“I don’t think it, I know it.” So says Megan Stone when asked if she thinks interior design is important for cannabis businesses. “I’ve been a patient myself for 10 years and I worked as a budtender and general manager of a dispensary while in design school. I always understood that the experience, atmosphere, and expectations of what these stores are was not living up to its potential.”
Stone has made waves as a full-time cannabis dispensary designer since 2013. Through her business, High Road Studio, she has brought fresh design to dispensaries in 13 different states, earning recognition and numerous awards for her work.
Stone got her start when the dispensary she worked at offered her the opportunity to do some basic remodeling. She repainted the walls, changed the flooring, and installed new cases. “The impact it had on our patients was profound,” she recalls. “It was proof to me that the normal cannabis retail experience was leaving a lot to be desired and that paying attention to that experience could have some pretty significant effects. Day in and day out, people are coming to dispensaries—oftentimes for a product that has saved or significantly improved their quality of life—and their experience has to resonate with that fact.”
Furthermore, Stone believes that the face of cannabis retail is important to the industry as a whole, since design can play a role in reversing the stigmas and perceptions some have about cannabis. “It does us no good to present a face to the world that looks shady, criminal, or misogynistic, when most people’s experiences, information, and education about cannabis is going to come from the stores that they buy it in. These store environments are incredibly powerful catalysts to conveying a different perception of what cannabis is.”
Stone shared 10 key ways that dispensaries can finesse their designs to improve the client experience, increase their revenue, and leave customers happy and ready for their next visit.
Compelling Visual Identity or Brand
Stone: “This is so important for cannabis dispensaries since our customers are seeing us for the first time on a website; whether it’s our own website or Leafly. The look of your brand logo or color palette can say a lot to a customer about whether this retail experience is going to be right for them. So lead with a brand name—a brand identity—that helps represent who you are and helps describe and visualize what that retail experience is going to be. That is the number one most important place to start for a retailer.”
An Approachable Storefront
“Store experience doesn’t start inside the lobby, it starts in the parking lot. Is your parking lot clean? Is it well lit? Do people feel safe when they put their car in park and step outside on a dark night? Are your front door and windows approachable? These are important visual clues that help the customer say, ‘I’m in the right place, I want to be here and I’m going to have a positive experience when I walk in the door.'”
The Front Door
“The first time your customer is going to come in physical contact with your brand is probably going to be when they touch your front door, and that sends a ton of unconscious cues to our head. Is it clean? Is it easy to operate? Is it gonna fall off? At the very least the front door should be clean and operationally sound, and at the very most it should be something incredibly unique, memorable, and totally on point with your brand experience.”
The Lobby Experience
“The lobby is one of the only parts of the cannabis experience where the patient is left alone with their own thoughts. Almost everywhere else throughout the experience they will be in the company of an employee. So use this opportunity to capture their attention and begin to immerse them in your brand. Have a brand touch point in the lobby; put your logo up behind the reception desk in a memorable and impactful way. Make sure that the person sitting behind your reception desk has great customer service skills, and make sure the chairs in your lobby are comfortable for people of all ages, sizes, and ability levels. Individual chairs should be offered (use bench seating sparingly).”
The Retail Shopping Experience
“Have a showroom where customers can browse products, ask questions, and have a nice uncomplicated showing of what you have available. Not everyone is going to want a full-on consultation every time they visit, but you should be able to provide that space should they need it.
“However, also have areas where customers can get in and get out quickly. Things like express order checkout or preorder lanes are becoming increasingly popular. There are advancements being made in mobile technology with apps that allow patients to place orders ahead of time. Almost every major retailer you walk into is now offering ways for customers to preorder or purchase ahead of time before coming in for pick up. I believe that trend will continue to be true for cannabis, as long as cannabis continues to be purchased in brick and mortar stores.”
Make Add-Ons Easy and Relevant
“Are you doing everything you can as a retailer to expose or introduce your customers to the full variety of products in your stock that are relevant to their needs? If you aren’t, why not? This can be a huge win for both the business and the customer by [helping them find] products that they may enjoy even more than what they thought they came in for. At lot of this can be addressed in visual merchandizing.
“Traditionally, people like to put all the flower together in one group, all the concentrates in another, and all the edibles in another still. Well, why not create displays that are based on symptoms? So if someone is coming in looking for ways to treat insomnia, they have all the different relevant products displayed in a range and telling a story that says flower, edibles, concentrates, or capsules—all these different products can treat that same ailment in a similar way with different benefits. Use visual merchandizing to help sell more product but also to make your customers happier if they find something they didn’t know they want.”
“Where do you put your vending boards, and where are they really going to be looked at? A couple years ago a lot of clients really wanted a lot of TV and menu screens everywhere and thought that was going to help them sell more. Well, it’s been proven that people aren’t really looking at those menu boards—especially if they come in knowing what they want—and they certainly aren’t looking at the menu boards after they’ve made a purchase. Think of where that menu needs to be placed in the journey of the customer; where is that information going to be most meaningful, and where can they most use it. Digital signage shouldn’t just be relegated to advertisements, but it should be leveraged to be part of the brand experience.”
A Cash Wrap Counter
“I’m finding dispensaries are separating the point of sale area from the consultation area to increase efficiency and allow the dispensary to see a higher volume of people. Since most cannabis transactions are cash based, enough space and privacy should be provided around those point-of-sale stations. Especially for women, the act of taking money out of your wallet can be very vulnerable and feel exposing. This is particularly true in a cannabis setting where these purchases are often up to $100 or more. So a little bit of discretion and space to complete that transaction is a good idea.”
“Most of the time you’re going to be required to provide a public restroom for your customers. The placement and upkeep of this restroom is pretty critical. Ideally, I try to never have a restroom door opening into a lobby or into the regular flow of the retail journey. It’s a hygiene issue, it’s an odor issue, and it’s a flow issue. If at all possible, tuck it into a corner, a side corridor, or somewhere that is still accessible to the public but isn’t creating an embarrassing situation for the patron.
“I never want to put my associates in a position where they have to deny a patient, or even a guest, access to a restroom. These spaces aren’t always just in service to our customers, sometimes there’s a caregiver, or friends or family members who may just be sitting in the lobby. Giving them a safe, comfortable, discreet restroom is the polite thing to do.”
The Journey Out
“Don’t forget what the store is saying to people when they turn around and walk out. Are they seeing any messaging that is reminding them of their loyalty? Are you giving them anything to incentivize them to come back? Are you letting them walk out the door with really cool packaging, or really interesting products that they will have to tell all their friends about? Think about what the experience of leaving the store is like, and what that brand experience is like when that customer is gone.
“Also, paying attention to the way the product is going to live outside the store is really important. Put some thought into packaging and literature that goes along with it. It doesn’t have to all be serious and educational; some of it can be really fun and engaging. Provide a sticker, or a tchotchke, or a freebee (whether it’s cannabis or not), but leave them with a memento of the great experience they had and a compelling reason to come back.”