In the highly competitive cannabis retail sector, the design and aesthetic of dispensaries play a pivotal role in attracting and retaining customers. Gone are the days of dark, dingy rooms with limited product offerings and dimly lit receptions. Modern dispensaries are sleek and more in line with Apple stores, offering top-tier products while delivering a shopping experience. Successful retailers recognize that cohesiveness in flow and functionality is foundational to success, which translates to happy—and repeat—customers.
Toronto-based retail design company Visual Elements saw the need for a team of experts dedicated to nurturing the developing retail cannabis sector. In 2017, they founded SevenPoint Interiors to deliver state-of-the-art solutions to the cannabis retail experience. As a vertically integrated company, they manage everything from branding and design to manufacturing and installation. This comprehensive involvement allows them to ensure their clients successfully navigate the intricate process of opening a cannabis space.
To better understand what goes into creating a successful cannabis retail space, SevenPoint Interior’s Danielle Marzarella, VP of Global Retail Development and Holly Cottrell, Business Development and Cannabis Specialist, share their insights and must-haves for the modern dispensary and offer a fresh perspective on the cannabis retail landscape.
Cottrel’s cannabis journey began in Arizona, where she and her husband pioneered the state’s first medical marijuana testing lab in 2010. This venture grew into an extraction company, eventually leading them into the cannabis retail space, launching a dispensary in Phoenix. Over the years, Cottrel has touched various verticals of the cannabis industry, from lab extraction to the retail market and has been with Visual Elements since 2018.
Marzarella offers an unparalleled understanding of the traditional retail design sector. With a remarkable 25-year stint in retail and association with giants like Ann Taylor and Coach, she brings to the table expertise in store development on a global scale. “I understand the nuances of building boutiques to flagships,” she says.
Marzarella credits Cottrel with providing an essential boots-on-the-ground cannabis experience. “Her knowledge has been indispensable to our team,” she says. “Holly and I make a great pair, and we thoroughly relish our work together.”
Branding: The Dispensary’s DNA
A successful dispensary design begins with strong branding: “Branding, branding, branding; it all begins with branding,” says Marzarella. “Seek professional consultation early to streamline the process.” Whether businesses approach the design process with a clear branding vision or look for guidance to shape that vision, it remains a cornerstone for creating a coherent and captivating space. “A holistic understanding of branding, matched with strong visual merchandising, becomes pivotal for a modern dispensary to stand out,” she says.
Flow, Function, and Aesthetics
Every aspect of the business should be carefully considered to create a seamless customer experience. Marzarella emphasizes the significance of a seamless and functional flow on the sales floor as a vital component of a modern dispensary. “Ensuring cohesiveness of flow and function from entry to purchase and back-of-house operations is paramount,’ she says.
However, focusing solely on aesthetics without considering the overall customer journey can be a misstep. A dispensary can be visually striking, but if it doesn’t cater to the customer’s end-to-end experience, it risks falling short.
Cottrel believes that visual merchandising stands out as an area many in the industry grapple with. As the industry matures, the challenge evolves from creating a pleasing design to effectively showcasing the ever-changing product packaging. “Displays are essential,” she says, emphasizing the role of unique displays like flower tables in offering memorable customer experiences.
Elevating Dispensary Design
What does ‘elevated’ design mean in the context of dispensaries? For Marzarella, it’s not merely about luxurious materials. Instead, elevated design ensures every element of the store, from fixtures to product placement, contributes to an optimum shopping experience.
“Elevated means a well-thought-through space,” she says. “It’s all about the experience from the entry point. The materials, the lighting—it all needs to come together.”
Design Trends: State by State
Considering the differences in state-by-state regulations, one might expect significant discrepancies in design from one state to another. “The customer base is venturing into unfamiliar territory,” Marzarella says, underscoring the necessity of educating clients early, especially given the intricate processes associated with cannabis, from stringent security to complex testing.
However, while states may have regulatory differences, a brand’s essence remains consistent. Whether serving college towns, suburbs, or urban areas, the goal is to reflect the brand’s identity, catering to its target demographic.
“We don’t design by state; it’s by brand,” Cottrel says. “Ultimately, while all dispensaries sell cannabis, how they present and sell it can vary vastly.”
The cannabis retail landscape is dynamic. To address the myriad needs, SevenPoint introduced its unique module system. “It’s a pre-engineered catalog of items, customizable to clients’ brand needs,” Marzarella says. The system is a game-changer, ensuring dispensaries can swiftly set up shop without compromising design or brand integrity.
The Retail Experience and the Normalization of Cannabis
On the role of retail in normalizing cannabis, Marzarella feels the experience is pivotal. “It starts with the experience of being in a retail space and environment that makes shoppers feel comfortable, that’s going to help them understand the product, educate them and leave them wanting to come back for more.”
When asked about the future of cannabis retail spaces, Cottrel posits a perspective grounded in realism. “Dispensaries are here to stay. However, as states start permitting consumption lounges, we’ll likely witness a bifurcation. Brands may even establish exclusive lounges, creating an intriguing market space.”
As the cannabis industry continues its propulsion from the margins to the mainstream, understanding the nuances of dispensary design becomes crucial for retail businesses looking to succeed in a competitive market. Savvy owners would be wise to understand it’s not just about the aesthetics or compliance but building a solid foundation of brand identity, adaptability and unmatched customer experience.