By Patricia Viscount
For almost 25 years, Friendly Stranger Cannabis Culture Shop (or simply known as Friendly Stranger) has been a mainstay on Queen Street West in Toronto. Known for their customer-centric service, superior cannabis knowledge and focus on community, they have a large, international and loyal following. On October 17, they announced their partnership with Green Acre Capital (GAC). With an infusion of $10 million from the GAC private investment fund, Friendly Stranger is leveraging the strength of their brand to expand across Ontario and hope to open 50 stores across the country in two years.
“While Green Acre Capital is the financial support, we’re steering the brand forward. Each location will be just as authentic as the main store,” promises Robin Ellins, Chief Executive Officer of Friendly Stranger. “We aren’t going to rush. We have lofty goals but we’re making sure we’re on-point and will be connected to our community the way we are now.”
Mr. Ellins and his partner, Joy Jacobsen, are focused on working closely with their new neighbours to become a valued member of the community. In addition to a percentage of sales going back into the local area, they feel it’s important to offer opportunities to learn more about the cannabis industry. They want to show people that it’s not all about making money, it’s also about being part of a larger community.
"We are thrilled to be partnering with Robin and Joy and the executive team behind The Friendly Stranger, who are true pioneers in the industry. With the investment and managerial support from GAC, we believe The Friendly Stranger is positioned to become one of the largest independent cannabis retailers in Ontario, with plans to expand elsewhere in Canada in the coming years," said GAC Managing Director, Matt Shalhoub.
The search for locations is two tiered:
Friendly Stranger has built their reputation operating in a downtown area, so want to continue in that kind of location. They want to stay close to their roots and open shops in (typically) culturally diverse areas with lots of foot traffic.
But there are many car-centered communities and they want to make sure those customers aren’t overlooked. Locations in these areas that might fit are plazas where other retail exists, like a coffee shop or a liquor store.
They’re looking at shops that are approximately 2000 sq ft. Though, if the space and local vibe fit their needs, they can expand up to 4000 sq ft. While their short-term expansion plans are focused on locations around the GTA (think Oshawa, Orillia and Barrie), they are also keen to investigate places like Kingston and Ottawa.
They aren’t planning to drastically change their business model, but they’ll refine what services they offer and finetune their accessory offering. The end goal is to be a one-stop shop for all things cannabis, which includes retailing actual product, not just the accessories they now offer. But the nascent cannabis industry needs to evolve before that can become a reality. (Currently the only legal sales are online through the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS).)
When discussing possible competition, Mr. Ellins doesn’t seem very concerned about market share or the plethora of new cannabis companies out there. He says there’s a lot of room for people who do it right.
“There will be many who try and don’t succeed,” he says bluntly. “We have the advantage of 25 years of experience. Our customers come back because they don’t want to go anywhere else. We know the industry intimately and we carry the right products for our clientele.”
The real estate brokers they’re working with for expansion locations:
As well as,
The retail design team creating the design of their expansion locations: Marcela Romero | Account Supervisor, Fish out of Water Design Inc.349 Carlaw Avenue, Suite 302 | Toronto ON M4M 2T1P: 416.406.3474 ext 234 C: 647-447-8743. ww.fishoutofwaterdesign.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Patricia Viscount lives in Calgary and has over 25 years of experience as a communications specialist, writer and editor. She began her career as a public affairs officer in the Canadian Forces before transitioning to a senior advisor role in the energy industry. Self-employed since 2016, she helps her clients navigate the stressful world of words to allow them to build business messages with confidence and clarity. Follow her on Twitter @PViscount, LinkedIn at Patricia Viscount or email her at: email@example.com.