Opening and operating a marijuana dispensary is not easy. With an excess of red tape and hoops to jump through, being successful in this industry requires an investment of time, work, and money that can exhaust even the most dedicated business owners. Once the doors are finally open, it can be easy to get caught up just keeping the business running, rather than focusing on growing it and making improvements. However, some dispensaries have focused on raising the bar and putting themselves above the competition.
One such dispensary is Minerva Canna Group, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Owner Erik Briones wanted his business to set a new standard for the medical marijuana industry. At the time Briones started considering changes, his business was already booming. Located in a small two-room building that could barely handle the number of patients it was serving, he knew it was time to expand. When a building on the same property became available that was more than four times the size, Briones jumped on the opportunity.
But, in order to convert a former cycling shop into a thriving medical marijuana business, he wanted to bring in somebody with expertise in dispensary design. Briones hired Megan Stone, from The High Road Design Studio — an interior design firm that specializes in marijuana dispensaries — to bring his vision to life. With a total investment of approximately $65,000, Stone helped Briones transform the new building into an exciting, upscale cannabis experience.
“Through the use of natural materials — wood, stone and vegetation — and a diverse array of textures — cement floors, flat walls, leather and velvet upholstery, glass tiles, brushed metal finishes and rough stone — I designed a modern, elegant, yet casual atmosphere to appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds,” Stone said. “Their new space is designed to offer a comfortable, safe and unique dispensary and retail experience to every visitor.”
Stone and Briones divided the large, historically-registered, warehouse-style building into a small, indoor business complex, with a comfortable lobby and waiting area in the center. Only one room was devoted to the actual dispensary, which was given a complete makeover and rebranded as Minerva Medicine. Meanwhile, new divisions were opened in other sections of the building: Minerva Grow is dedicated to selling everything a patient needs in order to grow their own cannabis, including soil, fertilizer, organic pesticides, gardening tools, indoor lights, growing supplies and other cultivation resources; Minerva Life offers products that would be found in a regular smoke shop, such as pipes, papers, bongs, vaporizers and even hemp clothing. The rest of the facility houses other wellness services such as massage and acupuncture to draw an even larger clientele.
In order to make the dramatic transformation, existing elements such as closets, walls and doors had to be shifted around to provide a more suitable and accessible use of space. High ceilings and warm wood beams paired with sky blue paint give a natural sense of open space that brings in the outdoors, while large graphics and images of cannabis on the walls connect patients to the organic nature of the marijuana industry. Minerva Canna has a significant amount of windows, so custom decal coverings were created to allow natural lighting while still providing privacy and security, obscuring the view into the dispensary from the street.
The most expensive aspect of the project was the display cases, but Briones said they were a worthwhile investment. They provide organization and allow all inventory to be stored below the display, so that budtenders never have to turn their back on patients, allowing for peak customer service where another layout would not.
“If a dispensary owner was debating whether to spend their money on that, I would advise them to look at their model and what they are trying to convey to their patient/customer,” Briones said. “If it’s a high level of customer service and professionalism, you are crazy not to do something like this. You are missing out on a huge customer service opportunity.”
By restricting dispensary access to doctor-recommended patients, only but still allowing regular foot traffic into all of the other departments, Minerva Canna has expanded its clientele and expanded its revenue streams. In addition, the business model solves another major dilemma in the medical marijuana industry — the frustration of potentially being taxed to death. Unlike other industries, dispensaries are unable to write off many of their normal business expenses, including rent, products, employees and utilities. Because Minerva Medicine is only a division of Minerva Canna Group, all of the other divisions are able to function as regular businesses do, allowing at least a portion of their expenses to be written off.
Briones’ investment in Minerva Canna Group’s expansion is already paying off. The business has doubled its yearly sales and the number of patients seen on a daily basis.
“Our sales have continued to increase,” Briones said, pointing out that by the end of the second quarter, “we will be where we were at all of last year.
“It is just dramatic. I think it’s a number of factors: having a really cool, big dispensary, referrals throughout the state.”
Briones said customers from Las Cruces and Carlsbad routinely make the four- to six-hour drive to his shop in Albuquerque once or twice a month.
“The design has improved our business substantially,” he said. “We have raised the bar so high in New Mexico that other dispensary owners have come in with jealousy, calling it phenomenal. Patients have such a better cannabis experience with us than any other producer in the state. We just had our best quarter ever, and we do have the best dispensary.”