For more than 30 years, Canadian design firm and manufacturing company Visual Elements has been shaping shopping experiences and raising retail expectations through its work on iconic brands such as Coach, Ray-Ban, Louis Vuitton, Nordstrom and J. Crew. Recognizing the growing tides of cannabis legalization across North America, Visual Elements established Seven Point Interiors, a new division specializing in designing and building retail environments for cannabis.
Seven Point Interiors’ designs and custom-built fixtures can already be seen in approximately 70 cannabis stores across North America at Spirit Leaf, Cresco, Grow Healthy and Curaleaf locations, and the company has plenty more projects in development, according to Danielle Marzarella, vice president of business and design development.
“We certainly have a good number of opportunities in the pipeline right now,” Marzarella says.
Marzarella has 20 years of experience in making retail designs a reality. On top of focusing on design implementation and store construction, she also specializes in multi-brand expansion programs desired by many large cannabis companies.
Marijuana Venture spoke with Marzarella about the process of designing scalable cannabis retail stores and the advantages of Seven Point’s in-house manufacturing facility.
Marijuana Venture: What elements from past projects you have done in traditional retail would be shared with a cannabis retail store?
Danielle Marzarella: The great thing we bring to the cannabis table is our experience in retail. After all, cannabis is retail. Different products apply but the pillars of good design remain the same, from customer flow, operational efficiencies, fixture design packages, display, visual merchandising and the point-of-sale experience — all of which are important parts of traditional retail and shared elements to be considered.
MV: What common design flaws have you seen in cannabis retail?
DM: It’s obvious when you walk into a dispensary that took the time to think about not just the color they were putting on the walls, but more important design aspects that support the entire shopper experience. These very important steps are a part of the overall design concept and start from the moment you arrive from the exterior to entry into the retail space: lighting, shopability of product, visual merchandising, customer service, POS strategy and operational efficiencies. The list can go on and on. When the design is looked upon with a holistic approach, we can avoid seeing some of the common design flaws that don’t allow for an overall positive customer experience.
MV: What is Seven Point Interiors’ approach to visual merchandising in the cannabis industry?
DM: A huge part of the design process is understanding the brand’s product assortment and anticipated penetration. We request packaging samples and discuss with our clients a combination of not just what the product is, but how it will be sold, and provide optimal solutions through our fixture and display designs to support these goals. Keeping an open mind to the fact that product and packaging changes, flexibility in our designs is very important.
MV: Many medical marijuana businesses choose to have an employee walk customers through their retail spaces. How is designing this type of guided shopping experience for customers different from an autonomous shopping experience?
DM: In medical dispensary designs, we’re creating a more experiential shopping experience with intimacy so there is the ability to have private conversations without it having to be in a small kiosk, so to speak, feeling like you’re in a doctor’s office. Just about every single one of our clients on the medical side has an employee walking the patient through. The industry’s initial approach was having the employee standing behind a glass case with dividers that run the perimeter of the store — that was the only point of experience the patient was having. Now we’re creating spaces for a more engaging experience for the patient. When the employee greets the patient, they have the ability to engage the patient and walk them through a retail space set up with different types of displays and focal walls, all with the ability to share product information. It’s not just that typical, transactional experience that it once was.
This also sets up opportunity in these locations for a potential transition into a recreational market. Our approach is creating flexibility in the space that allows for more opportunity for people to have an experience, come and go and be serviced without being corralled through a rope.
MV: What design elements are used to communicate the value of a brand or product?
DM: It’s not just one but a combination of elements and how they are used that help communicate a brand’s personality. The value is in every aspect that a customer touches and feels when they walk into a space. Examples can be colors, textures, fonts, style, signage, a “wow factor” item and, most importantly, consistency of these elements and how they are used throughout the interior and exterior for each and every location.
MV: As a branch of Visual Elements, Seven Point Interiors has its own manufacturing facility. What advantage does that provide for the client?
DM: Having our own factory to manufacture products that we design allows us the ability to control the overall process. One of the things I like to focus on is our ability to create scalability, and owning the manufacturing process also gives us a huge advantage when it comes to creating scalability. It is part of what we did for Spirit Leaf and Cresco. That is a direct result of our experience in retail for the past 30 years.
People right now in the cannabis industry aren’t working with set design and construction teams internally. They don’t realize all the important aspects when they are developing a brand. If this brand is going to have 10 locations, we’re looking at it from the perspective maximizing the opportunity and leveraging the volume.
If the brand is going to be repeated, we ensure that the scalability of how to build these stores is going to be there for them. They don’t all know to ask these questions. It’s something we naturally bring to the table. We try to help educate the clients we’re working with because this is not necessarily their area of expertise.
MV: Since Spirit Leaf wanted a design for several locations, did it start from a single design or something more mix-and-match, like a color palette and selection of fixtures?
DM: Together, the fixture concepts, wall treatments and finishes throughout the interior create the consistency of the brand from location to location. Spirit Leaf is a good example of the importance of understanding your client’s strategy and building a foundation plan that meets their goal. It’s also where the combination of overseeing the design practice and manufacturing is a true benefit.
Knowing Spirit Leaf’s goal, during the design process and fixture development we looked at it through the lens of the manufacturing process. In that process we needed to make sure that the design was scalable for manufacturing upwards of 100 locations. Knowing the overall budget, we developed the fixture design using materials and methods that met the need from a cost and timing perspective, which was a true advantage in our success of this program.
MV: What’s the biggest factor in making a design scalable?
DM: Developing a solid foundation and understanding the big-picture strategy that your client is working toward. Being scalable means it can flex up or down, and this can apply to the function of a fixture, display or process. It includes creating a system to not just handle the number of locations, considering time and budget, but product assortment as well.
In some cases we developed custom modular fixture designs that allow us to pre-build and pull from inventory as locations come up, ultimately opening up the retail location on time, as well as developing fixture and display systems that allow flexibility within itself for various types of merchandising options.
MV: What is the process for creating fixtures and furniture for a retailer? Assuming that the design element is finished, how long does it take for the millwork to be completed on average?
DM: Once a custom design concept is completed and fully engineered, and the client approves, we will move into the manufacturing phase which, on average, is about six weeks. However, we also offer ship-ready and semi-custom options that take less manufacturing time, depending on the client’s timeline and need.
MV: Who is the ideal client for Seven Point Interiors?
DM: Our ideal client is one who recognizes the multiple services we offer, whether it be as a turnkey approach or through individualized services. Our business model offers cannabis dispensary owners an option that can include multiple service solutions for the interior concept design, build-out, fixture manufacturing and installation. However, we don’t look at ourselves with a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, we recognize the individual needs of each and every client, be it design, budget and timing, and because of our experience and flexibility we are able to successfully find a solution for each and every opportunity and need.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.