Years of hard work pay off for cannabis store-owning Cochrane couple

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After two years of trailblazing the regulatory framework of a new legal industry, a Cochrane couple are ready to introduce their labour of love: their very own location of retail cannabis store Spiritleaf, housed on First Street. The shop, in the historic downtown, will open on December 6.

“We’re super excited,” said co-owner Mike Forzani.

“We’re going to be fully stocked up when we open the doors, and we’re both excited and relieved that it’s finally coming up on the sixth.”

It’s been a long time coming for the pair. Last October, Forzani spent the entire unseasonably-freezing night outside the RancheHouse to make sure he would be the first in line to submit his application for a permit to the Town. Friends kept him company, and his wife and store co-owner Benita kept them warm with coffee throughout.

“Obviously there are ups and downs with the process, but that’s just part of starting a business,” said Benita.

“We probably could have opened it a bit earlier, but we wanted to make sure that we had the right staff and develop a good team that we could be excited about.”

The couple have some pretty legitimate retail lineage. Michael is from the Forzani family, known for both their place in Calgary’s football history and for operating retail giants like Sport Chek, Nevada Bob’s and Atmosphere. He also attended Cochrane High School and played on some of their provincial championship-winning football teams.

When the pair were mapping out a blueprint of the next part of their lives, cannabis wasn’t even necessarily in the picture. They just knew they were drawn to the stability and security of a franchise business, whatever that franchise might sell.

“We wanted to open a franchise of some sort, but we weren’t sure what that meant,” said Benita.

“From that point cannabis came onto the table and we did our research, we did a lot of it. We liked how [Spiritleaf] want to stay as Canada and Alberta at heart, which is important to us.”

As the national legalization of cannabis drew closer to being realized, the Forzanis made the decision to get on board. They were drawn to the Spiritleaf brand for a variety of reasons including the intensive training they give to employees on product knowledge, the overall business vision of Spiritleaf as a company (to be clear, the Forzanis own their own location), and the warm, wood-toned aesthetics consistent with Spiritleaf locations throughout the country.

While a portion of the 14 months since legalization was spent waiting for documents and permits to be sorted out by provincial regulators, the Forzanis are pleased with the way that both the Town of Cochrane and the Province of Alberta have handled the regulatory process for the legalization of Cannabis. Alberta is one of the most open markets in the country, and while it’s taken the province a while to sort out supply and distribute permits, the province has also created an environment where small-business owners like the Forzanis are able to reasonably access and take part in the industry.

“The AGLC have doubled their licensed producers, and have developed new systems that have made it run really smoothly,” said Benita of their full selection of product that they’ll have from opening day onward.

“It’s been right about that time that we’re opening, so we’ve benefitted from that.”

“The province has done very well in resolving the supply issue,” added Mike.

“I don’t have any complaints. You’re going from a non-existent industry to firing it up, it was a big task rolling out a whole new industry projected to be in the billions of dollars in the first couple years. I think they did great considering that.”

Through the knowledge of their staff and the breadth of product selection, the Forzanis say that Spiritleaf can cater to both Cochranites with casual interest or curiousity as well as more frequent consumers.
“We’ve really tried to come full-circle with hiring people that will be able to commit to pretty much any individual that walks in, because it is recreational but there are different aspects of it,” said Benita.

“Everybody offers something different and can communicate with different age groups and about different experiences. We have tablet capabilities as well, if some people would rather not talk to people.”

The Forzani’s Spiritleaf store is located at 401 1 St W.