After 18 years of operation, Toronto’s Hotbox Lounge + Shop will be expanding across Canada and into the United States.
Consumers can expect to see retail locations in Edmonton, Victoria, and Boston, Massachusetts, including four other locations by the end of 2019.
“We’re incredibly excited to introduce Hotbox Holdings Inc.,” said Hotbox owner Abi Roach in a press release. “To say it has been a long time coming is an understatement. We’re honoured to continue serving our loyal customers with Hotbox-branded goods, and to expand the brand into new markets and product offerings across North America.”
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A long time coming
Roach is a prominent figure in the cannabis industry, having opened up Hotbox Lounge 18 years ago when she was just 19.
“I was always told to ‘do what you love.’ I was a 19-year-old kid and I loved smoking pot and loved Kensington Market so I was like ‘I’m going to open a head shop,'” Roach told Daily Hive over the phone.
The Kensington Market landmark started out as a head shop and evolved into a lounge after three years of business.
“That was inspired by going to Jamaica for the first time and being inspired by the culture there and how everybody consumes cannabis everywhere and ganja is everywhere and no one is ashamed of it.”
“We added in an extension of the shop and created spaces and a patio and allowed people to bring their own [cannabis].”
Roach said she’s been able to operate her business with almost no legal complications.
“After so many years of operation, we have just kind of been left to be.”
Since opening its doors 18 years ago, Hotbox has served over two million customers, generating a net revenue of over CDN $1.2 million annually in 2017 without any sale of cannabis.
The Kensington Market location serves 250 customers a day who are looking for a casual social setting to consume cannabis. Abi estimates that 25% of the clients are regulars.
Hotbox currently sells hemp CBD infused tea, vape pen batteries, and personal lubricant, with plans to expand the product line into at-home café-style products. Roach is in talks with licensed producers to license the branding for Hotbox help diversify their product line.
“If you had a great interaction with the Hotbox Lounge and you saw Hotbox products on the menus at a licensed retailer, you would automatically relate that fantastic interaction that you had and be able to pick it up and bring that experience home with you in a packaged product form.”
“Being in cannabis for 18 years has given us the opportunity to witness the ongoing changes in consumption and the evolution of the space as a whole. We’ve become a valuable resource centre for the industry,” said Roach. “With legal cannabis sales in Canada just around the corner, we are looking forward to partnering with licensed producers to offer hands-on, educated exposure of their recreational brands to our network of users, while establishing ourselves as a trusted source for all-things cannabis-related.”
Roach said that “the most exciting thing… is to be 100% legal and be a normal business.”
“I always wanted to just be a business person, I didn’t want to be an activist. When I was 19 I didn’t think that opening a head shop would throw me into 20 years of activism but it did. And I’m happy it did because we’re here now and I think without all the hard work myself and all these people have done we would never be where we are.”
A customer-based model
Roach told Daily Hive that she “knew eventually it would become legal” and that Hotbox is poised to “enter the market with different concepts and different ideas that we have already executed to a certain level so we know what works and what doesn’t work in a cannabis business.”
When Roach first entered the industry, “there was no mentorship. We invented a lot of business models that never even existed before that were all just done out of creativity and necessity.”
“I don’t create my business decisions according to what I imagine to be true. I pay attention to my customer and what my customer wants.”
What Roach has created with Hotbox Lounge is a “real sense of community. Not just the consumption [of cannabis] but it’s the commonality.”
“Great things that happen when strangers meet and have that commonality. That keeps them coming back.”
Abi Roach will be speaking at the RNMKR .Talks Women TrailBlazers 2018 on June 27 alongside 7 other inspiration powerhouses in the cannabis industry.
Tickets available through Universe. Use coupon code DailyHive to get 10% off.