Local cannabis store making waves in Ontario’s weed retail

By Ian Hunter

It doesn’t take an eagle-eye to notice cannabis retail has exploded throughout Waterloo Region. Despite the rabid competition, a local independent cannabis store has become one of the top-selling retailers in the province.

The owners call it a “mom and pop” operation because they’re the literal “mom and dad” overseeing the store. Owen Allerton spent 20 years in the wireless industry with stops at Rogers Wireless and Blackberry before opening Highland Cannabis alongside his wife Niki in January 2021.

Highland wasn’t one of the initial lottery picks for a retail cannabis licence back in 2019, but in just over a year, they’ve sprouted into a household name among the region’s 53 cannabis stores.

“One of my favourite parts about the city is the independent shops,” Allerton said. “I love Euro Food, Central Fresh, Nougat, Vincenzo’s, Italo Foods. These are the things that really give the city character.

“We have no aspirations of being a chain or anything like that. Our goal was to build something that would be like a local landmark, sort of the way like Euro Foods and Central Fresh are.”

Prior to opening, Highland Cannabis toured cannabis stores throughout the United States and Canada, gathering intel about things they liked and didn’t like. They put all that knowledge towards opening their own independent store.

As the general awareness and popularity of cannabis grows in Ontario, the perception of the typical marijuana user has drastically shifted. Whether it’s working professionals, seniors, lawyers, moms, or doctors, Highland Cannabis has a wide breadth of customers walk through their doors.

The legalization of cannabis has lessened the stigma as people look to use cannabis in various ways other than just traditional pot smoking. Allerton estimates about half of their clientele purchase cannabis for something other than recreational use.

“A lot of people come in looking for assistance with sleep, stress or anxiety, or they’re looking for an alternative to alcohol. People have realized it’s normal,” Allerton said. “The fact that it’s legal has changed a lot of perceptions.”

The edibles sector of cannabis retail is skyrocketing, and Highland Cannabis ranked as Ontario's number one cannabis drink seller for the last two months. Of the 53 pot shops in the region, Highland was the top overall seller in December 2021 and January 2022.

Whether it’s a drink, gummie or baked good, Allerton said Health Canada has strict guidelines on the dosage of marijuana within these edibles.

“It’s much more analogous to the experience of drinking a glass or two of wine,” Allerton said. “Instead of someone getting so high that they can’t function and they melt into the couch, having an edible with the limitations on THC content in each package that is set by Health Canada.”

Allerton noted it’s a vast change of pace from his days in wireless marketing. His team isn’t beholden to coercing people into buying something like a shiny new phone.

“We’re selling happiness,” Allerton said. “This isn’t the hardest industry. I tell my staff, everything we do here is about making this customer happy.

“If you’re wondering what to do in a given scenario, it should all ladder back to making them happy. And when we have this as our product, it shouldn’t be hard.”

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