In Pursuit of a Dream
Sometimes, out of tragedy come life changes. Daniel Nguyen, the owner of NUMO Cannabis, had such a change of direction when his lung collapsed.
Daniel’s life was on a different course. He was majoring in accounting and that really did not resonate with him, when one day while driving, he lost his breath and rushed to the hospital to discover his right lung had collapsed. He went through emergency surgery, and a tube was put into his lung.
After being moved to another hospital that tube ended up clogging with blood, so a second round of surgery was necessary. This extended his stay in the hospital, which was quite the trial, but gave him time to think, and he recognized that accounting was not fulfilling enough and that he should pursue something completely different.
After leaving the hospital, Daniel incorporated his company and started building the foundations for his soon-to-be store. He named the company after that life-changing experience. The NUMO Cannabis name comes from the condition he had: spontaneous pneumothorax.
“It serves as a reminder that I’m pursuing what I’m passionate about. It made me believe that you should go all in because it could all end any day. After graduating, I began the real work to build NUMO” says Daniel.
That summer of 2018 was a busy one, and finally, in September, he received final approval. It was a race to open on the day of legalization: October 17. His team worked hard, and it was only the night before opening that all the displays went up. The main center bar, sensory jars, and frosted windows were ready to be installed, but it took up until 4 a.m. to get everything finished.
“That night we slept at the store and got right back up at 7 a.m. to prepare for the big opening day. At 10 a.m., the doors opened, and it was one of the busiest days of my life! We had a consistent four-hour line that lasted until midnight, past our closing time because we wanted to make sure everybody was taken care of,” says Daniel.
The next day, NUMO Cannabis was completely sold out and unable to get stock for another week. This enabled the staff to fine-tune aspects of the store and processes. Even the regulators were struggling with the new regulations. There were provincial regulators and the municipal regulators, and trying to work within two jurisdictions was difficult at first.
Another challenge was getting the team certified, as every store in the province was searching and trying to certify staff at the same time. Employees had to have passed a criminal check and a certification course to be able to sell in the store. The rush to get licensed created a backlog.
“This was scary because, at one point on opening day, I thought there would be only four people working, including myself. The night before, four others received their certification, and that was a relief, as I don’t know how we could have accommodated those line-ups. One staff member was certified the day of, so it worked out well in the end,” says Daniel.
The next hurdle involved getting stock, which was an issue all the way up to May of 2019. There was a shortage in Canada, and NUMO had difficulty acquiring the products it wanted. The selection was simply not there, and the online ordering system was not efficient. Now there is a manual system in place, but NUMO used to have go onto the Alberta website to buy products online.
The problem was that everything was always sold out. If stock ever appeared on the site, it would be gone in a minute. Refreshing the webpage all day was the only way to find some product. One week, the store may have gotten wind of a big upload and made a huge purchase, and the next, it would have to close due to a lack of commodity.
“This wasn’t feasible for us retail store owners, so we needed to improve the system. That’s when the province shifted and made the adjustment to a manual ordering system. The system was made fair, and it worked to ensure that any stores that were open could stay open,” says Daniel.
It was so bad, before the manual system that in November of 2018, NUMO was only open for ten days. Lucky for Daniel, his staff was as engaged in the industry as he was. They understood this was just a part of an adjustment period, and everything would come around with the industry and the store.
Starting a dispensary was a new process for everyone involved. Even the regulators have had to learn along the way. At the same time, it has been a fun process because it involves the building of an industry.
“We are really framing out how the future of this industry is going to work, and that is what I am most excited about,” says Daniel.
Daniel has always had a commitment to and passion for serving the cannabis industry through education and consumption, so in 2016, he began investing in the industry on the stock market at a time when it really began to take off. This brought him into the business side of it, and he learned about the multitude of companies and their differing business models. He also studied the regulatory bodies and how these would affect the industry.
In 2017, Daniel started cultivating for himself under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) program in Canada, which helped develop more cannabis understanding. At the same time, he was finishing a degree in accounting, which he did begrudgingly. He continued to research the cannabis industry and was up to date with industry regulation when, in 2018, there were legitimate talks about rolling out a framework on retail stores.
“When I encountered the life-changing experience it changed my perspective on what I was doing. I wanted to finish my degree but desired to be in the cannabis industry,” says Daniel. Now he is convinced he made the right decision in starting up his cannabis retail store in Edmonton.
The industry has no loyalty to any brand yet because consumers have never had the option for selection. There are a ton of producers trying various things with different packaging and names. Currently, some of the more popular offerings include NUMO’s high-THC flower and pre-rolls.
“Everybody wants the pre-rolls. Other notables include our CBD oils that we can’t keep in stock. We have a large call list, so as soon as product lands in the store, people are coming to get it. One of our most unique products are the oil sprays, which are adjustable oils within a spray bottle that sometimes come with flavouring to hide that dank taste,” says Daniel.
Many people are unaware that you can smoke the flower and mix it with the sprays as the two complement each other. You can take the spray and then smoke a joint to kick-start the buzz before the spray takes over an hour later. The sprays can be high doses or micro-doses. These are very discreet, simple, smokeless options for many people. In Canada, people can only smoke in certain areas, so the spray provides a legal option for areas where one cannot.
Edibles and concentrates are wanted by customers who regularly walk into the store asking for them. “The Canadian government has promised to regulate them by the end of this year. Producers and suppliers are en route to supplying them on production lines. They are just waiting for regulations around packaging and product formats,” says Daniel.
NUMO has a large cannabis retail store with 3,000 square feet of floor space providing a massive shopping space compared to other shops in the industry. Its online menu is also special and is a feature that allows consumers to browse to see the selection and figure out what they need before coming to the store.
Giving back to consumers and the community is an important aspect of what NUMO does. It strives to put a smile on the face of the community with a good barbecue, for example. The barbecue was a great success, and NUMO was able to see its customers even happier. There was a disc jockey, and different producers gave out free swag. The goal is to do this regularly to give back to customers.
“We have a diverse team – young and old, with all kinds of ethnicities and perspectives that are eager and passionate about cannabis. When our customers are able to find a person they can connect and feel comfortable with, it has a huge impact,” says Daniel. This helps contributes to de-stigmatizing the industry and destroying typical stereotypes of a cannabis consumer.
Word-of-mouth has been the best form of promotion for NUMO Cannabis. With the tight regulations in Canada, cannabis companies are restricted in what they can do to in this area. This may ease with time, but presently, it is difficult to do any marketing or promotion. Therefore, the company focuses on the in-store experience and community involvement because it creates organic growth that drives the business.
NUMO Cannabis was involved with three local events: a hip hop show, a magazine launch, and a cannabis trade show for the cannabis industry. These were all well-attended events with cannabis as a common link between the communities: the hip hop show that was in recognition of the strong, empowered female community crushing it in the entertainment industry in the city; the launch of a local magazine which covers the electronic music and arts communities; the trade show that was an opportunity for NUMO to get outside of the community and interact with everybody. It also presented an opportunity to showcase NUMO to the city at large.
Over the next ten years, NUMO sees itself becoming a multi-store entity across the province. The market will be quite different by then as the black market should be absorbed into the legal one.
“At that point, people will be experiencing cannabis the way they desire. I want to work toward a brand that can help people understand and consume cannabis in a way that serves the individual. We can accomplish that through an expansion of our products, and with many stores impacting as many people as we can,” says Daniel.
As of the date of my interview with Daniel on May 30, an announcement came from the regulators and NUMO Cannabis is expanding into more locations.