The New Role Comes Amid the Acquisition of Sessions Cannabis
Item 9 Labs Corp., a vertically integrated cannabis dispensary franchisor and operator, named Mike Weinberger CEO. The announcement comes as Item 9 Labs Corp. finalizes its acquisition of Sessions Cannabis, a leading Canadian cannabis retail franchisor. Weinberger, a 20-plus year franchise veteran and former chief franchise officer of Unity Rd., spearheaded the sale of ONE Cannabis Group to Item 9 Labs Corp. in March 2021.
Weinberger co-founded the Unity Rd. dispensary franchise in 2018 and grew it to more than 20 entrepreneurial groups that drive development across 10 states, according to a press release. Over the next year, Weinberger and the Item 9 Labs Corp. leadership team plan to grow Unity Rd. from four shops to more than 50 across North America. “We are in a place where we will be able to continue rapidly expanding our store count because we have the right people in the right seats,” Weinberger added.
He looks forward to working with the Item 9 Labs Corp. leadership team. “Several have been with our Unity Rd. and Item 9 Labs brands from the start and have done a phenomenal job lifting others up and pushing us along with our growth plan. In my new position as CEO, I am looking forward to guiding them and our brands through international expansion.”
As the Unity Rd. franchise expands, Weinberger and the Item 9 Labs Corp. team will focus on bringing Item 9 Labs Corp. products to Unity Rd. shops to streamline the supply chain and provide access to more products. “Sharing our cannabis products with consumers in new markets will be a remarkable milestone that I am excited for our team to achieve. As a vertically integrated cannabis franchisor and operator, we will finally have the essential pieces in place to make this a reality in the New Year.”
Weinberger’s Franchising Background
Weinberger’s love for the industry goes back to his law school days in Colorado when he saw the opportunities that franchising offered local entrepreneurs. “I like helping people and using my skill set to make their lives better. Seeing the opportunity to help others led me to pivot professionally into a career in building and growing franchise brands.”
Prior to launching Unity Rd., Weinberger was CEO of Maui Wowi. He grew the smoothie and coffee franchise and sold it to Kahala Brands. Based on his experience, Weinberger believes that the franchise industry empowers entrepreneurs with the tools and support they need to confidently operate and scale their own business with the backing of an established brand and expert team.
Throughout his career, Weinberger gained an understanding of structured scalability and best practices for implementing successful retail operations in new states and countries. After cannabis was newly legal in Colorado and the dispensary market boomed, Weinberger saw that some locally owned dispensaries were struggling. He believed that franchising was the answer but acknowledges the difficulties of opening and operating a cannabis business.
Cannabis and Franchising
To Weinberger, the ONE Cannabis Group merger with Item 9 Labs Corp. gave him and the leadership team the ability to “build our retail shelves with similar product brands across various markets by working through our partners who operate in multiple states, and eventually plan to have our own product line as we expand Item 9 Labs.”
Weinberger added that the merger gave Unity Rd. greater access to industry professionals with real cannabis experience in multiple state markets. “The franchise also achieved an impressive milestone as the first concept of its kind to become a member of the International Franchise Association.”
Since launching the dispensary franchise in 2018, the Unity Rd. team streamlined its “proven systems and processes that are time-tested in multiple markets and have grown Unity Rd. to four shops across Colorado, Oklahoma and South Dakota with 20-plus entrepreneurial groups continuing to develop the brand across 10-plus states.” The growth and transformation of cannabis franchising will only continue with the approaching acquisition of Sessions, Weinberger said.
“We have always been an open book, teaching the cannabis industry about franchising and vice versa. With the significant increase in our footprint as we enter an international market and continue to grow throughout the U.S., we hope to make a greater impact by starting conversations around the benefits of cannabis and the role franchising plays in the future success of the industry as a whole.”
Advice from a Franchise Veteran
Weinberger urges hopeful franchise owners to ask questions and do their due diligence. “Conducting your own thorough research will allow you to better assess if your vision and goals align with the potential franchisor. If you see misalignment, then you are likely not a good fit for each other. This is the key to building a mutually beneficial, solid and honest relationship.” The company should also be invested in your growth, he added.
As a franchisor, Weinberger champions the small business owner. “I truly believe in the value franchising brings to each local community. A locally owned and operated business has a personal touch that no corporate business can easily replicate.” Weinberger also believes that keeping it local creates a greater sense of pride and connection to the neighborhood. “I entered franchising to help aspiring entrepreneurs achieve their dreams and set themselves up for future growth, both professionally and personally.”