Craig Kolochuk recognizes opportunity. After twenty years in the oil and gas industry, during a market turndown, he invested in a cannabis industry offering in 2018. He stepped up to become president of a new company called Sugarbud Craft Growers Corp., designed to evaluate cannabis opportunities and build a commercial grow facility in Stavely. It was the early days of legalized cannabis in Alberta.
The more he learned, the more Craig started to lean toward the idea of becoming vertically integrated and owning the retail side of the operations.
After the Stavely facility was built and licensed, Sugarbud could not fund both operations, so Craig decided to step away and pursue a solely retail facility. In the Fall of 2019, he picked up two development permits and spent time designing his concept for a one-of-a-kind, visually appealing storefront with a classy speakeasy vibe. 13th Floor Cannabis opened in August of 2020 in the Silver Springs area of Calgary, with a second location in Airdrie following suit in November of that same year.
"We have a competitive advantage in our stores," says Craig, speaking of the bright, stylish Art Deco décor and large windows. "There was an initial misinterpretation of Alberta Gaming and Licensing Commission (AGLC) guidelines that led to the frosted windows you see in many cannabis stores. The stipulation is that the product can't be visible from the outside, so most owners thought that meant covering windows. We've designed our stores to be welcoming, with special glass top display cases to feature the product." This means all 13th Floor Cannabis locations include natural light and a welcoming feeling. "Our design features set us apart and attract a broad client demographic, including my parents."
Craig knows the buck stops with him. "Success is about leadership and putting in the effort to create value. I take risks, pay myself less, but I know I'm building something special. It's rewarding to put a team together, collaborate and create something novel. I surround myself with good people by hiring the right people."
Starting up a retail cannabis operation hasn't been without challenges. "There are a lot of cowboys and phonies in the cannabis industry who don't really know what they're doing," says Craig. In the early days, I was too trusting, but now I've learned if there is anything the least bit toxic, I deal with it quickly."
Craig's most significant risk was opening then expanding during the first year of the pandemic. "It was a next-level decision. I had to double down on my personal investment to make it happen in that environment. Hats off to Community Futures Centre West for getting me over the hump through a line of credit, which provided comfort knowing it was there if we needed it."
"I've been part of a lot of start-ups in oil and gas, and throughout my career, I've been programmed to invest as a builder – build something, and the rewards are at the end. It's all about having skin in the game, which drives my work ethic. Invest your own dollars, create something special, be patient, and the win will come. Wear multiple hats – you're never too good for any task."
Craig's plans for the future include having five locations by 2023. "We already have three, with the recent expansion to Kingsland in Calgary. We also aspire to grow our own house brand, so we are working with a licensed producer and local craft grower to make that happen by working in partnership." These ambitions bring Craig full circle to his original involvement in establishing a vertically integrated model.
Somehow, we think he'll succeed.
– Written by Patricia Alderson