Cannabis has been legal in Canada for just over two years, and Jim Southam, President and CEO at Prairie Cannabis in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, has been there from the beginning. Out of over 1,500 applicants, he and his sister were awarded one of the 51 permits in Saskatchewan’s original lottery for cannabis retailers and the brand has been growing ever since.
The Perfect Location
Prairie Cannabis began as a stand-alone 3,000 sq. ft. building with 1,600 sq. ft. of retail space but has since expanded to include two new locations in Saskatoon. As soon as he could, Southam applied for the new stores, and in December his building permits were approved by the City of Saskatoon. All three locations will have similar modern industrial décor, and hopefully be open for business by the end of February.
One location is on the west side of Saskatoon with about half of the area of the store in Prince Albert, however, it’s his second location that Southam is particularly proud of. Situated on 8th Street, one of the main business districts in the city, he managed to get his hands on an old bank building—over 3,175 sq ft of space with a working safe. Southam plans to make it a full-service store, stocked with their full inventory, including a huge variety of accessories.
A Rich Selection and Passionate Staff
Variety and a rich selection are important because Prairie Cannabis is one of only two stores in Prince Albert, a city of 35,000 people. He says the store can’t afford to just focus on one market, so he tries to make cannabis accessible to everyone.
“A lot of my customers are older, so I didn’t want to rely on technology for people to be shopping with. I wanted customers to be able to rely on budtenders when they are learning about products,” Southam says. “I think it’s important that people have that personal connection when they choose their products.”
Staff at Prairie Cannabis represent the customers as well, their ages ranging from 23 to 64. Southam knows that passionate staff can make all the difference when it comes to educating customers about which product is right for them and encouraging them to consume with intent.
“We really emphasize self-education for staff so that we can provide a high quality of service to our customers,” Southam explains. “They all have questions, and there’s a lot of information that we need to share. It’s been a struggle trying to educate the public and teach about other benefits.”
With around 30 new stores scheduled to open in Saskatoon, Prairie Cannabis is trying to get a jump on finding over 30 talented new team members before other stores scoop them up.
It’s clear that Southam is proud of his Prairie roots. In smaller population centres, it’s easy to see the impact of doing business locally, and Southam believes that the same model applies to cannabis as well.
He puts his beliefs into practice by not only sourcing his inventory from small, local producers, but also by supporting them in other ways, like creating Weed Pool Cannabis Co-op, a licensed distributor that is a co-operative of independently-owned Saskatchewan cannabis retailers and producers.
“Working with independent producers is a big factor for how successful we’ve been. Going forward I think it will be a very key component. As long as we, as independent retailers, support independent producers as much as we can, I see that trend continuing.”
Breaking Down Barriers
Like many cannabis businesses, finding financing wasn’t easy. For the first location, he and his sister used personal funds, but they weren’t too keen on doing that again, so they went in search of lenders who would take them on—without charging an arm and a leg. After asking around, a private lender in BC decided to give them a shot, making Prairie Cannabis the first independent cannabis company to obtain a non-collateralized loan from this alternative lending source.
“I got into the industry to break down barriers, and this is just another barrier to break down—for others and the industry as a whole.”
While he believes that banks will eventually start looking at the industry, Southam isn’t going to wait and is already looking into better ways to provide independent retailers with financing.
As an entrepreneur and an advocate for small, independently-owned cannabis businesses, Southam’s crystal clear passion for the industry shines through in everything he does.
Main photo by Patricio Del Rio