Living the Dream: Steve Brooks

Steve Brooks
Denver, CO

Building a successful cannabis dispensary business is a transformative process. Things that may have been unimportant during the initial launch phase become critical as your business (and your market) develops. An excellent example of this is the interior design of our retail locations. When we opened our first Lightshade dispensary in 2011, the interior design of the store was an afterthought. Back then, it was purely about functionality: How would we display products? How many counters did we need to facilitate customers?

Our focus was on compliance and inventory, as it needed to be, but over time, we refined our marketing strategy. We transitioned from simply trying to sell products to any cannabis user that walked in the door to having a more education-focused customer experience. This approach ensured that we didn’t alienate our existing customer base while allowing us to attract new customers in underserved but valuable groups, such as senior citizens and women, ages 35-55.

To do that, our marketing needed to evolve, and the interior design of our stores had to align with our new marketing strategy. The design of our stores needed to be an asset to our business; it had to reflect our values and set the tone for the Lightshade experience. Most importantly, it had to be approachable and attractive to all cannabis consumers.

In the early post-legalization days, dispensaries were usually painted medical white, with bars on their windows (if they had windows at all). When a customer walked in, they’d talk to the front of house staff through bulletproof glass and slide their ID through a hole underneath. If everything checked out, they’d then be taken back to complete their purchases. It was an uninviting, impersonal and intimidating experience. People new to the cannabis world often felt like they were doing something wrong, and this buying process reinforced that feeling.

We wanted our stores to be a sharp contrast to this standard. That meant that the core theme of our interior design concept would center around creating a welcoming, comfortable and pleasant experience for our customers. Our stores also needed to be unique from our competitors. Finally, we needed to create a space that still felt connected to Colorado, that it belonged in our state.

To accomplish our goals, we created bright, open spaces lit by as much natural light as possible. Some of our locations now even have large garage-bay doors that can be opened during good weather. Key design elements include light, reclaimed wood walls and raw, untreated steel. This was softened and warmed by floor coverings and furnishings. Our front desks are polished aluminum with backlit branding; the bud bays are crisp and modern, featuring a smaller, curated selection of products instead of overloading customers with too many choices. The color palette was intentionally neutral, so when we splashed our brand colors throughout the store, they really popped. Each store features corrugated steel in several places, an element that helps connect the interior to our urban Denver surroundings, while mountain murals make the stores feel authentically Colorado.

We reinforced our commitment to consumer education with the use of interior signage and technology. Our proprietary “Balance” system is prominently displayed in bright acrylic panels to guide customers in finding what they’re looking for. We also educate through streaming content on our digital displays and with our digital catalog of products that customers can access from home or with our budtenders.

The result of our interior design efforts adds to the Lightshade experience. It makes our customers feel comfortable and informed in their cannabis buying. Competition in this industry is tough as it becomes more saturated. Despite this, our business has continued to grow and thrive, and our commitment to thoughtful, purposeful interior design is an important part of that growth.

So don’t think of interior design as a capital drain with little ROI. Think of it as a way to elevate your customer experience, differentiate yourself from your competitors and tell your story.


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