Food entrepreneurs put their business expertise to work in the retail cannabis trade
Sudbury’s newest cannabis dispensary is actually one of a trio of new cannabis stores that have just opened in three Northern communities in the past few weeks.
Cannabis Jacks is the name of the newest Northern Ontario brand of cannabis dispensaries that are located in Timmins, North Bay and Val Caron.
Sudbury entrepreneur John Shelegey said he has been surprised to discover there is a large demographic of older citizens who are happy they can purchase cannabis products for personal health reasons.
Shelegey is in business with partners Steve Beaudry and Tom Laronde, all Northerners who have worked for the Subway brand for several years, developing their business and marketing expertise in Northern locations.
“We’ve been long time entrepreneurs in the food industry, collectively with more than 75 years of experience,” said Shelegey.
He said the food business had become more and more challenging in recent years with things such as competition and staffing. He said he and his partners were looking for new opportunities, based on their entrepreneurial backgrounds. One of the benefits he said was the development of solid business relationships with long-term and loyal managers from their Subway stores.
Shelegey said the legalization of cannabis in Canada in 2018 came along at the right time for the three businessmen.
“We’d been a long time in the food business,” said Shelegey. “We needed to renew our vision.”
He said he and his partners saw it as an opportunity to transition.
“It allowed us to divest our food capital and reinvest in the cannabis market.” He said it also gave them the time to transition senior staff members from the Subway business to the cannabis business.
“The timing worked out extremely well,” he added.
He added that opening in the North was a natural place to start since all three entrepreneurs knew Northern Ontario very well. They were also pleased to share a business partnership with the corporate Cannabis Jacks store that was co-founded in Sault Ste Marie by businessman Michael Birch.
“We understand the local markets. We want to support the communities we live in,” he said.
“We are in the people business. So whether we are selling subs or selling CBD oils, it’s all about people and transitioning the skillset to something different and exciting,” he added.
Shelegey said it was one of the reasons why he and the partners went with the Cannabis Jacks brand, which originated in Sault Ste. Marie. He said their previous business connections allowed them to find good venues in each community.
In Sudbury, the new store is on Highway 69N in Val Caron. In North Bay Cannabis Jacks is on Cassells Street at the Bypass, and in Timmins the new store is on Riverside Drive at Emerald. Shelegey said each location has unique qualities that he is pleased with and expects will help to grow the business. The store in Timmins opened May4; the store in Val Caron opened May 12 and the store in North Bay opened May 14, 2021.
Shelegey said what he learned from his own market research the majority of cannabis dispensaries in Ontario were too focused on making a business transaction. He said his background in the food business taught him that a more personal approach works better.
He said the company has a “curated menu of products” that are not overwhelming for the customers. He said one the key pillars of the business is customer engagement and education. He said this involves having store staff that educate the customers and explain the products that are available and how the products can fit the needs of the individual.
Shelegey said the industry is heavily regulated by the AGCO (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario) but added that AGCO was also helpful in getting the new stores up and running. He added that the pandemic gave them some worries.
“You know what, with the lockdown and the curbside setup, we didn’t know what to expect. But we are so thrilled with how we are being received,” he said.
“What was really, really surprising and pleasing to us was the seniors’ demographic. People are coming to look for sleeping aids. Things to help aches and pains. People are thanking us that we are easily accessible for them. So we have been delighted with how things have progressed.”
He added that the influx of older residents was enough that Shelegey said the store offers 10 per cent off for seniors on Tuesdays. The company website offers a breakdown of what products are available as well as the locations of other stores the company has in other cities in Ontario.