When Shawn Dang of Vancouver was looking to get into the non-medical cannabis business, he had a choice: compete with everyone else in the big city, or focus on other areas of B.C.
The result was Marlee’s Den Craft Cannabis Shop, which Dang opened in Williams Lake in March 2020. It has now been joined by a second Marlee’s Den, this one in Cache Creek, which opened earlier this year.
“B.C. is a big territory, and we feel that the places we establish our stores have the potential for future growth,” says Dang, who is owner and CEO of Marlee’s Den. “They’re towns with a history behind them and with an opportunity for tourism as well.
“There are places near Williams Lake where people can go camping and enjoy the outdoors, and it’s the same with the Cache Creek area.”
Dang, who was born in a small town in Vietnam, says the name Marlee comes from the way Vietnamese people pronounce marijuana. His parents were among the Vietnamese “boat people” and came to Canada with Shawn in 1991.
“Dad tried twice to leave the country on a fishing boat, and we got here to the land of opportunity. I appreciate every moment of that, and have been given an opportunity to open a business. I want to make my country proud.”
Dang says that he did a lot of research before opening his stores, looking at demographics and whether or not the towns would be welcoming and if they would sustain a shop. All the products he sells are lab-tested, and he’s proud of the fact that he is able to create jobs in different communities.
“Hiring local people is the goal. I want to be able to create job opportunities for locals in Cache Creek and Ashcroft. We’re here to serve the community.”
His employees — known as budtenders — all research the products so they’re able to serve a wide variety of clients.
“There’s a lot of research involved, such as where and how products were grown, percentages, what’s in it. The province has descriptions of the products, but we confirm it with our own research. It gives our budtenders a chance to display their talents.
“We have a large senior clientele coming in asking for CBD products for pain management, so it gives us the opportunity to do research about those products. They see or hear something about CBD and feel it will help them with sleep, or their joints, or appetite.”
People coming in for the first time are made to feel welcome by the budtenders. Dang says it’s one way to break the stigma surrounding cannabis.
“When you used to talk about cannabis it meant dealing joints in a back alley, but it’s not what it used to be. People come in and are blown away by the different methods of consumption and application.
“We’ve transitioned to lab-tested products, so we’ve come a long way, and that’s important for a lot of reasons. When customers come in we talk with them to establish what they’re looking for. We bring products in and customers give us feedback, or we bring products in for people if they request it.”
Dang says that after establishing the shop in Williams Lake, he looked around the Cariboo for other small towns or cities that would be a good fit.
“People like our product, and we wanted to be on a highway. Cache Creek has a lot of traffic going through, and we felt it could sustain one, maybe two, shops.”
Marlee’s Den does mail orders from their website (www.marleesden.com), and offers free delivery to locations within an hour’s drive of Cache Creek: “Same day delivery, if highway conditions permit. We’re looking to perhaps open up in Ashcroft, and we’d welcome a cannabis lounge. That’s definitely an idea I’d like to explore if there’s an opportunity. I want to work with the community and give back to the community.
“I’m looking to build out. There are employment opportunities, and no shortage of learning opportunities.
“It can be a very rewarding career. I’m having fun every day when I’m at work, but it doesn’t feel like work because I’m so passionate about it. I’m very interested in talking to people and making sure we get the right product for them. It’s not so much selling a product as having a conversation.”