phases, and assist with efficient store rollouts. When you have the right team together you can focus on the details that will set you apart in a rapidly growing marketplace.

We want to make building your brand’s experience as simple as we can but still be sure to incorporate all the subtle intricacies of who you are and what you stand for.

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd.

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