Helene Vassos is proud to be the first cannabis retailer in Ontario to be solely owned and operated by a woman. Her first store opened in December 2019 on the Danforth in Toronto and her second store opened in the Mount Dennis neighbourhood in May. CANVAS Cannabis will be opening its third location in late August/early September in Liberty Village, in downtown Toronto.
“From day one, we focused on building for the future and meeting the growing need for cannabis products within Toronto communities,” says Vassos. “Our goal has always been to bring a personal touch to the cannabis retail experience.
“Our stores are located in beautiful, thriving neighbourhoods that are undergoing major redevelopment, and whose residents are looking for access to a sophisticated and fresh outlook on the cannabis retail experience,” she said “We relish the opportunity to be a part of this growth moving forward and hope to open one or two additional locations before the end of the year.”
Though no one could have predicted that an unprecedented global pandemic would become a part of CANVAS’ growth plan, the stores have taken every precaution to keep customers safe until Ontarians are safe and restrictions are eased.
The new location in Mount Dennis mirrors the original CANVAS Danforth store with its warm hues, natural elements and subtle, stylized elegance, including walls and a ceiling enveloped in real moss. It caters to a varied clientele of all ages and carries a wide selection of cannabis products and accessories, including edibles, oils, and topicals.
“We know our customers by name, we engage with them, and we’ve formed strong relationships,” Vassos says, explaining that her staff is focused on helping customers find the best products for their needs.
The store on the Danforth has seen exponential month-over-month growth since it opened. She credits her accomplishments in good part to an amazing support team that includes a core group of senior staff and family members, and a business model based on employing full-time permanent staff.
“Success is really about believing in your customers, your service and your products. It’s as simple as that,” notes Vassos. “You can’t get sidetracked or intimidated by what’s happening around you in this industry—you have to believe in yourself and your skills, and believe that you’ve created something that is of value to the community.”
Vassos is leading the way in the industry by helping to establish standards and procedures through ongoing collaboration with government agencies, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and her colleagues in the retail cannabis industry. She also worked with several vendors on behalf of the industry to facilitate the rapid development of a platform to securely accept online payment for curbside pick-up during the pandemic.
“There are days where we go non-stop, working 12 to 15 hours or longer, but I’m loving this business,” says Vassos. “There’s room for advancement and growth at every level for our team. There isn’t a day that goes by that you don’t wake up thinking ‘I wonder what’s going to happen today’, and that’s exciting.”