Chris Gorney, Director of Creative Sourcing and Procurement at Architecture Firm RDC in Long Beach

Since the dispensary’s design is often a company’s first impression, it must be impressive. Not only is it important to attract patients and customers to the store, but it can evoke emotions, engage and direct shoppers through product options, facilitate expedited customer service, and even increase sales.

In a panel titled, “Retail Facility Design & Buildout For Optimal User Experience & Aesthetic,” cannabis industry experts shared their best practices for dispensary design with a group of current and prospective cannabis business operators at the 2022 Cannabis Conference. This discussion was moderated by Sumer Thomas, Director of Regulatory Operations for Canna Advisors and included Virginia Maggiore, AIA, Principal of RDC. Additional panelists featured were Amanda Ruge, Co-Founder of Flowspace Design, and Wendy Bronfein, Chief Brand Officer & Director of Public Policy for Curio Wellness as well as one of the recipients of the conference’s 2022 Cannabis Leadership Awards.

Initial Design Planning

The session began with an explanation of the process for opening a dispensary, including business licensing, local permitting, dispensary buildout, and store operating. The panelists explained that initial design planning should begin during the licensing process and prospective dispensary operators should start building a team early.

“You need to bring in a designer and architect and whoever is going to be the operations manager [during the initial design planning],” said Amanda Ruge. “It is also important to get the input of the application writer to make sure what you put on your application is what you are actually designing.”

When it comes to choosing a space to renovate for a dispensary, an architecture and design team with experience in the cannabis industry will be able to quickly determine if a location is suitable for retail and the cost and timeline necessary to remodel the store before it can become operational.

“If an architect does not evaluate your space before you sign your lease, you may run into issues early on,” said Virginia Maggiore. “You need to take your time to do your due diligence and put together the right team to evaluate the site.”

“It’s definitely a worst-case scenario when you make all your plans around one location just to find out it won’t work and you have to start again from scratch,” added Sumer Thomas.

“It is very important that no matter what pitfalls occur that you are very forthcoming with your regulators,” said Wendy Bronfein. “When you find out something is going to be delayed, let them know right away.”​​​​​​​

Brand Design and Merchandising

In this panel, the experts stressed the importance of reviewing regulations during dispensary design to ensure the store is compliant with cannabis business regulations, as well as zoning ordinances and local law. Despite some regulatory restrictions, it is still possible for dispensaries to provide positive customer shopping experiences when knowledgeable professionals are involved in the planning.

“How can we deliver it in a way that is compliant with what the state needs and would find appropriate but looks and feels like our store and blends in,” said Wendy Bronfein of regulatory requirements such as warning signage or other design elements which may stick out in the store. “That’s one of those balances you want to strike where [you] are being compliant with what they are saying but filtering it through how [your] brand does things.”

“You need a design team that is really going to ensure that you are filtering things through your brand, figuring out how you are going to display product and where you are going to display product, and working with these cities on these regulations,” added Virginia Maggiore.

During the session, the panelists also discussed the use of visual aids and merchandising strategies for dispensaries.

“I think wayfinding signage is really important. You should label your sections so that your customers are able to self-guide through your store,” said Virginia Maggiore.

“Employee knowledge is also incredibly important and pretty underutilized,” added Amanda Ruge. “Budtender education to be able to communicate with customers as well as having visuals aids like TVs and I-Pads showcasing what is available.”

“One thing I’ve seen recently is where you can pick up the product and as soon as you pick it up it then tells you on the screen about that product,” said Sumer Thomas. “This allows you to collect the data about what customers were drawn to first, what they picked up, what they put down, and what they ended up purchasing after all of the interactions that they had with your products.”

The panel ended with an opportunity for attendees to ask questions of the experts. To communicate with any of the panelists from this session, please email using the contact information below:

How Can RDC Help?

RDC’s team of architects and designers have worked extensively with retailers in the cannabis industry. Our team works with dispensary owners to design and buildout optimal user experiences and aesthetics!

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