Tim Mulvena is one of seven owners of The Vault Cannabis, which has four cannabis retail stores in small towns across Manitoba.
Small Town Locations
Mulvena and his co-owners opened their first store in December 2021 in Ashern, a town of less than 600 people with approximately 8,000 people in the surrounding region.
The location choice was intentional. The founders understand that not all Manitobans have access to items that they usually would have access to when living in smaller communities. They wanted to give all Manitobans access to products that contribute to enjoying their leisure time and for self-care.
“Most of the owner group grew up in the Ashern area,” adds Mulvena. “Some of us owned businesses in the other areas our stores are located, and we really believed in those areas.”
They also wanted to stay out of cities where the competition is fierce, opting for towns where they’re the only cannabis store.
In 2021, the owners were looking for properties that were available and came across an old CIBC bank that wasn’t being used in Ashern. They bought the bank and converted it to a cannabis store aptly named The Vault. The other Vault locations in Arborg and Sainte Rose du Lac are also in converted banks, while the fourth Lundar location is in a mall.
Secrets to their Growth
The owners come from diverse business backgrounds and this has served the business well. “One of our owners Tyler is a hemp farmer in Ashern and got us going on cannabis,” says Mulvena. The others have owned restaurants, a furniture store, and mortgage brokerage and worked as pharmacists and teachers.
The Vault has steadily expanded. After the first store opened in December 2021, the second opened in Arborg in July 2022, followed by the third in Sainte Rose du Lac in January 2023. A fourth store is set to open this year in Lundar.
When asked what else has contributed to their success, Mulvena explains, “We’ve used our business to leverage things. We started with our own cash and were able to secure a couple buildings by going through business plans to get financial support.”
But Mulvena says working with banks has also been their biggest challenge. “We’re lucky that we have credit unions in Ashern that have been supportive,” he notes. “But most other banks don’t deal with cannabis. You’re never going to get a loan too easily.”
Hemp Boutique and Cannabis Store Combined
The Vault combined their Ashern store with a hemp boutique to combat some of the stigma that remains in small towns around recreational cannabis use.
“The boutique sells bath and beauty products, retro candy, and more,” says Mulvena. “If someone walks into the store, they could just be getting hemp and aren’t going to be immediately labelled as a cannabis user.”
Delivering an Educational Customer Experience
Staffing can be challenging in small towns, but the Vault has a lot of interest from residents to work with them. They focus on providing good customer service, educating people, and making them feel comfortable.
“We have a lot of first-time people coming into our stores,” describes Mulvena. “They are often looking for vape products that will help with sleep. Or we have cancer patients or older clients coming in who are looking for a natural solution to manage pain. They’ve had a lot of success using cannabis and it is rewarding to hear.”
The Vault sells a range of cannabis and hemp-based products, one of them being a hemp cat litter. “Some people come in just to buy that,” Mulvena says. “We buy it from a local Manitoba company. We always try to use local vendors if we can and support their businesses, and it’s worked well.”
The Vault relies on word of mouth and local support to thrive. “Our stores are in small towns and word of mouth is powerful,” adds Mulvena. “You are the talk of town before you even open. We haven’t had to do much advertising.”
They have put up some signs on the highway, but word of mouth has happened naturally. “Treat your customers good and they treat you just as good back,” says Mulvena. “This mentality is proven and is working for us.”
Looking to the Future
In the future, the Vault plans to open two to three more stores, but it is becoming more challenging to find the right spot as more stores open in the province. For now, Mulvena says they will focus on the four existing stores and get them running like well-oiled machines.