Thinking small for a new retail cannabis concept

Serial entrepreneurs Mike Girgis and Jake Neiman are thinking inside the prefabricated box when it comes to cannabis retail. The longtime business partners have unveiled a new retail concept called Popcann, which will transform shipping containers into cannabis stores in areas under-served by traditional brick-and-mortar options.

Girgis describes Popcann as a highly secure and technologically sophisticated retail operation that is easily movable and free of onerous build and/or lease costs.

“We’ve been sitting on the sidelines and kind of watching where the pain-points are in the cannabis category,” says Girgis. “We see this as a real solution for the cannabis space: semi-permanent and permanent stores. We’re taking reclaimed material and turning it into something new.”

New Frontier Data expects cannabis retail to become a $172 billion business in Canada and the U.S. over the next six years. While governments and cannabis retailers are opening brick-and-mortar stores in the country’s major urban markets, Popcann’s primary focus will be on northern communities, seasonal towns and other “non-traditional” environments, including First Nation communities.

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“We want to be the store that’s just off the beaten path, or even a special occasion product,” says Girgis. “There needs to be solutions like this so that safe, secure and legal cannabis can be accessed by all Canadians.”

The two men are also hoping they’ll be permitted to open temporary locations at events like music festivals. That’s contingent on the government permitting cannabis to be sold under Special Occasion Permits (SOP), such as those permitting alcohol sales at such events.

“We want to continue to be thinking ahead on regulations,” says Girgis. “The things we’re thinking about and trying to address don’t necessarily have regulation attached to them. Today there isn’t a special occasion permit [for cannabis] that anyone can apply for like you can for selling beer or liquor.”

The company is also actively working to strike deals with Canada’s First Nations communities which say they have the right to set their own cannabis regulations independent of any federal and provincial laws and regulations.

In mid-June, Popcann announced that it was working with Bridging Finance to bring its first store to Manitoba’s Peguis First Nation.

Situated approximately 190 kilometres north of Winnipeg, Peguis boasts Manitoba’s largest First Nation population, with approximately 11,000 band members both on and off-reserve. The company expects the first Popcann, a six-container, 1,920 square-foot store store, to be operational in October. While the company will provide the containers, the finishing construction will be handled by Indigenous labour, says Girgis.

The location will be fully compliant with Manitoba laws regarding cannabis retail, such as age-gating, product storage and how cannabis products can be marketed, says Girgis.

“First Nation communities do not have the same commercial and retail infrastructure that are ubiquitous in larger cities, adding an additional challenge,” said Peguis First Nation chief Glenn Hudson in a release. “Popcann’s prefabricated Cannabis retail stores offer a turnkey solution that means fast and secure access to safe quality Cannabis in our communities and the eradication of black market product.”

Popcann is in discussion with First Nation communities in both Canada and the U.S., but Girgis expects that particular channel will account for only about 20% of its overall revenue once the company is fully operational. The company is also in discussion with licensed producers and retailers looking to open satellite or mobile stores to complement their existing operations. U.S. expansion is “very imminent,” says Girgis, noting that these stores would carry a “Powered by Popcann” identifier.

Although physically small, Popcann locations will be the type of technologically sophisticated operation that Girgis and Neiman have championed throughout their long careers in digital, with features including biometric security, AR for viewing product and digital projections to create varied atmospheres within the store.

Girgis says that Popcann’s model will also allow it to open cannabis education centres that can be quickly converted into a retail location within as little as four hours.

Mike Girgis is a financial supporter of The Message. Financial supporters have no influence or input on editorial decisions.

Chris Powell