Co-owner and CEO
A lot of people wonder what kind of person decides to open a cannabis store. There’s no one answer, but I can tell you from my own experience that I saw it as a logical extension of what I had done for the previous 17 years: owning and running a shoe store in Toronto’s west end. It was a great business, and I loved so much about it, but when the Ontario government announced the lottery to open legal cannabis shops in the province, my husband and I jumped at the chance. It just seemed like the perfect fit for us, and we felt that our backgrounds in retail would give us a competitive advantage.
The whole process has truly been eye-opening. We came from an unregulated industry (shoes) where, aside from a few health department requirements, we could pretty much do whatever we wanted. A customer wanted to try on a pair of shoes? No problem. Someone bought a pair of shoes, but they didn’t quite fit? They could come in a week later and return them. Pretty much the only paperwork we had to do was standard business forms and, of course, taxes.
To put it simply, spending the last two years in the cannabis industry has been the complete opposite. We finally opened our first retail location in January 2021, almost two years after we started the process to open a store. It’s hard to describe what those two years were like, but we faced major obstacles at every turn.
We ended up spending almost $1 million even before we made our first sale. Literally every day there was something else that required cash, whether it was building a special safe to store our products, redesigning our website to be legally compliant or placing a first order from the Ontario Cannabis Store.
There were times when it felt like we would never be able to open. Our original opening date was delayed by almost a year before the province accelerated the inspection process and enabled us to open five months earlier than we had anticipated. We had to dip heavily into our savings to cover all of the costs without even knowing when we would be able to open the doors. And of course, we had to open in the middle of a pandemic lockdown, meaning that customers have not even been able to browse our products as intended.
The good news is that we learned a lot over the last two years, and in fact are in the process of opening up two additional stores in the province. These are going a lot faster than the first one, primarily because we’ve done it before, and we know what the hurdles are. But despite the delays and setbacks, we are still excited about being in this industry, and we are looking forward to a very bright future.
Tatyana Parkanskaia is the CEO and co-owner of Matchbox Cannabis, a Toronto-based, family owned and operated, adult-use cannabis retailer that specializes in customer experiences and a carefully curated selection of brands.