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Cannabis Meets Design

As the legalization of recreational cannabis ignites across the country, dispensaries are popping up in a shopping center near you creating heavy competition. Most dispensaries follow the Field of Dreams model, assuming that if they build a standard dispensary, consumers will come. While that is true for the first year or two in a legal market, dispensaries in older legal markets have found their sales decreasing in a “race to the bottom” on pricing because there’s nothing to separate them from their competitors. 

Business owners have free creative reign on most dispensary aesthetics under the guidance of state and local rules. The possibilities have opened a new world of cannabis retail design. From a posh ambiance with a luxury in-store experience to a serene, botanical theme exuding wellness, cannabis shops are more than just your local pot stop. 

The majority of retailers agree that the customer experience is a top priority. Whether big or small, dispensaries that make customers feel welcomed and motivated to shop are heavily influenced by design.   

Whether you’re opening your first dispensary or looking at a brand refresh to drive more sales, take a look at these emerging dispensary design trends and tips on how to find the style that best suits your customers’ needs.


Bigger is Better

The global pandemic has reshaped the traditional in-store shopping experience.  National retail trends predict an increase in online sales between 18 percent and 23 percent before 2022.  The demand for faster, digital purchasing options has sparked a hybrid of innovative online browsing and interactive retail experiences to best suit shoppers from any device or location. 

As customer shopping habits evolve, cannabis retailers have seized the opportunity to exceed customer expectations. A growing number of dispensaries provide delivery services and shop online, pick up in-store options. 

However, the ultimate goal is to increase your average sale per customer. This is most often achieved through suggestive selling and impulse purchases that are best accomplished in the store. But how to get customers to walk through your doors? 

Many dispensaries lure customers into the store through special loyalty program discounts and over-the-top entertainment. Located steps away from the Las Vegas Strip, Planet 13’s 110,000 square foot complex resembles a mini-mall. Customers can shop cannabis and watch it being made all while grabbing a cup of coffee or bite to eat. A colossal planet-shaped water sculpture greets and entices customers from the parking lot. Inside, premium cannabis products of cosmic proportions awaits. No other dispensary in the world offers such a wide selection of cannabis products. Nearly 100 budtenders (there are interactive displays too) are on standby ready to teach eager patrons about the more than 100 cannabis items offered in-store.  Although this store never closes, the customer experience includes online orders and delivery up to midnight with order tracking.

While there is a nationwide trend towards larger dispensaries, those in major cities or more densely populated states, don’t have the luxury of space that Nevada does. So it’s important to focus on what will resonate with your audience and to make the best use of space that you have through your store layout.


Exploring Layouts

Creating a fluid flow of traffic is an important part of a dispensary design layout. Customers should easily see and access checkout areas and cannabis items. Each step a customer takes from entry to exit may be carefully crafted by a layout design. Consider the following paths for the ultimate cannabis shopping experience. 

Grid Path — Products are displayed in aisles. This layout is ideal for a larger dispensary with a high volume of cannabis items. For instance, customers at Planet 13 in Las Vegas and its newest California location stroll through rows of the world’s largest selection of cannabis. 


Free Flow Path — Customers are able to browse freely and leisurely.  This layout is ideal for small cannabis shops with limited space and inventory or dispensaries seeking a more personalized approach. Serra uses the free flow path to make all guests, from the curious novice to expert users, feel welcomed.


Loop Path — The most restrictive layout where customers follow a uniform, one-way path through product displays to the checkout. This layout allows customers to browse all products, without skipping through merchandise. This layout is ideal for any size dispensary. Liquid Chrome glass structures form a loop path to direct guests in a set direction throughout its multi-level store.


Designer Displays

Even a small cannabis shop can pack a punch with attention-grabbing displays.  There are many options available to exhibit cannabis accessories and infused products. Whether you prefer an upright showcase, open shelving units, counter-height displays, or a combination of each, the most important aspect is that all merchandise is locked and properly stored. 

Glass cases are currently trending in cannabis retail. Customers can easily view items and glass cases can easily be customized with metal, wood or natural stone to elevate any design.  Canada’s Liquid Chrome is more than just cool on the outside, the X factor transcends across 4 levels and over 6,000 square feet. The store’s wall-to-wall glass exhibit mirrors a carnival glass house, where customers walk through a maze of glass pipes, lighters and smokeware.  

Dispensaries have also found unique ways to group premium cannabis products. As seen in Liquid Chrome, go upward to a higher level and guests can access exclusive items. Donned in velvet ropes, Level 2 rolls out the red carpet with the best of the best selection in the industry.


Other strategies include featured products by brand or by the type of strain and their effects. At Serra, cannabis is grouped into six desired sensations, described as feelings. Vaporizers, flowers and pre-rolls are arranged in house-shaped metal and glass terrarium displays. The custom showcase gives an obvious nod to its namesake.


Lighting Trends

Lighting is more than bland, fluorescent bulbs, it is a mood changer. Gone are the days of hideous fluorescent lighting creating a bland and boring palette. Cannabis retailers are reimagining lighting to enhance customer experience.  From swanky chandeliers creating a high-life atmosphere to rustic pendants for industrial vibes, innovative lighting can sway customers to shop longer and ultimately increase purchases.

There is a myriad of lighting sources to amplify your design theme.  Standard lighting may be sufficient for general areas, however a combination of different lighting levels and fixtures can change the tone of a cannabis retail space.

Euflora’s Downtown Denver location lighting design pays homage to the city’s art and culture scene.  With the use of track lighting, urban art featuring local artists comes to life.  LED lighting illuminates display boxes to draw customers towards new and best-selling cannabis products. Hanging glass pendants, modern ring lights and eye-catching neon signs embellish the checkout area, increasing visibility.  

Natural lighting from large display windows paired with heightened, exposed ceilings and warm wood tone floors, as seen in Serra’s Portland-based store, is the perfect combination for a natural ambiance.  The cannabis vendor looked within its own name (which means greenhouse in Italian) to select its design. Inspired by its mission to transform the way people look at cannabis, the popular dispensary features a plant wall and lush greenery creating a calm, pure and stress-free environment. Smart lighting and mirror panels are also a great resource to mimic the outdoors if faced with limited space or natural lighting. 

Want a dark and moody aura? To create a dramatic space, think high-end jewelry stores, accent lighting is key.  Focal-point lights throughout the retail floor can be used to showcase rare and expensive cannabis strains. Make your shelving and display cases beam with LED light strips or choose dimmers to create a soft glow. Keep in mind that employee break rooms and bathrooms are often a missed opportunity to add unique lighting decor.


Storefront Do’s and Don’ts

The first interaction with a customer happens before they walk inside a dispensary.  Having an enticing storefront is essential to starting off on the right foot. A bold pop of color or unique art mural grabs the attention of those passing by. Large, engaging window displays leave them wanting more. 

Take a drive through downtown Barrie in Ontario, Canada and you are sure to notice Liquid Chrome. An all-black brick facade and chrome silver trimmings give this notorious shop an instant edgy, yet modern look.  Rather than blend in, its monochromatic exterior stands out within the business district, piquing passersby’s curiosity. Through large glass windows decorated in stark white graphics, customers are enticed by colorful displays of limited-edition merchandise and a peek at a seemingly endless selection of glass smoking accessories. 

Here are the top 5 do’s and don’ts to keep customers wanting to walk through your doors over again.

  1. DO: Keep the exterior clean and refreshed.
  2. DO: Maintain landscaping for clear visibility.
  3. DONT: Clutter your window displays. Keep it simple.
  4. DO: Have proper lighting to enhance security.
  5. DON’T: Block pedestrian traffic or store entrance. Ensure all planters, trash receptacles, sidewalk signage or other outdoor displays do not impede traffic flow.

Always check your state and local ordinances for merchandise display and advertising guidelines. Some regulations may ban the use of cannabis images and cannabis products visibility from the street, which impacts your storefront windows.


Get Access

Your customer experience and store design process not only rely on how you look but where you are located. Is your dispensary located on a highly congested one-way street with no street parking available?  

High traffic areas may be great for visibility, but not so desirable for customers attempting to safely park and visit. Don’t let bad parking options or limited accessibility turn potential customers away. 

Consider the following transportation options to help guide your design choices to attract the customers you want.

  • Walk up – how many of the target audience live within walking distance? 
  • Bike – is there bike parking available? 
  • Drive – what are the parking options in the area? Is it handicap accessible? 
  • Public Transportation – is the location accessible to public transportation? How far does a customer have to travel to reach you from public transportation? 
  • Rideshare – are there rideshare options nearby? 

How will your store be set up to handle different types of customers from the newbie who needs a consultation to the experienced user who needs to restock? Will you offer pickup and is there another location for pickup or delivery drivers? 

Wayfinding describes how a person is able to navigate using signs. Having signage at the right place where people will look for direction is an important part. From age verification to merchandise to menus and checkout areas, signage is extremely important to help the flow of traffic both inside and out of your store.


The Customer is Always Right

Which design is best for your business? The simplest answer is the one that fits your customers the best and that will make you stand out from the rest! There is no one size fits all design for cannabis retail and unique stores will be rewarded with sales. 

The key to success is knowing who you are as a business. Determine what you want your dispensary to achieve, including the customers you want to serve. Are you focused on cannabis for health and wellness? Or, do you desire to bring an upscale experience to your community with exclusive cannabis products? Do you have the dankest bud that experience consumers crave? 

Know your audience, solidify your key values and ensure that these are incorporated into your dispensary retail design. 

Need help getting started? Mary Jane Marketer can help with branding, marketing and store concept planning. Book a consultation today.

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