Bruce Leslie is vice-president of corporate communications for Westleaf Inc.
Tell me about your background and why you joined Westleaf?
Leslie: I’m a bit of a hybrid as I spent a portion of my career as a journalist and then transitioned over to corporate communications and corporate affairs, and then into business development.
So over more than 30 years working in media, energy and business development within the private and public sector, and not-for-profit organizations, I’ve seen a lot in terms of the changes in businesses and how technology and now a new industry has impacted our economic well-being.
I spent a decade in the executive offices of the country’s largest newspaper and television company and have seen major changes hit that industry, almost entirely in a negative way.
The Canadian cannabis industry, however, is intriguing because it’s completely brand new, it doesn’t follow anyone’s outdated rules, it’s dynamic and charting its own course. It’s a once-in-a-generational opportunity to build an entire multibillion-dollar industry from the ground up.
As a country, we’ve made history and we’re carving out a path for other countries to follow.
When the opportunity arose, I had to jump in with both feet.
What’s the biggest misconception about the cannabis industry?
Leslie: I think there are still some negative connotations about the industry and the people who are involved in it, but those are crumbling fast. Oct. 17 came and went, the sun came up and people went about their daily business, and all was good.
People in the older generations who were thought to be more resistant to the changes are likely going to be one of the largest growth areas. Someone once said to me as soon as their grandmother was asking about cannabis, for pain relief or helping with sleep, then all resistance will have fallen. I think that’s happening right now and it’s happening fast.
Where the biggest growth will be is in the large space of non-combustible forms of the products. There will always be those people who will want to smoke cannabis but for a majority of the population who are going to use the product, they’ll be looking for other ways to consume. Whether its vaping, gel caps, oils, edibles, topicals or beverages, they’re going to try it out and we will see where that goes.
Can you explain the elements that make up the company and their future growth potential?
Leslie: Westleaf is a vertically integrated cannabis company focused on the entire value chain. Our growth is largely fuelled by our state-of-the-art indoor cultivation facility in Saskatchewan, near Battleford. It’s named the Thunderchild Cultivation Facility after our partner and largest shareholder, Thunderchild First Nation.
From there we will be able to produce dried flower product for our own extraction facility, which is currently under construction here in Calgary.
Once processed, the finished product will go to our own retail stores – Prairie Records.
Of course, our extraction and retail will be agnostic, producing a myriad of products and selling premium products from a number of other producers. But it’s having exposure to all parts of the value chain that will be the key to future growth. Margins in different parts of the supply chain will vary and fluctuate from time to time based on supply and demand, but we will have all elements covered, which makes for a unique and we think positive story to the investment community.
A lot of attention has been focused on how we’re breaking the traditional retail mould by creating an unparalleled consumer purchasing experience with our retail concept, Prairie Records. Currently, we have a 3,200-square-foot store in, Warman, Sask., that includes a retail storefront and warehouse space for an e-commerce fulfilment centre to serve the entire Saskatchewan market.
There are plenty of retail locations, or will be, for cannabis. How does Westleaf intend to differentiate itself from competitors?
Leslie: Prairie Records is a completely different approach to retailing than what’s in the market today. I would call it a reinvention of the cannabis purchasing experience, but given the age and experience in the space, it’s more of an invention at this point.
What it does is allows consumers to buy products in an immersive environment that replicates a vintage record shop. The retail concept offers a unique brick-and-mortar environment that celebrates the tie between music and cannabis. Every store in this space so far is essentially the same experience so we wanted to make something memorable through tactile in-store features and premium product offerings. As a result, we believe Prairie Records is truly different from others in the cannabis retail market.
A key differentiator is the fact that it appeals to the individuality of each consumer by remaining agnostic to music genre. It seeks to spark a sense of happiness, discovery and enjoyment – no matter if you’re a cannabis connoisseur or first-time user.
The initial reaction to our new store now open in Saskatchewan says we have a hit on our hands.
Mario Toneguzzi is a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary. He writes for Calgary’s Business.