B.J. Olson (left) and Adam Jorgensen (right) opened their Unity Rd. franchise in Sioux Falls, S.D., on July 27.
Item 9 Labs CEO Andrew Bowden, a native of Sioux Falls, S.D., is passionate about providing local entrepreneurs with the resources to launch their cannabis businesses, a passion that drives Item 9’s Unity Rd. franchise model.
B.J. Olson and Adam Jorgensen, South Dakota natives and best friends, opened their Unity Rd. franchise in the Sioux Falls suburb of Hartford on July 27, marking the first day of medical cannabis sales in the Mount Rushmore State.
“We’re offering one of the safest and most direct routes for entrepreneurs looking to get into the industry,” Bowden tells Cannabis Business Times. “As these entrepreneurs walk into the industry with us, we have every single thing that they need, … from the licensing process all the way down to construction and SOPs for the actual shop itself. So, that’s really what we’re trying to do, … to get local people into business.”
It was important for Bowden to set up shop in South Dakota and provide medicine to patients in his home state.
In the fall of 2016, Bowden’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and began using medical cannabis.
Bowden was inspired to participate in the cannabis industry when his mother found relief through medical cannabis after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
“She had her medical license, and immediately, she saw relief from the pain and relief to be able to sleep and eat,” Bowden says. “That’s really what drove me into the cannabis industry as a whole. I’m really just trying to give back to local entrepreneurs because I started businesses and got to where I am today, so really trying to give back to those local communities is big for me.”
Unity Rd. launched in 2018 and has since established franchising agreements with 20 groups across eight states to give entrepreneurs a new path to enter the cannabis industry.
In South Dakota, Bowden says the company has seen “tremendous” support from the local community in the wake of Unity Rd.’s soft opening.
Olson and Jorgensen received local approval from the city of Hartford in February to open the dispensary, and their Unity Rd. location is now the first (and only) non-tribal, state-licensed medical cannabis retailer in the state.
“It’s just really exciting to see Adam and B.J. and how they’re absolutely diving headfirst into this industry, and they have a lot of the same values that I have,” Bowden says. “We’re just extremely excited about being the first in the market.”
On opening day in South Dakota, Unity Rd. served more than 130 patients, some of whom set up in lawn chairs at the door of the shop, waiting to be served. The average transaction on the first day of sales totaled roughly $100, Bowden says, adding that the dispensary is “seeing a lot of good traction.”
Unity Rd. served about 130 patients on opening day in South Dakota.
The Unity Rd. team has already started to see returning patients, Bowden says, and although only flower is available in the market right now, additional product categories are expected to launch soon as South Dakota’s supply chain continues to get up and running.
“As we start to see some of these other product lines and SKUs coming out, I really believe that it’s going to continue on the path that we’re on, which is honestly a pretty impressive run and we’re just extremely excited about it,” Bowden says.
The Unity Rd. dispensary in Sioux Falls is the company’s first ground-up buildout, and Bowden says it’s “been so amazing to watch the team bring this thing to life.” Being the first operating non-tribal dispensary in South Dakota has allowed Unity Rd. to establish robust relationships with patients and other operators in the supply chain, he adds.
“It’s because Adam and B.J. and their team have their heart in it—they’re really trying to help patients, and they’re creating those bonds and those good relationships,” Bowden says. “I think, through that, we’re going to thrive in that market for sure.”
The Unity Rd. dispensary in Sioux Falls is the company’s first ground-up buildout.
South Dakota has issued about 1,600 medical cannabis ID cards to patients so far, he adds, and the team is looking forward to watching the program expand in the coming months.
So far, Bowden says patients are enjoying the look and feel of Unity Rd.’s dispensary, which he says will set the company apart in the market as more retailers come online.
“We are like the Apple Store,” Bowden says. “When you walk in, you’re going to get a very common experience. You’re going to get walked through the process with our standard operating procedures. So, that’s really what’s going to set us apart, is we’ve done it before, we’re going to do it again, and we’re continuing to create that long-lasting feel that people love when they walk into the franchised Unity Rd. locations.”
While Item 9 Labs and its Unity Rd. franchises are growing rapidly across the U.S., South Dakota holds special significance for Bowden as his home state.
“I’m really excited about the market as a whole because we’ve gotten to know all of the different operators, all of the different cultivators and producers in the state, and everybody’s really working together and it’s really good to see,” Bowden says. “I really am excited about that market in particular because I do see a lot of good things coming out of it.”