By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 4, 2024.
Edward Pan says he’s in the business of selling happiness. Owner of Twenty Four Karats cannabis store on Mayor Magrath and 5 Ave S, he was the first to be interviewed in Alberta for a cannabis licence and if he has it his way, he’ll be the last one standing.
While Twenty Four Karats isn’t Pan’s first business – he also owns New Shanghai/Golden ChopSticks – entering the cannabis retail space was a venture into a budding industry that he considered to be a welcome challenge after a life spent in restaurants.
For many shops in the early days of legalization in 2018, it was a rough road, an adventure of supply issues, regulations, and the usual hiccups of any brand-new industry. Now, five years later, Pan and his team are preparing for a new frontier, and it’s big.
During the height of the pandemic, cannabis stores were one of the few essential services approved to remain open. With everyone stuck at home it was a good time to be in the cannabis industry.
But as the world re-opened and the market shifted, many of the independently owned shops were bought out by larger corporations and licenced producers looking to expand their reach.
Pan says he was approached by the big-name companies but they couldn’t strike a deal. The competition of the national chains that have set up shop in Lethbridge has not gone unnoticed, but Pan is absolute in his resolve of equal or lesser – the products sold at Twenty Four Karats are priced to compete, either going for the same rate as other stores, or lower.
“If I don’t compete, I’m going to lose,” he says.
Pan recognized that he couldn’t compete with chains selling product at minimal mark-up, but from the start his focus has been on the customers.
He likes to maintain a comfortable and causal environment for his staff and shoppers Pan says in the end that pays off “you have to treat them like they’re friends,” explaining that before legalization, obtaining cannabis was always through a ‘friend-of-a-friend’ type transaction. But that can only take a person so far.
“I looked and I said, ‘what am I going to do?’â€¦ either I’m just going to leave it as a mom-and-pop shop, have a few workers, but Twenty Four Karat staff are like family to me, they helped me build it. So, I had to rethink outside of the box, which is what I didâ€¦ so we’re going to create something that people want.”
In 2021 Twenty Four Karats introduced the free golden member loyalty card program that gives perks to members, taking them even further from just customer territory and into the realm of belonging to something.
But those membership perks are about to grow.
The final days of 2023 were the last of Twenty Four Karats as customers know it. The cannabis shop set up in the old bank is about to undergo the revamp of Pan’s dreams.
The store will remain open at a smaller capacity as construction is done to add a few more bricks to Pan’s empire. He believes there is something for everyone, and he’s about to prove it.