Dispensary Design – Designing A Retail Cannabis Store

Once you’ve found your retail cannabis location, it is time to think about your dispensary design.

There is a lot that goes into designing a retail cannabis store – especially from a compliance standpoint. It can be tough to put your store together in a manner that pleases the state. And, you also need to focus on providing the best customer experience. But, we were able to do it in our store! Now, I’m going to teach you everything you need to know. 

Why dispensary design is so important

You already know that your dispensary design will be a huge factor in whether or not people come back to your store. It’s not easy to win someone’s business over, and get them in your doors. So, you need to make sure that they enjoy every aspect of being in your store.

That means they need to feel welcome, the dispensary floor plan needs to be functional and pragmatic, and it needs to be secure. There is so much that goes into designing your store, and you need to get it right the first time. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!

How To Design A Dispensary

Regardless of whether you have any design experience or not, the process of building out a retail cannabis shop can be overwhelming. But, we can break it down into a few steps to make it easier:

  • Layout and functionality
  • Security
  • Design

Design your layout in a functional manner

How to design a dispensary

This is the first step in designing your dispensary. Think about things such as flooring, and determine if the climate in your specific state warrants a special type. If your climate has tons of snow, you’ll want to invest in flooring that’s easy to clean and can handle people coming in every day tracking slush. Once your store is up and running, you really don’t want to have any down days where you need to replace the flooring, so think it through the first time.

Think about how many rooms your location has, and their respective sizes. Ideally, your store would consist of at least 2-3 rooms – one for waiting, one for shopping, and one for employees only.

Many dispensaries don’t have a customer restroom, and with long waiting times, this can be a huge inconvenience for customers. Having a restroom in the lobby can be the difference between a customer coming back to your store or opting for one up the road a ways.

You also need to make sure your store is wheelchair accessible. After all, your store needs to not only be cannabis compliant, but compliant with business laws in general! Many of your customers are going to be medical patients, and some will surely be handicapped. If its not easy for them to enter and leave your store, and there isn’t ample room for a wheelchair in your store, they definitely won’t be coming back. The last thing you want is for a customer to feel discriminated against, or inconvenienced. 

There are plenty of other things that go into building a functional layout, such as having a secure front desk separate from the waiting room (not a necessity, but definitely nice for your employee’s safety!), being able to fit all your merchandise in the store, and more. If you have any questions about this, let’s chat!

Think about dispensary security when you design the store

dispensary design standards

You need to put a good amount of thought into your store from a security standpoint. There are certain states that require different things than others when it comes to security, so you’ll need to do some research here. For example, in Washington state, having a security guard out front is not required. In some states, however, it is.

We touched on it briefly above, but having a secure check-in station is a really good idea. God forbid its every needed, but keeping your receptionist separate from the lobby is a smart, secure measure. You don’t necessarily need to go the lengths of installing bulletproof glass, but having a window between your receptionist and the lobby will also give your dispensary a more professional vibe.

Another security measure you’ll need to take is installing cameras. More than likely, your state will require that you have security cameras and capture every square inch with video surveillance, 24/7. This means outside, in the lobby, in employee-only rooms, and especially in the shopping area. This will help immensely in preventing any sort of theft, and will also keep you covered from a compliance standpoint. On that note, you’ll need to keep video footage for up to 34 days depending on where you are located.

Similar to many retail stores in any industry, you’ll want to maintain barriers between product and customers, and make it as hard as possible to shoplift. Glass display cases are a must, but even just having some sort of barrier between customers and products on the wall is enough. Many of your customers will want to inspect your inventory up close to see the quality and smell, so having samples on display is a good idea. They need to be easily accessible by your staff.

Design your store to align with ALL your customers

Everyone remembers their first experience in your dispensary, and you want to leave a good impression. You want every customer that comes through your doors to feel welcome, and want to come back. Your layout should be congruent with your branding. Here are a few dispensary design best practices:

  • Have an open floor plan– You need to make sure there is TONS of room on the sales floor in your dispensary. Having a cramped space will make customers feel uncomfortable, and will hinder your ability to get people to come back.
  • Avoid clutter, and be thoughtful about merchandising- While having your products displayed throughout the interior may be ideal in the electronics industry, this is not the case for cannabis products. You may want to wrap your products around the perimeter, on walls and in glass cases.
  • Pay attention to ambiance and branding- The ambiance of your store needs to align with your brand. If your brand is geared towards a more professional, medical demographic, it wouldn’t make sense to have rap music blasting in your store with graffiti art on your walls, and dim lighting. But, if you are designing a recreational dispensary marketed towards younger folks, maybe this is what you need!
  • Lower wait time with your design- One of the best ways to lower wait time in your dispensary actually factors into your design. You will likely have a line that wraps around your shopping center on your busier days, and you can cut down on wait times by presenting plenty of signage and educational information on the products around the store. Having menus all around the store with vital information such as strain name, cannabinoid content, prices, sizes, and more, will help customers make decisions while they wait. So, when they get to their budtender, they are ready to go!
  • Provide educational content materialsA great way to build authority for your retail cannabis store as a source of reliable information is to incorporate educational materials into your dispensary design. You can use videos, posters, magazines, tablets, and more throughout your store to teach your customers while they shop.
  • Optimal LightingA huge, often overlooked part of your design is your lighting. One of the main issues I saw with common dispensary designs was a dark, dimly lit store. We wanted ours to be very bright and welcoming.

Designing a female-friendly dispensary

One aspect of dispensary design that many retail storefronts get wrong is alienating their female demographic. Cannabis, in the past, was definitely a more male-dominated market, but this is changing. So, you need to make sure that when you are designing your dispensary, you aren’t doing little things that make women feel uncomfortable or out of place when they come in to shop with you. Certain things I see dispensaries doing wrong when it comes to this aspect of design are having a dark, grungy environment, with predominantly male employees, showing off their tattoos and wearing tank tops.

Instead, focus on bringing out vibrant colors, and maintaining positive energy in your dispensary. You can do things outside of design that make women enjoy your establishment more. Most importantly, hire plenty of women so that your customers don’t feel alone. You can learn more about female-friendly cannabis stores here.

Hiring a dispensary design company

designing a dispensaryIf you are struggling with building out your retail cannabis store, or simply don’t have the time or know-how to get started, you have a few options. 

One common method is to completely outsource the design and build-out of your store to a contractor. There are tons of companies that specialize in designing dispensaries. If you have tons of cash to invest, and not a lot of time, this may be a good option. But, here is the main problem with these stores: they all look the same!

Sure, you’ll end up with a cool, modern design that works, but one of the best parts about designing a dispensary is making it your own. I also believe a lot of these companies get it wrong, and miss important factors that they just can’t know, because they don’t run their own retail cannabis shop. They don’t have boots on the ground, talking with customers every day about what they do and don’t like about your design.

Reach out to us at Cannabis Consulting Nationwide

Dispensary design is something I have first-hand experience with. As the owner and operator of Cannabis Central, my shop in Washington state, I know what works. And, through trial and error, I know what doesn’t work.

Our dispensary design does an incredible job of providing an ideal customer experience, mitigates any risk of theft, and remains compliant in the state of Washington after 5 years of existence. When you look at the three factors we mentioned regarding dispensary design – we check the box of all three.

This is an area of starting a cannabis business I am passionate about. I’d love to help you with your design, even if its just bouncing some ideas off each other.

If you have any questions about designing your dispensary, send me a message and I’ll give you some feedback on what you’re thinking, and some suggestions on how you can improve it. If you want to hear more about my experience with dispensary design, check out my YouTube video!

Cannabis Vendors: Finding and Working With Suppliers For Your Dispensary

Finding reliable, high-quality cannabis vendors to supply your licensed dispensary is a crucial step in preparing your retail store for opening.

It is not as simple as reaching out to people you know that grow cannabis – you are operating under a licensed dispensary, so you need to do things by the book. This will mean only doing business with licensed cannabis growers. 

This process consists of plenty of research, vetting, and relationship building. We are going to share with you our experience sourcing products for our retail store, Cannabis Central. Watch the video below, and then read on for more information on dispensary vendors.

Understanding supply and demand of cannabis in your state

Finding cannabis vendors is not black and white across state lines – the amount of effort you’ll need to put in greatly depends on the number of licensed growers in your state.

For example, in Washington, we had a huge shortage of product at first. There were hundreds of retail licenses, and only 25 licensed growers! This may be the case in your state, or, it could be the opposite – excess supply.

More often than not, the market levels itself out – but since the government regulates the cannabis industry and awards licenses to growers, it is really up to them to fix supply/demand imbalances.

Nevertheless, things have changed. Nowadays, there are tons of licensed growers in Washington. The same is true of Oregon, where prices are plummeting due to a huge surplus of cannabis products. In the future, hopefully cannabis can move across state lines and issues with supply/demand will become more scarce, but unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be on the horizon just yet.

How to find cannabis vendors for your dispensary

The process of finding licensed cannabis vendors for your dispensary is going to involve some digging. 

In Washington, I was reaching out to cannabis vendors well before we had our license. I wanted to be very proactive, and get ahead of the curve so to speak. I started emailing, calling, and even sending mail to these vendors to start building relationships. 

As you may already know, relationships are everything in this industry. Creating a relationship with your cannabis vendors will ensure long term success for both parties.

Introduce yourself, and get vendors familiar with your store. Do your due diligence in vetting your potential cannabis suppliers. Make sure the quality is where it needs to be, and make sure they are operating by the book as well. 

Vetting your cannabis vendors

Finding cannabis vendors is one things, but knowing how to work with them and vet them is another. There are a few things you should do with every vendor you talk to, including:

  • Verifying their vendor license is active and up to date
  • Discuss barcodes on products
  • Communicate your expectations for the relationship
  • Discuss variations of product
  • Discuss lead times, stock, and their ability to meet demands

While it may sound like a lot of dirty work, making sure you’ll have plenty of sources for inventory is important. And rest assured that eventually, as your store grows, vendors will start reaching out to you! These days, we get tons of vendors reaching out wanting to put their product on our shelves. Again, establishing relationships and spreading the word that you are opening will go a long way in attracting quality cannabis vendors.

Need help sourcing cannabis vendors for your dispensary?

If all of this sounds a little overwhelming, and you don’t know where to begin, let’s chat. Drop a comment below, or reach out to me with a message and I’ll respond asap.

I understand the dynamic between cannabis retailers and suppliers. There are things I had to learn the hard way that I can help you avoid, such as:

  • Knowing the differences between sourcing cannabis according to the time of the year
  • How to develop a system of reaching out to vendors
  • What your vetting process should look like
  • How to build authentic relationships with cannabis vendors early on
  • How to negotiate price with cannabis vendors

The most important takeaway here should be putting an emphasis on relationship building with other figures in the cannabis industry. There is room for everyone, and by getting to know the other players, we can all work to further the cannabis industry, while ensuring you have high quality product in your store at all times.

The Importance Of Legal Representation For Your Cannabis Business

One of the first things you should do when starting out is find legal representation for your cannabis business.

If you see attorneys and lawyers as an expense, you need to shift your thinking. Consider the cost of getting hit with fines for improper documentation, or worse. Finding high quality legal representation can be the difference between your business sinking or floating. But, this is easier said than done.

Fortunately, we have been there, done that. Today, we are going to share our experience with legal representation, and explain why its a necessity.

Why your retail cannabis business needs legal representation from the start

We recommend having an attorney and accountant you can rely on from the start. Because cannabis is federally illegal, you cannot deduct much from your taxes. There are also intricacies in the paperwork you’ll likely overlook or be unaware of. 

For example, according to IRS Code Section 280E, cannabis businesses are unable to deduct otherwise ordinary business expenses from gross income. This is because in the eyes of the IRS, income from  a cannabis business is considered “trafficking”. Essentially, all you can deduct from your taxes is your cost of goods sold.

You really need legal representation right away so you can get started on the right foot, as opposed to trying to untangle the mess of your business down the road.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

Your attorney and lawyer can help keep you out of bad situations and make sure you are operating “by the book”. They can also come in handy should you ever get audited. This is important in any industry, but especially in the cannabis industry.

How to find legal representation for your cannabis business

If you are in a state new to legal cannabis, like most things, it will take some time for things to normalize. At first, you may have trouble finding good lawyers and accountants with experience in this industry.

Our advice is to seek out good attorneys and accountants in general first. Then, gauge their willingness to work with a business in the cannabis industry. Unfortunately, you may find that many are unwilling to help you out of fear. But, eventually, you’ll find the right legal representation for your cannabis business.

Our advice on legal representation for your cannabis business

If you are an entrepreneur, you likely prefer to be in control. Unfortunately, you are going to see that in this industry, that is not always possible.

It can be tough, but you need to check your ego at the curb. Go above and beyond when working with the government. Despite your feelings on government and business, you want to play nice. A good legal team can help you prepare the right documents, follow the right procedures, and stay on the government’s good side.

If you took one thing from this article, let it be this: find a good attorney and lawyer, and find them asap! This will help you sleep, and prevent unnecessary stress. Leave it to the experts.

What we have done for our business at Cannabis Central has worked incredibly. This is an area where things won’t vary much from state-to-state, since we are dealing with the federal government. If you want to learn more about how we went about this, reach out to me and I can help you do the same for your business.

Hiring and Managing Dispensary Staff

Hello all, hope you’re having a stupendous day! Rob Hendrix here with Cannabis Consulting Nationwide. Today’s story harks back to October 2014.

I had been open about seven weeks, working about 85 hours per week personally so I was tired. 2014 was a tough year; I was the GM at a major new car franchised dealership and had been working endlessly during the meat grinder aka vetting process in order to become eligible for the Lottery.

Washington State decided that a Lottery was the best way to pick the “winners” who would be granted a retail license. The GM job was a full-time job and then on top of my responsibilities at the dealership was this process to gain the license. So by October of 2014, I was bushed! So I felt it was time to find some help.

I had no trouble finding an applicant; what could be better for a college student looking for a little extra spending money than a part-time gig at the all new local pot shop? Long story short, hey that’s a change huh?, I hired two female college students. They were ideal hires for me at that time. They were by the fact they were young, younger than me I mean, automatically great with computers, WIFI, social media, graphics, spreadsheets, other younger people and of course, Cannabis.

In a word they were smart, really smart about real life stuff. They both were college students putting their own way through school without much parental help and therefore and for other reasons, they were tough. Mentally tough and quick thinkers on their feet. They could call BS on customers who were making claims that I would not have had the smarts to dispute. Not that I instructed them to argue with customers but you have to understand how out of my element I really was. They saved me in those early days and months. We of course had cause to hire many other employees over the last four plus, some were great, others less than great. But you’ve got to have an idea, a plan as how to proceed. I learned a lot from these two. I had a lot to learn!

I have gotten in the habit of having a two person shift approximately six hours each and mixing the shift with one male and one female. At first I thought this might be a smart thing to do for a sense of security but later I came to the conclusion customers sometimes want to talk to an individual who they feel a bit more comfortable talking to. Giving your customers choices in everything is never a bad idea. And we are always looking for that that hard to define idea in a team; chemistry. So we may play with the combinations, always looking for the maximum fun, enthusiasm and energy.

The team concept, never less than a two person shift at all times, is good for several reasons; security but its also more fun and can be helpful to each of the two coworkers. No one knows everything about everything, except yours truly of course!, so sometimes an employee may not know the answer to a customer’s question. Since I NEVER ask my employees to lie, there’s a good bet one or the other will have an answer to just about any inquiry. Vendors will always bring samples to the store and I do not take them, they are distributed fairly among the employees. So quite literally, sampling in a fair manor gives a nice mix of reviews for my employees to share with the customers. By taking part in sampling, my employees are rendering opinions as to the inventory we carry in our store.

Everyone needs to feel appreciated and needs to know they matter and their opinions and thoughts matter. This is a perfect way for all employees to “have their hand on the wheel” so to speak. So this practice serves two purposes; first employees have tried most if not all products carried in the store, and second gives them the satisfaction of giving me and my purchasing manager relevant and critical feedback about their experiences with the products and therefore input as to what inventory and products the store will carry. Pretty cool, huh? This is a big help in keeping good employees and employees good. But this process starts early, in the interview process obviously.

In the interview, usually the second interview, I get involved and I hit several items very hard. They don’t work for me yet, so I do not mince words. I tell them all they will show up to work to work. That may not make sense at first glance. I mean get here ready to work because even though it’s a pot shop, it is my business, my life, my retirement, my family’s livelihood. It’s an incredibly serious business, much more than one might think. It should be fun, it needs to be fun, but we can never forget how regulated we all are.

The world is watching, hoping we’ll misstep so the anti-Cannabis crowd can pounce. I also tell them they all do the dirty work; cleaning, sweeping, cleaning the toilet, it is a job for every one of us and I had better never hear that it’s beneath anyone ever. Kind of a thing for me. Then it gets really serious and now its time for me to I really lay into them, if they’re still in the interview!

This is when I begin discussing the legal issues surrounding our chosen business. Selling to a minor, in our state the legal age to purchase Cannabis is 21, even accidentally is a felony. A felony. I let that sink in. Then I tell them the store owner is not charged with a felony but rather the employee who completed the transaction, that is who took the money and handed over the product. It is a huge black eye for the business owner, but the real hurt is going to be put on the employee.

In Washington State, since the Cole Memo has been essentially rescinded, the Attorney General of the US has left it up to the Regional US Attorneys to decide if and how how to prosecute Cannabis-related crimes. The Eastern Washington US Attorney is known to be somewhat conservative and likely to pursue the alleged crime with some energy and enthusiasm. This revelation is scary and I mean for it be exactly that.

The last topic we cover in the second interview, almost always the last interview, is me and the employees. I tell them I am a father and a grandfather first and foremost and I want nothing more than for my kids and grand kids to be well balanced and successful in their life’s pursuits. I know that for the kids who are working for me currently, except for my two store managers, they are likely going to be with me a relatively short time. This is not the end of the line. Their goals in life do not, and should not, end with them being an employee of Cannabis Central. I want more for them like they, hopefully, want for themselves. I want to help them achieve their goals as much as I can as their employer. If they get into trouble, I tell them if it’s necessary and appropriate I would like to help wherever and how ever I can. And I have helped people over the years; with car troubles, relationship trouble, tenant and landlord issues, you name it. So because I have a big heart and I want to help those who have a bit of history with me, I also inform them that if they ever steal from me, I will come after them with everything I’ve got. I warn them I will spend much more than what they stole is worth to me. It’s a matter of principal to me. I make it clear if you need help, ask. It is not a guarantee I will help, but darn it it is much better for you to ask.

Now I am not a fool, employee theft is a reality in all businesses, a cost of doing business. But minimizing it must be a goal and my technique is both olive branch and paddle. It may sound harsh, but it seems to be working for me. Better to get your point across early in the relationship, like before the relationship even begins. This way there are no surprises; “You never told me that”, is a statement I never want to hear from any employee’s mouth ever.

We could go and on about hiring practices. In fact hiring is one topic of conversation, training another, and keeping employees is yet another. This is a good thing to remember; hire slow and fire fast. A termination is a failure, I’ve always thought it was at least as much my responsibility as the employee’s. You are the owner of the store, everything is on you. Captain Smith was asleep in his bunk when the Titanic ran into the iceberg, but you know what? It was the Captain’s responsibility. That’s you.

Cannabis Retail Store: Final Preparations Before Opening – Managing Local Authorities & Dignitaries

Good afternoon, morning, evening or day! Rob Hendrix here with another in a series of articles discussing final preparations immediately prior to the much anticipated Grand Opening of your retail shop.

By this time, a mere days prior to Grand Opening, if you are like me on the eve of my own opening, your stomach is churning. You are, to put it mildly, a nervous wreck! Not because you haven’t gone through many, many steps to arrive at this moment only hours from the actual unveiling of your new business, but because you are a good person or are good people, respected in your community and you are about to open a pot shop! Who would have ever thought this? Not me, just five years before, if anyone had told me I would be the owner of a pot store in my hometown, I would have thought you certifiable! But nonetheless, here we are.

There are many things that could occur, might occur, and probably will occur surrounding the announcement that you are licensed by the State or Province and you are in the planning stages of opening a legal Cannabis retail shop. Many things that could and probably occur are going to hurt, maybe a little, maybe a lot. But now, it’s upon you and your family and while there is much to discuss in the lead up to the Big Day, today I’m going to tell you about how I reached out to local government and local law enforcement.

My store opened on a Monday in August but I held a very important meeting at my shop the Friday before. I had previously invited the City Attorney, City Manager, Chief of Police as well as the Fire Marshal to attend a meeting to discuss their collective concerns, suggestions, and/or questions.

To my relief and surprise they all showed up at 2:00 as per the invitation. The City employees were in dress casual work attire but the Fire Marshal and Chief of Police were in full, on duty uniform including sidearms! My wife, Diane, was there with me to create a better first impression, and I must say, it all came off as well as I could have hoped.

They all were all extremely respectful and expressed their surprise and appreciation at the suggestion such a meeting take place. They were grateful to be able to meet privately and ask questions, voice concerns, address rumors and in total, get to know me and my plans better. We met for nearly two hours and the time flew by. At no time during this two hour meeting did I feel uncomfortable. The level of discomfort for the Chief however was initially quite high; he squirmed and frowned and rolled his eyes several times in the early part of the meeting, but then I began to notice in his body language a relaxing taking place at about the one hour mark. He finally relented and said, “Oh gosh, I can tell you are good people and you’re going to do a good job. But you’ve got to give me some time to get used to all this. After all, I’ve got 34 years of law enforcement experience and training working against me!”.

And you know what, he became a good friend as time went along and stopped off at the diner next door for breakfast often. It was a delight, for me at least, to spy him in the diner eating his breakfast in relative quiet and in full uniform, and sneak up on him and sit down with great fanfare on the bar stool immediately next to him! He would pretend to be uncomfortable sitting next to the pot shop owner in town but I knew better. He and I would talk about all sorts of things. I would always try to buy his breakfast and he would always politely turn down my offer, but he appreciated the gesture. He needed more time before he could get to that point in a public setting!

I found out something else about this good and decent public servant; he had issued a memo at the police station asking the cops on duty to drive by the shop to check on things periodically, more periodically than other businesses. This was due to his feeling a genuine concern for our well-being and safety, especially early on in our existence. Although none of us in the business believed we would experience an uptick in crime related to our business, the Chief felt we may be in an additional amount of danger as a result of opening this still controversial business. He called for his officers to make their presence known and especially near closing time, swing in to have a look-see. I never took this as anything other than real concern for all of our employees but I also know he felt a sense of extra responsibility to yours truly, this straight laced turned pot shop owner! As much as I tried to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation, I am not convinced he ever really knew how much that extra effort on his part meant to me. I will never forget it.

My point is this; be proactive. And especially be proactive with those whom you feel may be harboring negative sentiments about this new venture. I took the time to give these professionals in my beloved hometown an inside look at this industry. They were curious, concerned and cautious. They wanted to do their jobs but I believe they wanted to help us too. It was a good decision, having this meeting, one I am very proud of, but they showed up so I give them all the credit. I was nervous in the beginning but their resolute professionalism followed by their child-like curiosity and seemingly endless questions put me at ease and created a great beginning atmosphere relationship between Cannabis Central and the City of Ellensburg. I am very fortunate but to a great degree, I feel one makes his or her own good luck.

Of course, it was only the beginning. As you may have guessed, I’ll have more to say about being a worthy partner with your town and neighbors. Stay tuned!

Thanks for listening. Make it a great day!