Because City Cannabis Co. would be one of the first fully legal cannabis boutiques in Vancouver, Canada, founder and Chief Executive Officer Krystian Wetulani knew he had to nail the concept and vibe right out of the gate. “City Cannabis Co. stores are designed to reflect Vancouver’s unique sense of place,” he said. “We blend an urban sensibility into an aesthetic defined by lush coastal rainforests and majestic alpine mountains.”
The flagship store is in the heart of downtown. Launched in January 2019, it supplanted the former “pot shop” Vancity Weed. The neighborhood welcomes City Cannabis’s fully licensed and tony rebranding. Across the street from Nordstrom and many other high-end retail stores, the new cannabis “oasis” has enjoyed robust foot traffic and word of mouth, Wetulani said, noting the elegant yet simple storefront—black with frosted windows and white logo—and the holistic wellness feeling inside. “Our clean and minimal stores are filled with natural greenery and lighting, as well as custom furnishings made of reclaimed wood from the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “There’s a relaxing feeling the second you walk through the door—and that’s no accident.”
From the start, Wetulani envisioned the flagship store—one in a chain of two—as a modern urban sanctuary providing a safe and informative place to shop. Strategically placed foliage adds vibrancy to the space. “Having the greenery as the main decor was very important to us,” he said. “There is a special feeling when you walk into a room filled with plants and light. They create a feeling of sanctuary to retreat to from the busy streets and pressing work and help transform places into something magical.”
To complement the magic, Wetulani went with slate-gray concrete-tile floors that contrast nicely with the natural wood ceilings, white lights, wall murals, and foliage. Sprinkled throughout the space are elegant island displays made of cedar reclaimed from trees that fell naturally along the Vancouver coast. The minimalist displays along the walls are a unique combination of custom-built river tables with “smell pods” for bud and floating shelves for tinctures and capsules. Sustainability is a big part of the brand’s ethos. “Through ongoing sustainability efforts, we want to support our customers in developing a healthy relationship with the planet,” Wetulani said.
But it’s not all about design at the store. One of the important parts of the company’s mission is to help erase the stigma of cannabis in Canada. To help express this, Wetulani had an artist inscribe facts about CBD and some cannabis strains on the wall in black paint, much like one might see in a downtown gallery. Books and magazines about cannabis abound in locations where customers can browse them.
“Every day we are learning more about how cannabis can help people heal and unwind,” Wetulani said. So, he makes sure his staff members are professional, knowledgeable, and educated. They dress in simple, smart, and classy outfits of all black with a City Cannabis Co. apron to top off the look. “Don’t forget our legendary customer service,” he said. “It is why we have been and will be successful in this industry.”
The shop plans to launch a membership program allowing members to place their orders online and pick up the merchandise at the store. To assist in the process, the shop has gone high-tech. Myriad interactive displays flash throughout the space, creating a futuristic ambiance. Together with the aromatic display pods and several iPads providing information and menus, City Cannabis Co. evokes a sense of modern wonder. “This is what we are passionate about,” Wetulani said.
Judging by the company’s growth, the passion is not misplaced. The shop has seen a 30-percent month-over-month increase in sales since launching. The store averages between 700 and 1,000 customers a day—despite severe limitations on marketing imposed by Canadian regulators. “We mainly focus on our social media platforms and radio ads,” said Wetulani noted.
Although a few accessories and schwag stock the shelves, flower is the star at City Cannabis Co. “We want to make sure we have plenty of room for the products first rather than stuffing [the space] with stuff that you can get anywhere else,” Wetulani said.
The store’s primary clientele, at least during these early days, is working professionals between the ages of 25 and 45 who Wetaluni described as “fairly knowledgeable” about cannabis.
Wetulani is excited about future expansion. “There were lots of challenges [in transforming a downtrodden space], but constant communication from the city helped a lot,” Wetaluni said. The approval process “was very in-depth. [Regulators] were looking at every transaction we’ve ever had. [The inspection was] very thorough, but we pride ourselves on having our ducks in a row. We’ve done things by the book, we’ve paid our taxes, and that’s what’s allowed us to have two of the first five [retail dispensaries].”
A second City Cannabis Co. shop recently opened in Vancouver, but Wetulani is thinking way bigger than just one city. He wants to operate as many branded shops across Canada as possible. “We’re trying to create a kind of cookie-cutter model,” he said. “The aim is to provide a very similar feel for customers no matter which location or market they’re in.”