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Edmonton-based Fire and Flower increased its fleet of stores to seven this week in Western Canada, with three more retail outlets plus a wholesale centre expected to open soon. Despite the nation-wide shortage of cannabis that some expect will last through mid-2019, Fire and Flower’s stores have remained open and stocked as the company sets its sights on taking a 15-per-cent market share in each province where it operates.

Below is a Q&A with Nathan Mison, vice-president of government and stakeholder relations for Fire and Flower by Cannabis Professional’s Marcy Nicholson:

Cannabis Professional: How many stores do you plan to have open in Canada by the end of 2019?

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Nathan Mison: We’re going to work towards, with the Ontario opportunity, probably between 75 and 95 [stores]. We’re still waiting for the regulations. We think it will be a competitive environment favourable to private retail [in Ontario]. We’re going to work toward the maximum that we’re allowed to do, 15 per cent market share.

Cannabis Professional: What are you doing as you travel in Ontario this week?

Mr. Mison: One of the things that’s really important to us is talking about who we are and building relationships with communities we’re going to be in. We’re meeting 35 municipalities across Ontario.

Cannabis Professional: How is Fire and Flower differentiating itself from other retailers?

Mr. Mison: We were the first to apply for the 37 [license] maximum in Alberta. We bring our education-based responsible retail to jurisdictions. We’re not just hyper-concentrated in large urban centers. We want to represent this new product to more rural communities. We want to be Canada’s cannabis shop and that means we need to be where Canadians live, and that’s not just the larger centres. There’s an opportunity to really focus on the education, and as the market evolves, things like classes on cooking, drinks or home growing. We are finalizing our first location that will potentially have a different business where it will have a commercial kitchen inside it. We’ll continue to roll out experiential retail.

Cannabis Professional: Do you have any new product launches in the works?

Mr. Mison: We have a full apparel accessory line that is going to continue to show that cannabis accessories don’t have to be just bongs, pipes. We do have apparel in our stores and we’re going to create an independent apparel line made with Canadian hemp, made in Canada. We’re hoping [this will be in stores] for late Q2 of next year. For example, how about having a hoodie that has a smell proof pocket that you can carry your product in, made from Canadian hemp.?

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Cannabis Professional: How do you expect growing demand for CBD to be reflected in the products available in retail stores?

Mr. Mison: CBD is a very exciting entry point for cannabis for people, especially because it’s grown as a new cash crop for Canadian hemp. For some people, you could use it as an entry point for what kind of cannabis can be used by them.

Cannabis Professional: Have you had to close stores due to low supplies or reduce staffing in stores due to low supplies?

Mr. Mison: We have had product at every store. We have not sacrificed any working hours or reduced our hours in any location. There are going to be ebbs and flows of stock availability. We have a great buying team and experience in regulated retail, and a lot of hard work and luck.

Cannabis Professional: Aside from the current supply shortage, what is the biggest challenge for recreational cannabis retailers at the moment?

Mr. Mison: I think it’s an eye on focusing on what’s next, instead of what’s now. This sector is going to continue to evolve and change in drastic ways. We have to think about that because drinks, edibles and vapes are [expected to be legalized in] October of next year. That’s not that far away. We want to understand what products we want to have in our stores.

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Cannabis Professional: What is your expectation regarding the cannabis supply shortage?

Mr. Mison: By looking at the nine states that have gone through legalization, in each of those states there was a chronic shortage in the beginning and then an oversupply. It will probably go from supply shortages to a balanced market to possibly an oversupply. This will play out over the next 12 to 24 months.

Cannabis Professional: How many Fire and Flower stores do you aim to open?

Mr. Mison: We started with five out of the gate, opened two more this week, and there will be more coming. It will be a steady stream for us. We’re aiming for 37 in Alberta, which is the 15 per cent cap, eight in B.C., which is their cap, and our two in Saskatchewan and our wholesale business. We’ll continue to look at markets that are coming online, and of course Ontario. Saskatchewan will also be the centre for our e-commerce platform that we’re launching soon.

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