Entrepreneur of the Week

YSS Corp.’s Theo Zunich on the Suburban Cannabis Experience

In this weekly series, we profile entrepreneurs approaching the top of their game, and ask them how they got there. This week, Theo Zunich, CEO of YSS Corp. on building a cannabis brand to be a part of Canadians actual lives.

Theo Zunich describes himself as, “always having an entrepreneurial spirit.” 

Zunich has been in investment banking for most of his career, working mostly at boutique firms and was co-founding partner of Eight Capital. 

He has helped companies, primarily entrepreneurs navigate the capital markets and has advised on growth/acquisition initiatives to reach their corporate goals. 

An impressive feat, Zunich was involved in over 100 financing and advisory transactions mostly within the energy, technology and cannabis sectors totaling over 12 billion dollars.

However, as his time in investment banking was coming to an end, Zunich’s excitement for the cannabis industry was ramping up. His past experience in capital markets helped him navigate the challenges faced by the regulatory nature of the cannabis industry. 

Ultimately, this led to him being at the helm of cannabis retailer, YSS Corp. holding the position of CEO. The company is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta. Currently, YSS retail stores are located across Alberta with plans to expand into Ontario this year. 

YSS Store Design and Products 

The legal cannabis space can leave consumers puzzled and bombarded with information. “Not all of which is really helpful if you are looking to explore and try cannabis to discover how it can become a part of your life,” said Zunich

The YSS brand is here to acquaint new and “light” users of cannabis and act as a fun, guiding experience for their customers. Their stores are gorgeous, with a clean, white, minimal aesthetic.

“Our retail space is designed to create an environment where consumers can explore and discover cannabis on their own terms,” said Zunich. Serving people from different walks of life and with various levels of experience with cannabis, Zunich wants people to feel comfortable, and make YSS stores a place where consumers can trust the products that they are buying.

A key part of the YSS experience are the staff. The staff are very knowledgeable about cannabis and are there to support customers and build relationships with them. 

To support the education of their staff, Zunich created the YSS Academy. The YSS Academy is a proprietary educational platform that teaches content that all staff must complete. Focusing on topics like the history of cannabis, the history of deregulation, the anatomy of cannabis, the human endocannabinoid system and methods of consumption. The content also covers the safe sale and consumption of cannabis training as required by provincial governments.

When most consumers think about cannabis storefronts, Queen Street West and other popular Toronto neighbourhoods come to mind. The storefronts are trendy and experiential. 

But not all of us hang out on Queen Street West. What about people living in suburban areas? What is the cannabis experience like in these areas? 

Zunich would like YSS to be a part of the consumers regular lives and convenience for their customers is a big priority for the company. It doesn’t mean YSS won’t venture into the city’s trendier areas, but for now as cannabis becomes more normalized Zunich wants to make it accessible for all of their customers.

“We know that cannabis is going to be a part of Canadians regular routine and lives. That means that our footprint can’t just be in trendy areas that are pre-dispositioned to cannabis,” said Zunich. 

Surprising to Zunich has been the demand for legal cannabis despite the very popular and competitive black market. YSS has seen promising signs of success, with 70% of customers returning to YSS stores, highlighting customer loyalty and their enjoyment of the in-store experience.

Zunich notes that recent research from Altacorp Capital, based on mature Colorado market stats, suggests Canada can support over 3,600 stores nationally. “Currently we are sitting about 360 stores, so lots of opportunity and growth for the future,” said Zunich.

Some of the products that are popular in YSS stores are high THC dried flower products, particularly from the few cultivator brands that have managed to distinguish themselves early for product quality and terpene profiles.

According to Zunich other products that are popular in the YSS stores are High-CBD edible oils. “Also, on the accessory side, Gandalf-style pipes are surprisingly very popular,” said Zunich. 

Future Outlook on the Industry and Social Responsibility

As far as the outlook on the industry, Zunich is incredibly excited about the potential of the cannabis space from both a socio-cultural and business perspective. 

“Canada has established itself as the global leader in cannabis and we now have the opportunity to share our knowledge and experience as the legalization movement goes global,” said Zunich.

Zunich believes the stigma around cannabis will continue to lessen and more Canadians will start opening up to it, especially as more research and headway is made within the medicinal cannabis space. Additionally, product offerings will expand and cannabis products will become more accessible.

Being a retailer, Zunich recognizes that YSS is at the frontline of the cannabis experience for consumers. It’s a responsibility that the CEO does not take lightly. The company is a member of the Global Cannabis Partnership, a group of companies that are committed to this cause. 

“Regardless of the legality there remains a socio-cultural sensitivity to cannabis – industry participants need to respect that sensitivity and collectively reinforce responsible consumption and education that helps relieve cannabis stigma,” said Zunich.