Chain Reaction: Sweet Relief

A handful of Oregon retail chains have quickly become some of the biggest cannabis companies in the highly competitive state

With nearly 600 current stores and another 981 applications in the pipeline, Oregon’s retail cannabis environment is one of the most diverse and competitive in the country, due in part to the lack of a cap on licenses, a longstanding medical program and regulations that allow for out-of-state ownership and investment. Portland alone has a citywide average of more than one store per square mile.

But even in a market as difficult and crowded as Oregon’s, several chains have established themselves as market leaders, cutting through the noise to achieve dominance in the retail category.

While the vast majority of Oregon cannabis companies have only a small handful of stores, there are 11 that have five or more retail licenses. Though they come from vastly different backgrounds and built their businesses through elaborate designs, pervasive marketing, aggressive expansion or smart buying decisions, all are doing something to resonate with consumers in the Beaver State.

Marijuana Venture checked in with some of the largest chains in the state to see how they rose to the top and what they have planned for the future.

The Family Weed Chain

Cannabis retailers can often be divided into two categories: those looking to elevate cannabis to a modern retail experience or those providing medical patients with a familiar and welcoming dispensary. But there’s something to be said about going straight down the middle and opening a weed store.

According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission 11 businesses have more than five retail licenses in the state. Marijuana Venture reached out to all 11 and profiled the businesses available to participate in the feature article.

Nectar

Classy, competitive and the largest vertically integrated retail chain in Oregon.

No. of retail licenses: 14

LaMota

Vertically integrated with large selection and competitive prices.

No. of retail licenses: 10

Hi Cascade

Wide variety of local products in a traditional dispensary setting.

No. of retail licenses: 8

Chalice Farms

Vertically integrated with rustic, traditional retail shopping experience.

No. of retail licenses: 6

Electric Lettuce/Serra

Beautifully designed, offering experiential retro and posh shopping atmospheres.

No. of retail licenses: 4/2

Five Zero Trees

Vertically integrated, Oregon-centric, celebrates local cannabis culture.

No. of retail licenses: 6

Sweet Relief

Northeastern Oregon chain with a small-town and homespun feel.

No. of retail licenses: 5

Attis Trading Co.

Western-themed, apothecary with plans for national expansion.

No. of retail licenses: 5

Cannabliss & Co.

Longstanding medical roots with historic and community-centric locations.

No. of retail licenses: 5

West

Oregon’s newest dispensary chain opened in 2018 with five retail licenses.

No. of retail licenses: 5

Mr. Nice Guy

Colorful atmosphere with a variety of unique, cozy locations.

No. of retail licenses: 5

Oscar Nelson and Gary Reynolds, the co-owners of their own chain of weed stores, Sweet Relief, have been living the often-romanticized dream of finding success in the cannabis industry for more than four years.

“We just kept it as simple as possible and planted seeds,” Reynolds says. “We don’t have a ton of big investors, it’s been small baby steps and living simple lives.”

Sweet Relief is truly a family business, as both founders’ wives and Reynolds’ two daughters all work for the company, which opened its first store in Astoria on May 5, 2014. The chain has since grown to five locations, with the additions of shops in Gearhart, Scappoose, St. Helens and Tillamook, and the company expects to open a sixth store and multiple cultivation sites in the coming year.

Sweet Relief has an earnest, grassroots charm that could only come from a small-town startup. The odd knickknacks on the sales floor and seasonal decorations give off a comfortable mom-and-pop feeling that assures there isn’t an executive board behind the scenes trying to coax dollars out of demographics.

To grow the company, Nelson and Reynolds often targeted municipalities that had previously banned cannabis operations. They lobbied city and county officials by proving themselves to be responsible business owners.

“In many of these towns we were the ones who fought to be there and then they just opened it up,” Reynolds says.

“We had the first licensed facilities in three counties and Astoria,” Nelson adds. “Now it’s like ants on an anthill.”

Reynolds and Nelson didn’t stop at local government with their activism; both have made regular lobbying trips to the state capitol in Salem and to Washington, D.C., and Nelson serves on the board of directors for the Oregon Cannabis Association. Reynolds says they consider the efforts to be an investment in the future, so the company has a voice in the rule-making and isn’t “just being pulled around by the whims of other people.”

“We jumped in to be a part of the conversation and make sure we are steering the conversation toward something that is logical and sustainable,” Nelson says. “We want this industry to be around for our kids and our grandchildren.”

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