At CANNA we’re excited to share passionate grower stories from across Canada that resonate with our community and inspire us to “grow big or grow home”.
The passion started when I was young. I found my path in my early teens and early twenties and from there I just owned that piece and always had the, “What's next?”. And it was, you know, building a bigger shop, supplying, you know, many people. And then from there, it was my next store. How many stores can I have? The ceiling never seemed to be above me. It was always what's next, what's next? And now, I have three stores in Edmonton. The brand has been around for 22 years and we just recently opened up 4C Cannabis.
Can you share the origin story of Hydro-Lite? How did this venture sprout into existence?
Mario: Yes, funny story. Actually we went to a Show in 2000 in Vancouver. It was killer, the vibe was amazing, we had so much fun and on our way back home from Vancouver, we're like “We need to do this”. And that was kind of the turning point of the decision. We got back and we hunted a place down and we opened our first shop in 2001.
What's the backstory of 4C's inception? How did this project take root and grow?
Mario: Well, 4C came to be where I've been in the cannabis industry for a very long time. I consulted for many others and it was always a passion for me to run the floor. I worked the floor for three and a half years at a very large licensed producer and all along I was like, I could do this myself, like what am I doing, you know. So I think two years into that venture I started planning on building my own facility and I just had a different purpose for why. And the reason for us at 4C is we want to help people, we want to provide clean regulated cannabis and that kind of ties into where our marketplace is going and we're going to be supplying some of the veterans and the first responders.
What are the standout features and innovations at your facility?
Mario: So 4C is a micro-cultivation facility we built from the ground up from the specks and it's a 7,200 square foot building. We have two large rooms with 94 fixtures in each room. Each room houses 1,150 plants. We turn out 10.4 crops a year. We're doing one strain, so everything we do is the same, so it allows us to be really efficient, we run really lean, and our total plant count in the facility at our high point would be 4,300 plants plus.
Reflecting on recent years, how has your passion for cultivation deepened or transformed?
Mario: Wow. You know, that one has, to be completely honest and transparent, turned from being a profiteer and wanting to just grow the best cannabis and grow the most amount of cannabis possible to where I've transitioned and realized that what Legacy was doing was setting the foundation for what we're doing today. And what we do today and our techniques that we use today, we did not practice that back in Legacy. So it really opened up my eyes. I never pictured myself as being a data geek, and the amount of data I collect and analyze now, realizing that that's what's driving our decisions. And just understanding how science has cut through and given us a whole new perspective on growing cannabis. And I think that the challenge is always there. We're always learning new things. You know, being in this space for over 25 years, I'm still learning today. And that's what keeps the passion going.
How crucial are knowledge-sharing and community in shaping the cannabis industry?
Mario: Huge, number one. So everybody asks me, can I get a tour? Can I get a tour? And the answer is yes. Come as many times as you like. Take a look at our books. Look at our recipes. You know, I don't see it as competition. I see it as a collaboration.
Once you have the mindset of collaboration versus competition, sky's the limit. So yeah, we absolutely endorse and we love to share what we're doing.
In the entire cultivation process, which aspect do you find most enjoyable or rewarding?
Mario: The favorite part of growing? Oh wow, that one's a tough one, geez. it's from A to Z, watching the team perform, watching the team be excited when we get our test results in, we share it with everybody and it just gives them that extra lift and they're so proud of what they do. Watching our team be that proud and show so much passion, that's the best part for me.
What part of the growing process do you find the least appealing or most challenging?
Mario: Regulatory. Dealing with all the regulatory, all of that, if we can put that away and we get some rationalization behind it, then that might turn the corner.
How critical is maintaining consistency throughout the growing process?
Mario: Yeah, it's always a question of, can you replicate it? Can you replicate it? And again, going back to being that data geek, without that data, we can't replicate it. You know, we can change the smallest little thing that puts us on a tangent that we have no idea that we're going there. So, if you can't do it consistently and replicate it, it's going to be a problem.
Since your personal focus shifted from 'making money' to a 'passion for the plant' have you noticed a change in your company's culture?
Mario: Absolutely, there's one thing that my team at Hydro-Lite has said to me many times, when I went and worked on the floor for three and a half years, I was not engaged with them. And I came back and they're like, wow, you're like this new and improved Mario that knows all this data and the reason why we do things. So, yes, absolutely. It's pretty cool.
Looking ahead, what's a key goal or aspiration you have for Hydro-Lite in the coming years?
Mario: The goal for Hydro-Lite is just to maintain where we're at.
You know, we've gone through some troubling times. The whole industry has been up and down. We are now finding out where the new new is, and we're living there. So we want to maintain that and still continue to give that amazing service that we do, guide people, help people and make sure they're successful.
For 4C, what's the grand vision or major objective you're aiming to achieve in the near future?
Mario: The next goal for us is to really home in on our sales channels with the veterans. That is huge. You know, making money is great, it's fun, we've all done it, but I want that purpose, why are we doing things? If we can change lives, if we can save lives, and we can give people a better quality of life, that's the WHY we want to live in.
What inspired the decision to center 4C's focus on supporting veterans and first responders?
Mario: You know, it touches me. I have family that have been impacted by it. Veterans in particular, PTSD, and you know, for me, I've watched those struggles really closely through family functions, and I see the struggles that these people do, and they save us. Let's be honest, they're out there doing the job that is very difficult to do, and I want to just give back a little bit.
at the end of the day, what do you hope to be recognized or remembered for?
Mario: Empowerment. That's something that I find that is in my wheelhouse. I do very well. I'm able to empower my team around me, inspire them, and put them in a lane where they're going to be successful.
I feel that if I'm going to be recognized for something, yes, the cannabis, the stores, but if somebody could say, “wow, he really empowered me and impacted me” that's where I'd like to live.