A little bit of foresight and planning can go a very long way in the cannabis industry.
Just ask Will Schneider, the founder of Catalyst Cannabis Co., who carved out a place in the industry by asking himself where he thought Alaska’s market would be in five years. For Schneider and his team, that meant putting sustainability at the forefront of the Catalyst Cannabis Co.’s identity, informing how they handled packaging, how they approached growing and even how they approached the design of their retail locations.
“We were one of the first handful of applicants and one of the first five licensed cultivations in Anchorage (in 2017) … The thinking when we first started was Catalyst wanted to be where the market would be in five years,” Schneider said. “I really wanted to come out of the gates swinging and really create a strong brand. My vision the whole time has always been to create a super strong brand more than anything. That’s been the goal from day one … a forward-thinking progressive brand.”
He said sustainability is one of the company’s main goals. They provide folks who sign up for the rewards program with reusable wood and glass containers in a purpose-built cardboard box. Bring it back, and you can get a discount on your next sale.
“One of the main pillars is our commitment to sustainability. Visiting friends in Colorado when I was doing research and opening up drawers to see endless amounts of pill bottles got me thinking, ‘There has to be a much better solution to all the waste the cannabis is producing and is going to produce as more and more states come online,’” he said.
“That’s one thing I wanted to address right off the bat, and we came up with the reusable jar program, similar to a growler program, that has saved hundreds of thousands of plastic bags from entering into our waste facilities.”
For the company’s cultivation business, located at a 5,000-square foot warehouse in Midtown Anchorage, that means everything is grown in organic living soil, hand-watered and hand-trimmed. Schneider says they’re strict in what can be used, relying on the Organic Materials Review Institute to ensure products are appropriate to keep things organic.
“My goal in the beginning was to be where the industry wanted to be in five years. So, at the beginning where it didn’t mean that much how we grew, we’re seeing now that people are starting to take a little more interest in what cultivators they like, how they choose to cultivate and starting to realize that those things do have a pretty big impact.”
The decision to go organic hasn’t held back the potency of Catalyst Cannabis Co.’s product, either, with several strains that test in the high 20% for THC content.
Both of the company’s Anchorage locations—the original shop in South Anchorage on the Old Seward Highway and the newer shop on Muldoon Road in East Anchorage—are also designed to reflect the areas they’re in. The South Anchorage shop has a ritzy boutique feeling to it while the East Anchorage shop has a hip warehouse studio vibe. And while the effort has been put on hold during the pandemic, both shops have hosted the company’s “First Hit” series where vendors can talk about their business and products in an educational setting. He said his goal is to make cannabis more accessible and understandable.
“It really is a place to feel comfortable. I think people have an impression that because we put out really nice product and packaging that it’s bougie or too polished or too expensive to shop at,” he said. “We have a very extensive menu. … It shouldn’t be a place that is intimidating, it’s welcoming to everyone regardless of what your budget or level of experience is.”
While much of Anchorage is packed with cannabis retail shops, East Anchorage is a comparative desert of shops. Schneider said the zoning laws and the lack of available land made it difficult to target Muldoon Road for a shop, but the sizable residential population, busy retail road and lack of competition made it impossible to pass up.
“I had to really dig into it,” he said. “It wasn’t for the faint of heart because there really aren’t any other eligible properties because of the way the regulations work, but we felt like we couldn’t pass it up.”
Ultimately, the company ended up buying a plot of land and building their own purpose-built retail shop that can also serve as a mini venue with space for musicians and DJs to perform, with large garage doors that can open up the building when the weather is nice.
And on a snowy March afternoon, traffic was busy at the Muldoon shop as people came and went, most bringing back their Catalyst Cannabis Co.-branded jars, proof that thinking ahead has paid off.
“It was a hard pill to swallow for all my investors when I said we need to spend $30,000 on jars and boxes before we opened up the store,” Schneider said, “but in the end it worked out very well.”
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer in Anchorage. Comments about this story? Email jstricker@AlaskaCannabist.com
Catalyst Cannabis Co.
South Anchorage: 9900 Old Seward Hwy #4,
Anchorage, AK 99515
East Anchorage: 317 Muldoon Road,
Anchorage, AK 99504