Although the Golden State’s regulated cannabis industry has yet to live up to its incredible potential, dozens of companies are setting new standards with their elegant branding, eye-catching design and groundbreaking consumer experiences.
Among these new leaders, companies like March and Ash, Calma and From The Earth have helped spark a resurgence of Southern California cannabis retail, combining business savvy and substance with the right amount of flash to appeal to a broader market. These forward-thinking businesses not only offer consumers a massive selection of products in a boutique retail setting, but have the infrastructure in place for expansion.
March and Ash
Jon Saco and Blake Marchand could feel the pressure from competing businesses from the moment they submitted their application.
Three cannabis retailers already had licenses to open on the strip of Camino del Rio in San Diego where the two childhood friends wanted to locate the flagship March and Ash dispensary. And with the area’s shopping mall, Fashion Valley, being home to iconic brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada, they knew expectations were going to be high.
“We really had to separate ourselves with the design,” says Marchand, the company’s CEO.
In addition to matching its luxurious surroundings, Marchand also wanted March and Ash to be “a comfortable, boutique experience” when the shop opened in September 2018.
“We wanted it to be a store where my mom or my grandparents could come in and feel comfortable,” Marchand says. “If it’s someone’s first-time experience in a cannabis shop, then they are not going to be caught off guard or uncomfortable.”
“Since our first location was in Fashion Valley, then that was who we were catering to,” says Saco, the chief operating officer.
And with a massive, marquee-style sign affixed to the ceiling and a beautifully tiled flower bar in the center of the sales floor, “Fashion Valley” is exactly what they delivered — at least in terms of style.
“We don’t like to say high-end because it feels like our pricing is going to be higher,” Marchand says. “With us being about education and breaking a stigma, the design feeds into that, and that’s trying to get people to come in and browse the store and ask questions and not feel pressure to buy anything.”
Over the past two years, March and Ash has opened two more dispensaries and grown from 25 employees to 250, staffing everything from retail operations to an in-house marketing department to the corporate headquarters, where all the inventory gets checked in and distributed to the individual locations.
When March and Ash opened its second and third stores in more rural areas of San Diego County, Marchand and Saco worked with the flagship store’s designer to create aesthetics that fit each unique community, while maintaining the brand’s design palette and floorplan.
The Imperial location strips away some of the gold from the flagship’s design and incorporates more wood — including a ceiling-mounted patch of grass above the flower bar that is interwoven with wooden beams— and a fully-restored, World War I-era tractor, to reflect the area’s farming heritage.
The Vista store includes hanging vineyards, pays homage to the city once being dubbed the “Avocado Capital of the World” and features more metal and concrete, reflecting the city’s industrial boom following World War II.
But at the center of each store is the flower bar, one of Marchand’s personal contributions to the overall design of the retail chain.
“When I go to a restaurant, my first thing is I always go to the bar,” Marchand says. “That’s the hot-spot, so I said, ‘Why don’t we create a flower bar?’ Everybody has to go around the flower bar to experience the whole shop and every one of our shops will have a flower bar.”
Each March and Ash store carries about 4,100 SKUs from approximately 125 different brands and sees nearly 1,300 people per day.
March and Ash is currently permitted to open another three locations, and Saco expects to have seven or eight stores open by the end of 2021.
“We constantly reinvest back into the business,” Marchand says. “We believe in cannabis. We believe in this business. It’s not about money, for us it’s about getting a good group of people to educate the whole and change the industry.”