The legalization of cannabis throughout the US has resulted in an upswing of cannabis dispensaries. Unsurprisingly, these dispensaries morphed from the dark hole-in-the-wall outlet to something far more pleasant.
In 2015 some 1,000 retailers were conducting business in the US, but the latest figures show this number has grown to over 6,000, giving some indication of the importance of this as a product in the medical and recreational environments.
The Growing Competition and The Need to Innovate
As competition between outlets grows, there is a greater need for business owners to pay particular attention to the aesthetics or feel of their business premises. Consumers are used to other facilities being carefully designed and decorated, especially if they are purchasing marijuana for medical use.
Irrespective of the quality of the product offered, if their experience in a marijuana outlet is poor, you can expect that they will take their business elsewhere. The same result will occur if the packaging and branding are poorly presented.
The Design Strategy
The design of the outlet will depend mainly on the location of the business and the legal restrictions placed upon the sale of marijuana in that state.
For example, Illinois only permits the sale of marijuana for medical use so an outlet in this state will have to be designed as for any medical facility. On the other hand, an outlet in Washington state could be differently designed because the state permits the recreational use of marijuana.
When designing an outlet, it is likely that the architect will be on a steep learning curve as this is not yet a mainstream activity. Again, architects in Illinois will have some extremely stringent conditions to which they must adhere for the outlet to be legal in terms of the state legislature.
These regulations should not hamper the architect’s design capability. As in Illinois, a license to operate a marijuana outlet will cost about $300,000 before a spade of earth is turned, the owner must seek out a creative, forward-thinking architectural firm that will adhere to the regulations while creating a pleasant ambiance for the customer. It’s then the responsibility of the owner to ensure that the entire experience is world-class.
Dispensary 33: A Success Story
Sadly, the majority of the dispensaries in Illinois have a very dark and severe medical aesthetic which does little to encourage a feeling of hope in their clients.
The first dispensary to break this mold, Dispensary 33, has shown that marijuana dispensaries in Illinois need not be another soulless medical facility, but can meet all the state guidelines while maintaining an inviting space.
The owner of the dispensary, Paul Lee, explained in an interview that many people who visited the dispensary suffered debilitating pain and already faced many hospital visits, so he did not want Dispensary 33 to be just another medical facility. He wanted the space to be bright, inviting and a welcoming, happy place that promised more than just another medical visit.
Understanding the Regulations
Starting with that vision and ensuring that you fully understand the local regulations means that you can think creatively about the design of the facility, the packaging of the product and the brand loyalty that you wish to engender.
Some of the creative solutions that Dispensary 33 came up with include clear, vacuum-sealed canisters that the dispensary provides to their growers.
The grower will place the product in the canister and seal it, before returning it to the Dispensary for sale. In this way, they were able to comply with the regulation that if a seal is broken the product must be immediately sold or destroyed.
By allowing the customer to see the product, there was no need to break the seal which cut down considerably on the amount of product destroyed. Now they can see before they buy. This canister is unique to Dispensary 33 and gives them a business advantage that other outlets do not have.
The Front of the Outlet
Another innovative design feature used by Dispensary 33 is to allow customers to see the products that are available from the front of the outlet, while they can only be accessed by staff from a room behind the display.
This creative thinking means that the regulation that states all the inventory can only be handled by staff alone in a back room is adhered to, but the customers have full visual access to them. From the front of the display area, the customer does not see the rear hall that is the access that the staff has to the inventory.
In the business world of today, the entrepreneur will choose what they wish to see, but smart architects and designers can make or break the sale of that product with their creations. If the owner of Dispensary 33, had not engaged a creative team of professionals to assist with the design of the outlet, it is unlikely that the dispensary would be as exciting an outlet, as it is today.
Environment Makes the Difference
The retail sale of cannabis is still a new environment, and this leaves plenty of scope for exciting, forward thinking in the fields of architecture and design. It can be a daunting task to consider the ramifications of combining medical and recreational sales in the same environment as it is likely that the customers will be vastly different in outlook and need.
Customers that wish to purchase cannabis for recreational use are unlikely to want to buy in an environment that smacks of a medical facility, while those purchasing for medical use may feel extremely uncomfortable buying in the same place as someone that is looking for a good time.
In this type of outlet, it would be wise to separate the customer from those looking for recreational marijuana being directed to a separate floor or an independent shop within the same outlet.
This dual-nature will post some problems for the retailer as well as the architectural team. The retailer will have to give serious consideration to what they want the look and feel of their outlet to be and the design team would have to take those thoughts and convert them to brick and mortar while adhering to the state legal guidelines.
As research has shown that customers take less than 10 seconds to decide if they like being in a shop or not, it is vital that owner and designer work in tandem to provide a pleasant environment that meets the needs of the specific customers they wish to attract and keep.