In the cannabis industry, catch phrases like “high-end” and “upscale” have been attached to so many items that the words have practically lost all meaning.
However, a variety of new marijuana retailers are redefining the shopping experience and elevating the competition within the mainstream cannabis space.
While hole-in-the-wall dispensaries remain fan-favorites for some consumers, retail outlets like Diego Pellicer, Serra and Level Up are clearly breaking new ground.
All three shops are examples of the industry’s retail arm looking to move beyond the stereotypical pot shop and many are watching to see what the ripple effect might be on the industry as a whole.
With its marble pillars, ornate chandeliers, glass display cases and Spanish-tile-decorated walls and floors, there’s no mistaking Diego Pellicer for some run-of-the mill pot shop.
“People want high-end luxury,” says Alejandro Canto, the chief operating officer and majority owner of the company’s flagship store in Seattle.
Diego Pellicer’s foundation was built on the goal of creating the best possible consumer experience — not just a “better” experience, Canto says.
“The best,” he emphasizes. “That’s what ultimately led us to go the way we did on the build-outs.”
Founder Jamen Shively wanted to create a “high-end cannabis luxury experience,” Canto says. Shively named the company after his great-grandfather, a 19th century vice governor of the Philippines who — after growing hemp for a war that never happened — realized the plant’s lucrative potential and used it to make a fortune.
The romanticized life story of the real Diego Pellicer has become more than just a namesake for the business. In many ways, the portrait of the suave Spanish diplomat — wearing in a white tuxedo with a cane, cummerbund and a mustache that even Sam Elliot would describe as eccentric — exemplifies its shopping experience. It’s classy and charming, but also ostentatious and over-the-top.
“We did not cut any corners when designing the store,” Canto says. “We try to have the same consistent look, feel and touch at all the Diego branch locations.”
Canto says the response has been particularly positive from women, who have commented in person, online and through social media about the difference in the store’s design.
“It makes the consumer feel like they are shopping at a Nordstrom and not a little store down on the corner of the street,” he says.
Canto says the look, feel and identity of the stores came after spending two months analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of California and Colorado dispensaries.
“After that we went to the drawing board and we started putting things together we thought might work,” Canto says. The Diego Pellicer team discovered that customers truly enjoy a one-on-one experience, so the company’s sales clerks greet customers when they enter the sales floor.
“They don’t like someone behind the counter, standing on top of them or looking down on them,” Canto says.
The only items behind the counter are the registers. All the product is displayed in glass-encased cupboards and inside waist-level glass shelves. Placing the product out in an open floorplan allows employees to interact with the customers and pull out any products they want to see from the display cases.
“It makes the customer feel welcome, like they are speaking to a friend and not being sold something,” Canto says.
In addition to the Seattle flagship, Diego Pellicer has a retail store in Denver and is in the process of opening an Oregon location. The company is already building a cultivation and processing facility in California, but Canto says Diego Pellicer plans to wait for more details about the state’s regulations before it begins work on a retail location within the Golden State.
“The goal is to be able to have multiple state brands established and a recognized brand that is known among consumers and connoisseurs,” Canto says.
Diego Pellicer operates as four separate entities in each of the states in which it has businesses. There’s also a fifth branch, Diego Pellicer Worldwide, which is a public company that acts as the landlord for its retail and production companies. If the federal status of marijuana changes, the individual companies will merge into one larger entity.
“If there wasn’t a law stopping us we would’ve gone public on day one and gone a whole different route,” Canto says.
The owners of Level Up in Scottsdale, Arizona wanted a classical European look for their dispensary and brand identity, with accents that pay homage to the affluent surrounding community.
“Level Up is an exquisite throwback to an upscale pilot’s lounge or high-end cigar bar,” director of marketing Jenna Urusky says. “We also wanted to reflect the environment around us, which consists of the Scottsdale Airport, with its many private jets, and the luxury car dealerships and other fine industrial business operators we are happy to call neighbors.”
From the exterior, it’s easy for people to walk past Level Up’s massive windows without any idea of the business’ nature. Inside, it’s even more different than typical medical marijuana dispensaries, with cues taken from the heyday of air travel: compass-style lamps, terminal-style waiting chairs with riveted aluminum foot rests and framed photos of classic jetliner engines.
The retail space was designed by Megan Stone of High Road Design, who says the owners wanted to avoid the well-traveled path that many dispensaries have followed.
“They didn’t bite onto that whole industrial modern trend that seems to be so infectious these days,” Stone says.
“We felt the upscale European motif represented our culture and philosophy best,” Urusky adds. “Its sleek and sophisticated design is quintessential Scottsdale.”
Adding Victorian-style furniture, wood-framed windows and subtle dressings such as a coffee table books about McLaren automobiles points to design influences from across the Atlantic. The color palette ties the store and its brands together with shades of gray, brown and forest green.
“We wanted to brand ourselves as being a tier above the rest when it comes to what a patient should want, need and expect in their local medical marijuana dispensary,” Urusky says.
The company grows the majority of its flower in-house, and on the sales floor, cannabis products are treated with a high level of respect. Flower is stored in large glass vials inside glossy white display cases with LED-lit bases. The dispensary also carries a small, curated selection of products from other producers. Some premium products are contained in domed-glass serving trays, as if a tuxedoed butler were waiting around the corner for the chime of a bell.
“They definitely wanted to avoid that typical (dispensary) look, and when you look at the photos, they are definitely not typical,” Stone says.
Staying competitive in a marijuana market as crowded as that of Portland, Oregon is a challenge in itself. Crafting a distinguishable identity in a city that prides itself on being weird takes much more guile.
Serra, a cannabis retail chain with two stores in Portland and another in Eugene, succeeds at both with a décor that could be described as downright heavenly.
With its velvety white walls, clean lines and gilded trim accents, it’s not hard to confuse Serra’s sales floor with a movie set version of the afterlife.
“We kind of like the name ‘Weed Heaven,’” marketing director Chasity Roesler says.
Although Roesler and brand director Cambria Noecker enjoy the reference, they say the layout wasn’t influenced by dream sequences or images of the Pearly Gates. Instead, Serra — named after the Italian word for greenhouse — uses reclaimed glass greenhouse panels for interior walls and display cases, while the well-lit space creates the atmosphere of a Mediterranean sun room.
“With our space, we wanted a clean, inviting and beautiful retail space that would work if we were selling weed or if we were selling art,” Roesler says. “We have a lot of people walk past, not knowing if we’re an art gallery or a boutique, and that was kind of the point — that it was a standalone, beautiful retail space.”
The company also embraces the people, businesses, neighborhoods and local architecture surrounding each store.
“One of our buildings is an old bodega in the Belmont neighborhood,” Roesler says. “Instead of bulldozing it and building anew, we wanted to pay homage to the buildings themselves. It wasn’t like we were one of those dispensaries coming in and claiming the community. We actually participate in it.”
All three Serra locations were acquired and developed simultaneously. The stores’ interiors were created by JHL Design and its branding was developed by OMFG Co. — two firms local to the Portland area.
“We were lucky enough to be doing the branding at the same time we were doing the design of the stores,” Noecker says. “We were able to incorporate the brand into the design and the design into the brand.”
“At Serra, cannabis is a lifestyle,” Roesler adds. “It’s a really experiential brand.”[contextly_auto_sidebar]