By Virginia Maggiore
Snowflakes are great in nature, but not in the cannabis industry – especially when operating dispensaries with multiple locations.
A ‘snowflake’ is a complete one-off, bespoke store designed around its unique location or features which cannot be replicated at another property. While these can make great standalone dispensaries, relying on ‘snowflake’ stores to carry the brand through expansion can prevent timely openings and increase costs.
Although there are more dispensaries now than ever before, most carry similar products, so it can be challenging to create that unique brand experience. In an effort to combat this cannabis product commoditization, dispensaries often try to differentiate their brand from competitors and make shopping at their stores a memorable experience – but if consistency is not established from the start, this could impede a successful brand rollout.
There will always be a percentage of variable during design, and ‘snowflake’ would be considered 100% variable. A good balance would be to strive for around 20% variable and 80% consistency when implementing a cannabis dispensary brand rollout.
Some brands strive to make every location unique and may seek to incorporate a nod to the community, such as a mural or painting by a local artist, in every dispensary location. Though the store might appear visually different than other stores under the brand, it is still important that the dispensary’s back of house is operating under the same operational guidelines. This is crucial to creating a consistent brand experience, and ultimately, a successful brand rollout during business expansion.
CREATING A CONSISTENT BRAND EXPERIENCE
Establishing a consistent brand experience in a cannabis dispensary can be more challenging than at a traditional retailer due to the strict regulations that govern cannabis businesses. Still, dispensary customers should have a similar brand experience regardless of the location in which they are shopping, even across state lines.
Customer loyalty is a key consideration when establishing a consistent brand experience, and the design of the dispensary should welcome new customers and invite them to return. The expectation of the customer is that their shopping experience will be similar to previous visits, including the product stock, quality, and location within the store. Customers will become familiar with a retailer’s layout, products, and transaction and will often return to dispensaries where they have had positive experiences. Consistently meeting and exceeding the customer’s expectation for their shopping experience helps build customer trust and loyalty.
ENSURING A STRONG CANNABIS BRAND ROLLOUT
A cannabis brand rollout is considered successful when budgets and timelines are met consistently. To ensure success, prospective multi-store dispensary operators should outline the programmatic elements and fundamental operations prior to expansion.
When dispensary owners understand their business and its needs from the beginning, it is easier to ensure scalability while the business expands. There will be less consistency across locations if dispensary owners are learning how to operate as the business grows.
It is also easier to ensure a positive return on investment (ROI) when materials can be procured in bulk and at discount. When cannabis dispensaries plan for scalable expansion from the start, subsequent locations can open sooner and for a reduced cost. Additionally, setting standards during the build out of the first location ensures that subsequent locations maintain brand integrity and operational consistency.
MAINTAINING BRAND INTEGRITY AND OPERATIONAL CONSISTENCY
Though it can be challenging to maintain brand integrity during business expansion, dispensary layout and design can aid in establishing a recognizable shopping experience across locations. Operators should ensure that their brand is identifiable and that it is obvious to customers that the dispensaries are connected, instead of unrelated random locations. In the same market, consistency across stores is expected by customers who may frequent multiple dispensaries operated by the same brand, but in a new market, customers could be experiencing brand for first time.
Establishing operational consistency is key to creating a positive brand experience across locations. Ideally, one set of operational guidelines will be capable of being implemented at every dispensary under the brand. Most of these operational guidelines will pertain to the back of house – such as the transaction process, storage procedures, security measures, and employment policies of the brand – but these back of house consistencies ensure a familiar experience for returning customers.
Cannabis product stock and quality also play a role in customer loyalty, and customers may choose to shop elsewhere if this experience is not consistent. When products are replaced, it is important to communicate to customers why another product is similar and/or better, especially in medical markets where patients may be looking to refill a prescription.
THE IMPACT OF REGULATIONS ON DISPENSARY DESIGN
The customer experience created by dispensary design can be limited by local and state regulations on cannabis businesses, and this is especially apparent during business expansion. Regulations should always be checked when entering a new market and cannabis operators should be prepared to adapt to differing requirements. These may include mandating elements such as entry or rear vestibules, buzzed entry, or glazed storefront glass to prevent cannabis from being visible from the exterior and to provide additional security. Though these regulations may influence the specific features of individual locations, the general design should still be consistent and recognizable to customers.
Unlike traditional retail, community response to cannabis dispensaries can be very polarized. While the industry has strong support now, there are still those who resist cannabis businesses entering their communities. Many of the regulatory requirements on dispensary design can be attributed to the fear that cannabis businesses will attract crime. Sometimes, the required enhanced security measures even end up improving the standard of security for an entire shopping center or area where security may have previously been lacking.
VARIABLES: NEEDS, COMPETITION, & CUSTOMER CHOICES
There are many variables that should be considered when designing a cannabis dispensary, such as the programmatic needs, existing competition, and the customer choices of the target demographic. It is important to establish the needs specific to the location, especially if some dispensaries are connected to multi-use spaces, such as consumption lounges or event venues.
Varying customer choices also play a role in dispensary design. Dispensaries that primarily service medical patients will likely try to be generally appealing to everyone and will prioritize providing private consultation spaces and an environment where patients feel comfortable. Alternatively, recreational dispensaries usually focus on quick service and may strive to appeal to a younger demographic by using bright colors and lighting in the design.
When designing a dispensary that services multiple demographics, the layout and features of the space should be designed to accommodate varying shopping habits. This ensures that customers have a positive experience at the dispensary whether they are guided through the process by staff or through self-guided options, like wayfinding signage, product visuals, and educational resources.
Dispensaries are no longer simple headshops with glass cases and customers are looking for more than just cannabis. Customers are coming for the space, the design, the brand, and what the dispensary is offering that is better than competitors.
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