The Voice of Retail

Chris Jones, Founder of CANNABIS XPRESS on Thriving With Speed & Size

Episode Summary

Serial entrepreneur Chris Jones, Founder of CANNABIS XPRESS, tells us why his high quality, high speed and low prices model has seen him grow to more than a dozen retail stores in Ontario despite cannabis retail industry consolidation.

Episode Notes

Welcome to The Voice of Retail. I'm your host Michael LeBlanc. This podcast is brought to you in conjunction with Retail Council of Canada.

Serial entrepreneur Chris Jones, Founder of CANNABIS XPRESS, tells us why his high quality, high speed and low prices model has seen him grow to more than a dozen retail stores in Ontario despite cannabis retail industry consolidation.

Thanks for tuning into this special episode of The Voice of Retail.  If you haven’t already, be sure and click subscribe on your favourite podcast platform so new episodes will land automatically twice a week, and check out my other retail industry media properties; the Remarkable Retail podcast, the Conversations with CommerceNext podcast, and the Food Professor podcast.  Last but not least, if you are into BBQ, check out my all new YouTube barbecue show, Last Request Barbeque, with new episodes each and every week!

I’m your host Michael LeBlanc, President of M.E. LeBlanc & Company & Maven Media, and if you’re looking for more content, or want to chat  follow me on LinkedIn, or visit my website!  Have a safe week everyone!


About Chris

Chris Jones is an entrepreneur and cannabis industry executive. He is currently Founder and President of CANNABIS XPRESS, which is a leading chain of 13 cannabis retail stores in Ontario, Canada. Previous to that, he founded another cannabis retail company in Ontario and sold after it hit a run rate of approximately $15 million via an all-cash sale to a public company. Before entering the retail industry, he was actively involved in and led multiple acquisitions and investments ranging from several million to over a billion dollars during his time at Origin House which was later acquired by a top US-based multi state operator - Cresco Labs. Chris has also developed and taught classes at George Brown College through their school of continuing education. One of them more recently was called Cannabis Business Strategy, which includes a lineup of coveted guest speakers such as Bruce Linton (Founder of Canopy Growth Corporation – which was previously the largest cannabis company in the world by market capitalization). He currently teaches a management course at George Brown called Management Fundamentals.

Before that, he built his finance and business development experience at two global construction companies based in Canada: EllisDon and Aecon. Additionally, he led business development and negotiations for a boutique trial-focused law firm in Toronto. Outside of work, Chris spends his time travelling, taking language courses in Spanish, walking his dog, enjoying the outdoors, exercising and is undefeated in Muay Thai. He obtained his Masters of Business Administration from McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business, and a Bachelor of Commerce from Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.

About Michael

Michael is the Founder & President of M.E. LeBlanc & Company Inc and a Senior Advisor to Retail Council of Canada as part of his advisory and consulting practice. He brings 25+ years of brand/retail/marketing & eCommerce leadership experience and has been on the front lines of retail industry change for his entire career. He has delivered keynotes, hosted fire-side discussions with C-level executives and participated on thought leadership panels worldwide.  Michael was recently added to ReThink Retail’s prestigious Top 100 Global Retail Influencers for a second year in  2022.


Michael is also the producer and host of a network of leading podcasts, including Canada’s top retail industry podcast, The Voice of Retail, plus the Remarkable Retail with author Steve Dennis, Global E-Commerce Tech Talks and The Food Professor with Dr. Sylvain Charlebois.  Most recently, Michael launched Conversations with CommerceNext, a podcast focussed on retail eCommerce, digital marketing and retail careers - all available on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music and all major podcast platforms.   Michael is also the producer and host of the “Last Request Barbeque” channel on YouTube where he cooks meals to die for and influencer riches.

Episode Transcription

Michael LeBlanc  00:05

Welcome to The Voice of Retail. I'm your host, Michael LeBlanc. This podcast is brought to you in conjunction with the Retail Council of Canada. 

Michael LeBlanc   00:08

Serial entrepreneur, Chris Jones, founder of CANNABIS XPRESS tells us how and why his high quality, high speed and low-price model has seen him grow to more than a dozen retail stores in Ontario.

Despite cannabis retail industry consolidation. 

Chris Jones    00:12

We keep them very small, like I'm pretty sure we also have the smallest cannabis stores in the country. So, some of them are about, you know, three, 300 square feet with about 80 square feet of retail space. So, just small locations, we optimize laborers, we only have one person working at a time. And you know, limited, (crossover talk), 

Michael LeBlanc  00:44

There's a bit of a risk for one person. There, like in the COVID era, we're still in the quasi-post-COVID era, you know, (crossover talk), one person gets sick. I mean, how do you, how do you deal with the, I am just diving into the operational questions, but right there you, you know, you got me you got me thinking? 

Chris Jones  00:57

Yeah, I'd say it's kind of a double-edged sword. 

Michael LeBlanc  00:57

Chris welcome to The Voice of Retail podcast. How are you doing this afternoon?

Chris Jones  00:57

I'm doing well, Michael.  How are you doing? Thanks for having me.

Michael LeBlanc  00:59

Yeah, it's my pleasure. Hey, I'm looking forward to chit, chittin and chat. Thanks for reaching out, I think you reached out on LinkedIn and, and said, hey, we, I think you heard a couple of my podcasts and we said, hey, I'd love to, love to chat with you. And I thought what a great opportunity to talk to an innovative retailer in the cannabis space. So, welcome.

Chris Jones  01:24

Thank you. I was excited. I've been following your podcasts and noticed you had a bunch of or at least some cannabis retailers now. But you know what, I think I have a, you know, a much, much better, more unique business model than you know, than most of them, or all of them, at least. So, I figured it would be great to get on and chat with you.

Michael LeBlanc  01:43

Well, let's, let's find out. Let's get into it. Why don't we take it from the top? So, tell us a little bit about who you are and a bit of your background, your journey, and how you got into the retail cannabis business. And then, then we'll get into talking about CANNABIS XPRESS. But first, let's talk about you.

Chris Jones  01:59

Yeah, that sounds like a good, good start. My, my journey, I guess, is, you know, fairly, fairly unique compared to most people. You know, I always wanted a job in cannabis. And then obviously, when, you know, before cannabis legalization in Canada, most of the jobs here were, you know, focused on cultivation, which obviously isn't something I'm not interested in. So, I've had, you know, a variety of jobs over the years working at a law firm, two large construction companies. 

Chris Jones   02:27

And then when I was finishing my MBA, I saw a job posting for a cannabis M&A company, a public company, based out of Toronto. So, I applied for that job, I got it. I was there for close to three years, the focus of the company was M&A in California, in particular. So, this was pre-legalization in Canada, and obviously, at that point in time, California, passed legislation, so they had recreational rules, you know, and they had a robust medical system previously, so the infrastructure was already, you know, set up in that state to be fairly successful. So, we bought six companies in California and invested in a handful. I traveled pretty frequently to California to look at, you know, M&A opportunities, and then obviously, working on closing the transactions and the integration of that business into our ecosystem. So, it was an interesting insight into, you know, a more mature market when Canada, you know, didn't really you know, have anything at the time other than, you know, a small medical system, and then some, you know, cannabis LPs that were going public, like Tweed. 

Chris Jones   02:56

So, then, you know, from that our company got bought by a much larger U.S., MSO called Cresco Labs, which I'm sure you've probably heard of. So, Cresco bought us. And then right around that time as well, you know, Ontario was going to have their own cannabis retail stores. So, I believe it was under the, you know, the Liberal government before Ford came into power in Ontario, it was going to be, you know, the OCS you know, Ontario, (crossover talk). So, similar to the, you know, the liquor store, LCBO in Ontario. So, that was the plan. And then, you know, Ford came into power and changed it to a lottery-based system. So, it was a lottery-based system, 25 winners, you know, anyone could apply. So, the company I worked with, we ended up, you know, coming to a deal with one of the first-round lottery winners. So, I went through the, you know, licensing process with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario fairly early compared to, you know, well, there's only 25 of us, right. So, you, (crossover talk) know, at the very beginning, you know, I learned I learned a lot from that and then just generally speaking, like, my, my background is, you know, like, a mile, a mile wide and an inch deep. Like, I know a lot about business, but nothing, you know, I'm not a, you know, an expert, I'd say in anything. So, you know, going through that lottery process, working with the winner, I learned a lot about, you know, retail, the licensing process, 

Michael LeBlanc 05:15


Chris Jones    05:16

Etcetera. So, then there was a second lottery and then with 50 winners, and then after that, the government announced it was going to (crossover talk), open up to a first come first serve process. So, at that point in time, I realized, you know, I think I can, you know, probably do this, I see a lot of people that, you know, I think are way less advanced than me, you know, opening up stores and you know, doing fairly well. So, I was like, you know what, I'll give this a try, worst case, I'll, you know, lose a little bit of money on the application process. 

Chris Jones    05:35

So, I formed a company, I ended up raising about a million dollars, through another public company, I opened up four of the first, I'd say 150 stores in the province. So, I live, I live in Toronto. And, you know, I obviously saw what happened in Alberta, with, you know, saturation of stores when the market opened up, and then even just other states, you know, in the US, where everyone rushes to the major cities, and you know, rent is insane. And it's just everyone's trying to outbid each other. So, I was like, you know, what, I only have a million dollars, I'd rather you know, find the lowest hanging fruit. So, I decided to start opening up stores in, you know, towns that weren't as, like, as attractive as the major cities. So, the first four stores I opened, I opened them up very quick, you know, fairly cheap, it was a big learning curve, you know, hiring training retaining, 

Michael LeBlanc    06:06

Sure. sure. 

Chris Jones   06:08

Employees fairly early on. This is during COVID, as well. So, it was, you know, obviously, fast changing landscape with,

Michael LeBlanc   06:14

Every day, every week. Yeah, (crossover talk) a new rule every week, 

Chris Jones   06:20

Allowed in stores, not allowed in stores, curbside pickup, etc. So, it was an interesting time. The four stores did well, they, you know, hit a run rate of close to 15 million, you know, only after a few months of being open. So, from that I ended up selling my ownership back to the public company. So they bought my ownership. I left my corporate job, and decided I wanted to open up a new chain of stores. So, that brings us, you know, to what the meat of what we wanted to talk about today is my current business CANNABIS XPRESS. So, you know right after the, right after it was sold, I started CANNABIS XPRESS, with a you know, a new idea, a new concept. You know, I saw the changing landscape in the retail industry, both, you know, in Ontario, and just, just generally. So, you know, I thought I could do it a lot better, than, than most people?

Michael LeBlanc  07:13

Well, let's start, let's talk about a couple of things. You, you, you put a pretty big swath of information towards there. Let's talk about, as you, as you reflected on your early experiences, let's talk about California a little bit, because I think there's, you know, we always look south to the different states that went legal first. And California, would you agree, or, or you would be better informed than me that their success has been, what do we call it, muted? Like, I think there's a lot of optimism around New York State becoming the biggest, but I saw wins and losses in California. What kind of lessons did you take away from your experience in California, both positive and, and not negative but kind of things (crossover talk), watch out for? How did you, how did you re-, reflecting on that period what, what do you think?

Chris Jones  07:57

Well, I'd say, you know, even, even looking at a lot, a lot of the large, multi-state operators, like a lot of them are not going into California, just because of how difficult it is now. Obviously, you know, a couple of years ago, it was a few years ago, when I was doing more work there, so it's different than today. But I think even today, it's much more difficult for a legal operator than it was before obviously, due to, you know, the rise of, you know, inflation, energy costs, competitiveness from the, you know, illicit market. And, you know, (crossover talk), the taxes,

Michael LeBlanc  08:25

Talk about that, I mean, and talk about for those, you know, for those listening, who maybe aren't steeped in the ins and outs of the cannabis business, particularly in, in the US. What, what is it about the California market that is most vexing to, (crossover talk), retail.

Chris Jones  08:39

Honestly, it's, it's the taxes, it's the, it all comes down to the taxes, like they're taxed heavily. You know, and then obviously, there's other, you know, issues that they have to deal with, like banking, banking is challenging, since it's still federally illegal. But I'd say the banking and the taxation are both challenging and then obviously, you're, you know, competing against illicit sellers who, you know, obviously aren't paying any taxes, aren't licensed, and their margins are, you know, a lot higher. So that's a big challenge. But I think in on a positive note, you know, what I learned from California was more about the brands, the product makeup, you know, the differentiation between stores, the layout, how they look how they feel, and then even just looking at, you know, the category assortment of you know, we're, where products are trending, right, like there's a lot of brands from the US that have entered Canada that are trying to sell their products here but just seeing like, you know, obviously out there it's different than it is here, you know, brands can you know, do more marketing advertising, you're in Canada, Ontario, it's a lot more, (crossover talk), restrictive,

Michael LeBlanc  09:41

It doesn't seem to be helping, I guess, I guess where I'm getting with this. I don't know where I'm getting so to speak, but where you're taking me with this is, you know, all that being the case that it is easier to do as you described the marketing environments, very diff-, it's very different. And you've also got different rules on, on content, they still struggle, right. So, it's not just a matter of the product and the marketing. There's, there's some fundamental issues even the municipalities, I mean, I know many municipalities in California decided not to allow cannabis. So, it's very complex, right?

Chris Jones  10:12

Yes. It's similar to here in Ontario, there's large municipalities that have opted out like, you know, Mississauga, Oakville, Caledon, you know, and a lot of smaller municipalities. But, you know, obviously New York, New York, the rules and regulations are, you know, fairly similar to how it is in Canada. Obviously, it took them longer to get started, and they have a, you know, much more robust social equity program, which is great. But yeah, I think people are a lot more excited about New York than California, just because, you know, in California, there's, you know, obviously a lot more outdoor and, you know, space to grow cannabis illegally versus New York. So, obviously, you know, I was hoping that the legal market is a lot, a lot larger in Cal-, in New York than California.

Michael LeBlanc  10:53

Yeah, I mean, just by population, it's, it's pretty exciting. Anyway, enough about, enough about that, let's talk about the new concept. So, take me from the kind of a whiteboard, you, you distill all your experience down into a new retail concept. Take me through CANNABIS XPRESS.

Chris Jones  11:08

Yeah, so the concept of CANNABIS XPRESS came when, you know, just from seeing, you know, from my past experience, and you know, growing up, and how people actually purchase cannabis, as well, as you know, me opening up those early on stores, and then selling it. I realized that, you know, number one, it doesn't make sense for me to compete in, in large cities, you know, there are people that are much more well capitalized, and, you know, they have the ability to sustain significant losses, and I obviously, you know, can't. So, looking at, you know, I needed to, I knew I needed to open up stores in towns that are either, you know, they have no stores, or the competition is low. So, that was the first thing. 

Chris Jones   11:30

The second thing is obviously controlling costs. I think a lot of people, you know, went at the very beginning to build these gigantic 2000 plus square feet, you know, fancy Apple stores that they always talk about, which, you know, that's not sustainable at all. I think there's obviously a time and a place for, you know, specialized, you know, retail like that, but for cannabis, it's, it's unnecessary, but yeah, people, people here just build these big, big stores took too long to build them, overspent. And I obviously wanted to go the opposite route. 

Chris Jones   12:24

And then the next thing is, you know, a lot of stores have 5, 6, 700, 800,000 items in-store, which is obviously, you know, for me, it's just way too many, you know, the selection is too big, you know, even looking at, you know, some competitor stores, like 80% of their sales are from 20% of their products. So, it doesn't make any sense to have that many items. So, you know, number one, I wanted to find small locations as well, just to, you know, smaller the location. Obviously, the utility cost is lower, the build outs lower, rent, insurance, etc. So, small locations, small to medium sized towns, and a (crossover talk),

Michael LeBlanc  12:48

What's your average square foot for your store? Like I see, (crossover talk),

Chris Jones  12:52

It's less than a 1000, I'd say the average is probably around like 700. But keeping in mind, like some of the small towns I'm in, it's, you know, obviously tough to find tiny locations, but the rent ends up being, you know, super cheap, like my, I'd say our average rent cost is around $1,000 for 13 stores. So, currently, we have 13 store locations right now in Ontario.

Michael LeBlanc  13:13

13, Now tell me and, and I was looking on your site, I'll put a link in the show notes. But they take me through some of the, quickly some of the cities because as you say, you're staying out. There's a (inaudible) in Brampton, which is probably the biggest city you're in, but take me through, (crossover talk), 

Chris Jones  13:26

Yeah, exactly. So, we opened up a store every six weeks pretty much for the last year and a half. So, (crossover talk), 

Michael LeBlanc  13:33

That's wild, (crossover talk). How are you still standing my friend?

Chris Jones  13:38

It's, you know, you have, you have to love it, that's for sure. You definitely have to love it. We have two in Brampton, Uxbridge, Hillsdale, Wasaga Beach, Port Hope, Ridgetown, Wingham, Beeton, Hamilton, Scarborough, Pickering. And then we have one in a town called North Gower, which is outside Ottawa. So, 13 locations you know, we keep them very small, like, I'm pretty sure we also have the smallest cannabis stores in the country. So, some of them are about, you know, three, 300 square feet with about 80 square feet of retail space. So, just small locations, we optimize laborers, we only have one person working at a time. And, you know, limited, (crossover talk), there's a

Michael LeBlanc  14:20

There's a little bit of risk for one person. Like in the COVID era, we're still in the quasi-post-COVID era, you know, (Crossover talk), one person gets sick. I mean, how do you, how do you deal with it, I’m just diving into the operational questions? But right there you, you know, you got me you got me thinking? 

Chris Jones  14:33

Yeah, I'd say it's kind of a double-edged sword, like we have about I'd say 2.8 employees per store. So, we have a team that's, you know, fairly lean, like limited corporate overhead. So, yeah, no, it does, it honestly does get challenging when, you know, one employee is sick and someone else you know, is on vacation and you know, what do you do? But I think, you know, part of our success is, you know, from scaling, so, obviously, we have stores that are fairly close to each other. So, you know, if if one or two stores are on opposite ends of the city, then yeah, like, you know, it's tough to get staff to, you know, cover a shift in a different location. But, you know, the more stores you have, if they're grouped together in a certain way, then you know, it's easier for us to have employees. And we've been lucky to have, you know, dedicated employees who are able to, you know, trek out to a store that they don't usually work at. So, that's been helpful for us. But yeah, at the very beginning 100% It was, it was challenging, you know, when you only have a few stores and you know, someone calls in sick and the store has to be closed for a day, right, which is you know, (crossover talk), painful,

Michael LeBlanc  15:30

Or you're going for a drive to North Gower, which I'm from Ottawa, so I know it's a, it's a bit of a hike. All right, so, so clearly, you've made some decisions around assortment because, as you say, did you follow the 80-20? And how did you decide and obviously you have this experience? So, walk me through your thinking around the assortment, I guess, broadly speaking, as I understand it, it is still the case that you know, flowers do about 50%. And the balance is taken up. Is that reflected in your assortment and talk, talk to me about how you think about that?

Chris Jones  16:01

Yeah. So that is where our assortment is at. And then, you know, going back to California, like, obviously, you know, the people are smoking less. And I think that's where we're trending towards. But obviously, our flower right now is still the largest product category. So, yeah, our mix of you know, how many products in each category is reflective of, you know, most general market statistics for Canada or Ontario where it's, you know, mostly flower, then you have pre-rolls, you know, vapes, edibles, concentrates, beverages. You know,

Michael LeBlanc  16:31

How are beverages doing for what do you think? 

Chris Jones  16:33

Beverages are doing well, I think, you know, obviously, you know, talking about regulations a little bit, you know, (crossover talk), 

Michael LeBlanc    16:40

The 10% rule, (crossover talk), 

Chris Jones  16:45

You know, (inaudible) you have the 10 milligrams per package is obviously challenging for us, because the price is fairly high for each, for each drink or for each gummy. But firstly, like, I love the drinks, I think, you know, they're the easiest, or one of the easiest ways for a new customer to, you know, get into testing out cannabis, like a lot of people don't want to smoke. So, having a drink is fairly, fairly easy. So, they, they do well, but obviously, it's still, you know, such a small percentage of the overall market.

Michael LeBlanc  17:07

Yeah, right on. So, so, we've talked about assortment, now let's turn the lens around 180 degrees, walk me through the store, as if I'm a customer, what's the experience?

Chris Jones  17:19

So, if you walk in, usually. So, part of the regulations, you're not supposed to see anything when you walk into a store. So, we usually have, you know, a little wall or something, blocking the view. So, you walk in, you know, if you're, you know, you look under age, you get your ID checked, you come around the corner, we have, you know, a limited amount of obviously space, but it you know, makes it a lot easier for us because customers are directed you know, toward, towards the front of where they want to go. So, I would imagine if you, you know, you walk into a fast-food restaurant where you go up to the front, you have menu boards behind the counter, you know, with all the assortment of what's being sold, and then someone behind the desk, or behind the counter with a register in front of them. That's, that's pretty much how all the stores look, we have two big menu boards with all of our products shown on them. We have a few display cases that only carry things like accessories, bongs, lighters, vape pens, or vape, pen batteries, rolling papers, etc. And then we have some displays where we, you know, advertise, you know, whatever's on sale that week. But then pretty much you just walk up to the counter, talk to the person who's there, put in your order, and then that person, you know, turns around and all the products are behind them. So, we designed the stores in a way where you know, it's very fast for the staff member to you know, grab an item and then give it to a (crossover talk), customer,

Michael LeBlanc  18:40

It's smart to kind of be, be run by one individual, they're not disappearing out back and leaving people alone in the, you know, to their own in the store. It's very smart.

Chris Jones  18:48

Yeah, exactly. And it makes it easier for you know, doing things like inventory counts, you know, finding discrepancies, things like that even product training, like having 120 items allows us to make sure each staff member is trained on, you know, every single product that we sell. So, some stores I go to personally it's you know, there's no way each staff member knows about 1000 items. So, keeping the product assortment limited, you know, allows for staff to actually be knowledge-, knowledgeable about all the products you know, which makes it there you know, the customer experience a lot better as well.

Michael LeBlanc  19:18

So, I often, I often, have discussions with retail cannabis leaders about cannabis years that feel very compressed, but, you know, when you, when you pull back the lens, it's really a very young industry, you know, super young. And so right now, there's some co-, consolidation happening in the marketplace. What's your view of, of both the real estate, you know, that is being consolidated and, you know, we seem to have made good progress. I mean, we're better than probably better than 50% or close to it of the illicit market. But what's your perspective as you see it today, are you gearing up for more expansion, more opportunities, or how are you looking at it from your lens?

Chris Jones  19:54

Yeah, I'm, I'm continuing to expand I think what sets us apart from you know, most retailers as you know, if you follow a lot of them not, not many people are expanding anymore, we're actually in a decline in Ontario of store, more store closures than openings, which is something, (crossover talk), 

Michael LeBlanc   20:03

Consolidation too. Yeah, 

Chris Jones   20:05

Which I think is beneficial when you, you know, Toronto has hundreds of stores, which, which doesn't make a lot of sense. But yeah, there is some consolidation but it's, it's obviously challeng-, challenging because I think most stores, you know, even me, like I get pitched on a daily basis for retail stores that are for sale, and all of them are just in like, in such a big hold or, you know, the rent is too much, their labor cost, you know, they're losing money month over month, so most of the attractive there honestly isn't many attractive, you know, cannabis retail opportunities right now, just because of how much money a lot of the, you know, a lot of people are losing, but for us, we're, our plan is just continue to grow. And then obviously, you know, if the right offer comes along to, you know, for someone to buy us, then we'll definitely entertain it. But, you know, we've been, our company has been profitable after, you know, eight months of opening up stores, which is like, I don't know, who you've, who else you've spoken to. I know you've had other, you know, guests on the show. But you know, in terms of retail store profitability, I haven't found anyone who's you know, who's more profitable on a percentage basis than us.

Michael LeBlanc  21:13

So, you described growing your stores in Ontario. (Inaudible), a couple of follow up questions. First of all, are you looking beyond Ontario? You're in Ontario, you've got your expertise here in the province, which is its own thing, other provinces go to market in different ways. And then what's your, you know, let's talk about Ontario, what, you know, what needs to happen in Ontario for the, for the market to realize its potential?

Chris Jones  21:36

Yeah, I've looked at other provinces, obviously, you know, Quebec, we can't open up stores, Alberta is way too saturated, you know, Manitoba is close by, but they still have a, you know, a high amount of stores. So, I think right now, you know, for most people, the biggest opportunity is in Ontario, I still think there's a lot of, you know, small towns and areas that will eventually opt in, which, you know, would make good locations for stores. And then obviously, our team is very small. So, you know, I'm wearing 1000 Hats right now. And for me to you know, to open up stores in another province, I don't really think it makes a lot of sense for us, I think, you know, we're better off just opening up stores in Ontario, I do get pitched sometimes about expanding, you know, out to BC but I would really have to, you know, have a clone of myself to be successful out there. So right, now, the focus is just on Ontario, but I am keeping a close eye on other provinces as they you know, as things change to see if there's an opportunity, but right now, the, the focus is, is just here,

Michael LeBlanc  22:35

And, and, and thinking about Ontario, it's got its own quirks, what, what do you think it will take for Ontario to be successful? 

Chris Jones  22:43

I think it's (crossover talk), similar to what probably other, other guests have said and, you know, in terms of regulations, I think, for brands to be able to advertise and market to customers is very challenging, which you know, is better, better for me as a retailer because obviously, we have a lot of power because we're the you know, one in the age-gated store which you know, we actually speak to customers so that's been beneficial. But I think the, the regulations need to change in terms of you know, the milligrams, the caps on, on edibles, that needs to change, as well as the taxation you know, the taxes, the excise tax is extremely high for a lot of people, so a lot of producers are losing a lot of money. You know, (crossover talk),

Michael LeBlanc  23:28

Now, those two things you're describing mostly are federal issues. What do you think about just the provincial issues?

Chris Jones  23:32

I think you know, It would be nicer obviously this happened in BC recently, where the, you know, the provincial distributor allowed licensed producers to sell directly to retailers. But in BC it was a little bit different because they had a, they had a strike out there with one of the unions so they, they temporarily I believe allowed that. In Ontario, it would be I think, a lot more efficient if the producers could sell directly to you know, the retail stores like I think right now, you know, I'm at a point where if we were able to buy products in bulk and get a discount I think that would you know, be very beneficial to us because how the current market is set up if you have you know, one store or 100 stores everyone's paying the same price for every product. So, I think you know, it's beneficial if you're you know, if you're under five stores it's great because you know, you're paying the same amount as someone with you know, many stores but as you grow you know, it becomes painful when you, when you're paying the same, same price.

Michael LeBlanc  24:30

Let's talk about products for a while. So, for the first time, I think for the first time the Hall of Flowers came to Canada, came to Toronto this week, actually we're talking here on the Friday the 16th. So, tell me about the show. What did you see that was exciting you do off mic you're saying you were at the show and, and so that put a ding in your voice you're a real trooper to come continue to jump on the podcast. But talk about what excited you that you saw at that show and in general the product.

Chris Jones  24:58

Yeah, so Hall the Flowers they were, they had a two day show in Toronto this week, which is, which was fun, they're, you know, they primarily have shows in California, Santa Rosa, Palm Springs. So, it's nice that they expanded, you know, over to here. It was great. I think it was nice for me as a retailer, so a bunch of my staff came as well. But it was nice to see, you know, obviously, a lot of people in person, like I'm either, you know, behind the desk at home or on the road driving from town to town. 

Michael LeBlanc   25:10

Sure, sure. 

Chris Jones    25:12

So, I think it's always nice when you have a group of people that, you know, get together in one spot, and you can, you know, speak to people face-to-face that you've talked to for months. So, that was, that was really beneficial. In terms of, I guess, like product innovation, or, you know, new things coming out, I don't really think there was a lot of that, you know, obviously, brands are coming out with, you know, new products on a monthly basis, but there was nothing that really, I'd say caught my eye in particular. You know, I think the, the best value for me as a retailer out of attending that show, and for my staff to be there was just, you know, the interactions of you know, seeing people face-to-face with the, you know, the brands that we currently work with, and then just, you know, talking to brands that we you know, we don't sell in-store to see potentially if we could, you know, get them, get them in, in-store.

Michael LeBlanc  26:12

Well, yeah, and you've got a very curated assortment. So, I guess it's a show that you're very, you're very picky about and fussy about the products, it's really got to jump out. But it's, as you said, it's always a great opportunity. Let's, the last couple of questions. Let's take, let's take a change of course, here. Let's talk about people. So, lots of retailers are struggling to find people. We've talked about it a couple of times; I think the cannabis industry was a net beneficiary of a lot of people who left the food service industry. Because, you know, how else, how did you staff 1000s of stores? But today, if you take me to today, how hard is it to find people? And then how hard is it to find the right people? And how hard is it to keep them? Or what's your, what's your secret sauce?

Chris Jones  26:55

So yeah, I know, you're, you're 100% right, I think this isn't just a, you know, a cannabis ongoing challenge. I think it's general for you know, retail hospitality and, you know, the broader market. But, you know, finding, finding people is challenging, like, I think our, our longest employees, the longest, you know, people we've had, at all of the stores have been in the smaller towns. So, for us, you know, it's a lot easier to get people in, you know, smaller towns to, you know, stay at the store. But obviously, the talent pool is a lot, a lot smaller, like, you know, we're in towns of 2000 people. So, you know, we may get like 20, 30 applicants max versus, you know, in a town like Brampton, there's, you know, over a million people, and we'll get, you know, hundreds of resumes. 

Chris Jones   27:31

So, I think in the smaller towns, our retention is a lot better, which has been, you know, beneficial to us. But no, it is challenging, you know, especially like, you know, working in a cannabis store, it is, it is a, you know, a tough job tougher than you know, what a lot of people think, and, you know, they really have to love the industry and be passionate about it. But yeah, we were doing things to, you know, make sure we retain employees, like we do a lot of promotion from within. So, we have, like a lot of our early-on employees, now they're in more managerial positions where, you know, they're in charge of supply chain, or they work with all the brands. But we're also lucky to bring on a really strong General Manager who oversees all stores. So, she's been great, and her background wasn't in cannabis at all, which has been fantastic. I don't really think you need cannabis experience to be successful in cannabis retail. It's, you know, if you can sell a t shirt, you can, you know, sell a, you know, half quart-, quarter jar of weed. But yeah, it is definitely is challenging. It definitely is challenging, obviously, you know, you look at numbers. I believe Headset came out with some figures, you know, a month or two ago, saying like, 60% of, you know, staff that you hire are gone within three months. And you know that most of those statistics are true, but obviously, I think it's true for you know, retail in general, not just cannabis. Yeah,

Michael LeBlanc  28:57

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, I made that point to the media. It's like, listen, some people would be very happy to have those numbers. I mean, listen, turnover is a thing. And it's, I talked to retailers every day of all formats, who put a big focus on retention, and they're experiencing tremendous turnover. So, yeah, for sure. It's not that limited or restricted to the size of the business or the industry. It's, it's, a very dynamic time. Last question for you. For all the listeners, for your fellow retailers, for your fellow cannabis retailers listening advice. Two starts, one stop based on all of your experience in what you do today. Two things they should start doing if they're not, one thing maybe they should do less of, and maybe you find isn't working anymore.

Chris Jones  29:38

Well, two things they should start doing, I think, you know, number one is just making sure that you know, their, all of their costs are as low as possible. Like I aggressively negotiate every single service provider agreement to, you know, make sure I'm paying the least amount and obviously as you scale you have more negotiating power. So, just making sure you know, every service provider agreement is you know, every month you're renegotiating it, every time you open the store, you're renegotiating it. So, you know, being aggressive with that, I think that's the first thing. 

Chris Jones    29:57

And then the second thing I would say, is just trying to bring in revenue from sources outside of actually selling products. So, recently, the AGCO, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, they’re allowing retailers to enter into data agreements with licensed producers, where we can sell our data. So, I would say just, you know, making sure that you are trying to monetize everything in the store, you know, not just selling products, not just selling accessories, but you know, selling data, and working with the right producers to sell that data to, you know, because the margins are already razor thin in cannabis. So, just you know, making sure you're you know, spending less and bringing in more money, those two things. 

Chris Jones    30:14

And then, you know, the stop that you mentioned, I would say, I do know, a lot of retailers that are just losing, you know, hundreds of 1000s of dollars a month on, you know, like failing stores, I'd say just give up on those stores. I think it's crazy that the people in Canada, I know they just, people are you know, getting second mortgages, refinancing you know, their house to, to pay for these, these losers stores. And I don't think that makes a lot of sense. I think if you have a business that's, you know, failing, I think a lot of people are very emotionally connected to it. But I would you know, it's obviously easier, easier said than done, but just removing the emotion from it. And from a purely financial point of view, just you know, if the store is not making money, and there's no clear path to profitability then just you know, cutting your losses and, and moving on.

Michael LeBlanc  31:36

Well, Chris, it's been a real treat to getting to know you and getting to know your business. Congratulations on your success. And I wish you continued success in this, in this business. Now, if people want to learn, get in touch with you. Are you a LinkedIn guy? And I'll put a link in the show notes for the store. But is LinkedIn a great way to connect with you?

Chris Jones  31:54

Oh, anything. LinkedIn, email on our website, www dot cannabis So, there's no E, just X, P, R, E, S, S. You can send an email to the general inbox; it'll get flipped over to me. Via LinkedIn, email, you know, any, any way possible. And I'm always happy to give advice to you know, retailers or people who you know, thinking about opening up retail stores. I'm happy to, you know, give my two cents and help out. So yeah, if anyone wants to reach out, I'm glad to, glad to talk.

Michael LeBlanc  32:23

All right, well, fantastic. Well, listen, thanks again for joining me on The Voice of Retail. Like I said, I wish you much continued success and a great rest of your day.

Chris Jones  32:31

Thank you very much, Michael. I enjoyed it.

Michael LeBlanc  32:33

Thanks for tuning into this special episode of The Voice of Retail. If you haven't already, be sure and click on subscribe on your favorite podcast platform so new episodes will land automatically twice a week. 

And check out my other retail industry media properties: the Remarkable Retail podcast, Conversations with CommerceNext podcast, and The Food Professor podcast with Dr. Sylvain Charlebois. Last but not least, if you're into barbecue, check out my all-new YouTube barbecue show, Last Request Barbecue with new episodes each and every week. 

I'm your host, Michael LeBlanc, president of M.E. LeBlanc & Company and Maven Media. And if you're looking for more content or want to chat, follow me on LinkedIn or visit my website at 

Have a safe week everyone.


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