Much like the prairies, Garden Variety cannabis retail spaces are fresh and bright with inviting colours and an open atmosphere. They are exclusive to Manitoba (for now), with three operating retail locations in the heart of the province and two more set to open in rural Manitoba later this year.
If they sound like a little cannabis shop on the prairie, think again. Garden Variety is operating in the future of the cannabis retail space and has launched a number of in-store initiatives that make them a retailer to watch.
Garden Variety was formed through the collaboration of five shareholders from Ontario, Manitoba, and Colorado. Of 100 applicants for a cannabis retail licence in Manitoba, Garden Variety was one of four who met the strict criteria to be selected. In March 2019, the first two Garden Variety stores opened in Winnipeg. In December that same year, a store opened in Brandon, Manitoba.
Garden Variety stores are big. Averaging about 3,500 sq. ft., they are open, airy, and give patrons plenty of room to browse or privately consult with staff.
“Our stores were designed for the cannabis market of the future,” explains Sheilagh Dohie, Garden Variety regional manager. “We left room for refrigeration and the second phase of cannabis products. Our kiosks create an opportunity to evolve our monitors–one day we may see customers ordering right from those screens.”
Having that insight into the future of cannabis in Canada is courtesy of Garden Variety’s management company, Native Roots, which is a cannabis brand located in Colorado. Native Roots has been in business for 10 years, starting in the medical sphere and then moving into recreational cannabis after it was legalized in the state.
“Our head office is in Winnipeg, but they provide us with operational support,” Dohie says of Native Roots. “They help us with IT and marketing functions.”
Garden Variety stores boast many interesting signature features, including a flower wall. The flower wall is an eight-foot custom-built wall holding 40 LED light boxes and displaying an array of real cannabis flowers. There are also custom-built consulting tables, display boxes, and Instagram-worthy signage and graphics, like the Sparwolf. The half sparrow, half wolf creature is native to Manitoba and represents prosperity, togetherness, creativity, and freedom.
Garden Variety also takes pride in providing a range of products, including accessories. Their goal is to make their store a one-stop-shop and build their inventory based on what customers are looking for.
“We always have something new, interesting, and cutting-edge in stock,” says Dohie. “I believe we’re industry-leading in [that] we have a customer loyalty program and started selling gift cards just before Christmas last year.”
Garden Variety has also started a program that helps Manitoba be a little greener in another way.
“The waste produced through the packaging of cannabis products has been a concern for consumers,” Michelle Burkowski, Garden Variety store manager says. “In spring 2019, we launched a recycle program that awards 50 cents for every cannabis container brought back. The program exploded. We’re estimating that between the three stores, we’ve recycled about 1,000 pounds.”
“We’re really trying to behave like your typical retailer,” Dohie adds. “We want to create that return customer and give people different ways to pay in our stores. Not everyone is doing that.”
While Garden Variety is running a number of innovative initiatives, both Dohie and Burkowski feel strongly that their team of “mood makers” is what really makes their business shine.
“One of our mood makers named Ari came up with the idea for the recycle program,” Burkowski says. “We have a standout team of staff who are invested in the brand and the company.”
Dohie couldn’t agree more. “It is very important that our team is approachable, adaptable, and can use their product knowledge to understand a customer’s needs and shape a connection. It’s the team that really sells a positive buying experience.”
As for what the future holds, Dohie says the vision has always been to be in multiple provinces and grow across Canada. While 2020 will be Manitoba-based, within the next five years we will likely see a Garden Variety bloom in Ontario.
“We’d also like to get involved more with our communities and different charities this year,” Burkowski adds. “Now that our three stores are running pretty seamlessly, we want to focus more on elevating our communities and giving back. It’s important to us to work with organizations that our staff and community care about.”
The ground on the prairies is frozen for most of the year. Garden Variety is proof that with a little innovation, forward thinking, and the right team, you can bloom wherever you’re planted.