Mario Guzman might not be a name that cannabis professionals would associate with high-end retail design, but that could change after his Sherbinskis store opened in the fall to critical and commercial success.
Guzman made his mark on California’s cannabis scene more than a decade ago, helping create the Sunset Sherbert and Gelato strains, and also being one of the few growers to brand himself alongside his flower.
As Sunset Sherbert grew in popularity, his friends began calling it “Sherbinski.” Guzman liked the nickname, which made him imagine a longstanding, family-run New York deli and its owner and namesake, Mr. Sherbinski. Guzman adopted the name “Mr. Sherbinski” and it stuck.
Much like those New York delis where family legacies are tied to a famous sandwich recipe, Sherbinskis’ has a legacy of famous genetics. When it came time for Guzman to open his flagship store, he had several ideas about how the dispensary should look and feel and zero doubts about what it would be named.
The Tangible Brand
The Sherbinskis design is unlike any other cannabis shop. It’s part San Francisco street culture, part Los Angeles glamor, a dash of New York deli and a whole lot of orange. While Guzman had used the Sherbinskis brand for years, he was surprised how the color seemed to jump out during the logo and branding development as the name was finally becoming something tangible.
Guzman says it’s “the most spiritual color” and the most prominent color in India at all the temples. He says it also represents the sun and its connection to plants.
Guzman wanted to build a high-end retail brand that was approachable and without the air of exclusivity. To do that, he partnered with wHY, a Los-Angeles-based design firm named one of the top 100 design firms in the world by Architectural Digest.
“They understand the little nuances that can be brought into the space that give it an elevated feel,” Guzman says. “People called my weed ‘designer weed’ for many years and I always felt that if it’s going to be designer then the packaging has to be designer, the space has to be designer, everything about it has to be designer.”
The 2,500-square-foot store takes a simple, minimalist approach, giving plenty of breathing room on shelves and between the island displays. The store shines at every angle with nearly every fixture featuring a glossy finish, from windows to the walls and across the mirrored ceiling. The only parts of the store with matte finish are the smokey, opaque glass panels that cloud the massive tropical leaves behind them.
“We’ve been able to create an environment where it’s really like the street, which feels very comfortable because I am from the street and that’s where Sherbinskis started,” Guzman says. “But then people who come from a very high-end, high-fashion, high-brow type of lifestyle, they also feel very comfortable in that type of environment.”
Location, Location, Location
Guzman’s philosophy of starting at the top extends to finding the right retail location. As one of California’s most famous growers, he’s had plenty of chances to get into the world of legal cannabis retail, but he didn’t want to settle for a location just because it was zoned correctly.
“You know, at first retailing wasn’t such an important thing for me,” he says. “Ultimately I think everyone needs a flagship store, and I knew that if I was going to open up a dispensary, I didn’t want it to be in just any area.”
Being from San Francisco, Guzman thought a location in the Golden Gate City would be a natural fit, but nothing worthwhile ever materialized. It wasn’t until he opened an office in Los Angeles that he found a home for Sherbinskis, right between Melrose and Beverly on Fairfax Avenue, a five-mile stretch the Huffington Post called “the coolest street in Los Angeles.” Sherbinskis’ orange exterior blends beautifully against the towering palm trees that decorate Fairfax Avenue and yet stands out among the many retail stores and restaurants housed on the iconic street — including Supreme, which is just one block north.
Guzman says he feels blessed to be able to open his dispensaries in such a competitive area and on such an iconic street like Fairfax.
“And to be the first one to do it, it’s something that I’m really proud of,” he says.
Guzman says opening his flagship location has been the biggest milestone in his career. Now he’s looking to surpass that accomplishment by expanding Sherbinskis’ retail and apparel footprint across the state.
From Flower to Fashion
While Sherbinskis marks Guzman’s first foray into cannabis retail, it’s also the first time the grower will have his own line of fashion, something he views as paramount to establishing Sherbinskis as a lifestyle brand.
“We’re a flower company at heart, but I think people, when they enjoy a brand, they want to wear a hat, they want to wear a hoodie, they want to wear something that is like their team jersey, where they can represent who they like,” Guzman says. “We have a unique opportunity to create a cannabis lifestyle brand that is high-end, and that people are going to put into a category like Louis Vuitton or Gucci, but I’m looking to create something very new that hasn’t been done yet.”
Guzman is already one of the very few cannabis growers who has crossed over into mainstream popular culture. According to the New York Times, Guzman’s strains have been referenced in more than 200 hip-hop songs. His first sneaker design, which debuted at ComplexCon, a two-day hip-hop and fashion festival, sold out in less than two hours and sell for roughly $1,000 on eBay. Within its first three weeks, the store has welcomed a parade of celebrities through its doors, including rapper Ty Dolla $ign, actor, musician and jeweler Ben Baller and former NBA star and current cannabis entrepreneur Al Harrington.
At the 2018 Business of Fashion’s Voices conference in London, Sherbinskis was introduced as “the Supreme of marijuana.” Guzman says the comparison to the skateboard-shop-turned-streetwear-icon is flattering, but any coincidences are unintentional.
“That was just based on me not having the supply,” he says. “I did the supply-and-demand game that Supreme played just because I really didn’t have a supply for the whole state.”
Guzman says he put off a clothing line for most of his career because the timing was never right. But now, with the store and brand in place, he feels the company’s apparel can maximize the impact of its lifestyle brand.
“I was always told that if you want to be high-end or considered high-end you can’t let people see the low-end first; you have to wait and establish yourself,” he says. “Now we’re taking it very seriously and I’m looking at taking a very large part of business on through the apparel and lifestyle goods.”