It’s been a busy 2020 so far for Friendly Stranger and the Friendly Stranger Holdings Corp (FSHC) team. And it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon.
This is good news for Canadian retail, at a time when we could all use some positive stories.
To kick off the year, the FSHC team added the iconic HOTBOX™️ to its growing portfolio. Having already included the family-run Happy Dayz™️ brand, this allowed them to get into the full-service model of serving the cannabis industry. Now their brand spans from accessories to product and ultimately they plan to add consumption lounges (when they become legal).
This month, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Friendly Stranger opened its first Toronto cannabis retail location on Church Street. This marked its third cannabis shop, with London and Burlington also opening their doors earlier this year.
Patience and flexibility are required in any construction project. But they were never so prevalent in the newest project as when COVID-19 added its many challenges. Just a few included working virtually with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) to meet the regulatory requirements and pass the pre-opening inspection.
FSHC is planning to open its fourth location on Queen Street West, very close to the original store. And two more planned Friendly Stranger stores have just received building permits in Oshawa and Hamilton.
And if that isn’t enough, the FSHC is working to convert four Happy Dayz™️ locations to be licensed to sell cannabis, and Kensington Market’s HOTBOX™️ will reopen in the coming months.
Two more Toronto stores are planned to open: one HOTBOX (converted to cannabis retail) and one new Friendly Stranger on Danforth. HappyDayz conversions will happen next in their smaller markets of Barrie, Orillia, Peterborough, and Oshawa.
2020 Schedule of FSHC Expansion at a glance:
London and Burlington open
Church Street location opens
Queen Street West is restarting construction
Oshawa and Hamilton have building permits
Two more in Toronto: HOTBOX convert and net new Friendly Stranger on Danforth
Two more applications are scheduled to get in the AGLC queue (construction TBD)
Staying true to their values
“We are pleased to deliver on our aggressive expansion plan to become the leading cannabis and cannabis accessory retailer in Ontario,” states James Jesty, President of FSHC. “We have dedicated staff who are eager to safely serve and educate the community, remaining true to our company’s core mission and values.”
With a deep history of community presence and involvement, their dedication to education and drive to eliminate the stigma surrounding cannabis will remain front and centre.
As proof of its community commitment, Friendly Stranger has been in the Queen Street West community since 1994, HOTBOX has spent the past 20 years in the Kensington Market and Happy Dayz is a family-run business in their smaller communities.
Several of their newest stores opened up just before (or during) the COVID-19 crisis so they haven’t been able to reach out in a meaningful way to the surrounding communities. The plan is there to also welcome the communities into the stores; a few of the new locations have small community rooms where the company will do cannabis education and local organizations can request space for meetings.
As they embark on their newest location in the Village, FSHC extends their commitment of support to LGBTQ2IA+ communities.
As more locations open, how is the transition from selling accessories to product retailer going?
Jesty sees it as a natural progression. 80 percent of their customer base are connoisseurs, the daily user. He’s very happy to be able to take the Friendly Stranger experience and brand and transition it into full-service stores.
“We are unique to our competitors because we have this long history and understanding of legacy and multiple brands,” explains Jesty. “I consider it a competitive advantage. And we’re still a small team, so we’re nimble and able to leverage our locations and reputation.”
What about expansion outside of southern Ontario?
“We’re in this for the long-haul. We will continue to grow. Obviously, we’re struggling like everyone else,” Jesty comments. “But there is now some light at the end of the tunnel. Over the next six to 12 months, the industry should continue to grow. And (we hope) to be in a position to look at real estate that makes sense and sign leases.”
Currently, FSHC has leases from Windsor to Ottawa. They continue to look for opportunities where they exist. But for now, they’re focusing on the GTA. Which makes sense as that’s where their brand recognition is strongest and it’s been their loyal customer base for both Friendly Stranger and HOTBOX for decades. It’s also still the largest market to grow in.
But FSHC isn’t saying no to merging or acquiring stores throughout the country.
“I’d love to have a 24-month outlook but as we’ve seen in the past two years, it’s very hard,” says Jesty. “We’re still on an aggressive growth plan and that’s super exciting.”