Once you’ve found your retail cannabis location, it is time to plan your dispensary design standards. Designing a dispensary is tough, because what “looks good” is very subjective, lying in the eyes of the beholder. However, there are some definitive standards that I believe are critical to each and every retail storefront, to accomplish three goals:

  1. Functionality and flexibility
  2.  Public appeal and inclusion
  3.  Security and safety for employees

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 standards matter

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 That Meets All Three Goals

Most often, you won’t be securing a perfect building for your retail cannabis storefront. It’s much more likely you’ll be taking an old home, office, or other retail store and completely renovating it for your purposes. There is a ton that goes into this.

Regardless of whether you have any design experience or not, the process of building out a retail cannabis shop can be overwhelming. But, when broken down into the three categories we outlined previously, its much easier.

  • Layout, functionality, flexibility
  • Design, public appeal, inclusion
  • Security, safety, and compliance

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.

Another thing you need to consider is how you are going to receive inventory and stock it. At Cannabis Central, we use slat walls and pegs for a majority of our merchandise. These are flexible, attractive, and very easy to use and rearrange.

Back stock is stored in flexible, lightweight, and attractive “boxes” which are constructed of thick material that can fold for easy storage. I have glass display cases as well where we stock many items including but not limited to topicals, papers, pipes, and various paraphernalia.

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.

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.

We always have no less than two (2) employees on shift and on-premises at all times. We have outside areas designated for employees only so they have a place to go for lunch, breaks, etc.

We also have a very robust security system as per State laws, but we have gone further. We have worked with local law enforcement and have installed “imminent danger” alerts. Basically they are small discreet switches with buttons, that if held down for two (2) plus seconds, will send out a silent call to the local police department.

This is a signal that in effect is communicating at least one of our employees feels him or herself to be in “imminent danger” and to respond accordingly. Everything in our shop is insured and replaceable, except our people themselves.

Our employees need to feel appreciated, safe, and cared for. Safety and security are key components in our employees feeling comfortable while working and this works to make the customer experience that much greater.

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 standards:

  • 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 materials-- A 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 Lighting-- A 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.

Why public appeal matters & how your employee’s factor in

When we talk about public appeal as it pertains to your storefront, we are talking about the overall cleanliness, ambiance, and legitimateness your store portrays. We think its important to “look our best” for our customers aka guests. All employees are charged with and all gleefully accept responsibility for cleaning and disinfecting the store constantly throughout the day. They do a fantastic job too!

Customers have choices as to where and how they spend their hard-earned money so when someone, anyone, walks through my front door, I want them treated and made to feel like a welcome guest in our “home”. All our employees believe and understand this. This is very powerful and contributes to our being our customers’ “happy place”. In fact, we have banners on our building that read, “Spread the Happiness”. 

Our employees are the face of my store, Cannabis Central of Ellensburg. They are very valuable and are largely responsible for the atmosphere and energy level that exists in my shop. Throughout your hiring process, you need to ensure your would-be employees are able to buy into your design and carry the culture you wish to establish.

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 dispensary 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

Much more goes into making our little pot shop a home away from home for both our employees and customers. I am very proud of the overall feel of Cannabis Central. The employees are empowered and educated, which you can instill and/or train, but they all have empathy and genuine concern for people and their wants and needs. This is innate and is “in” these young people which is a mighty gift to our community, our customers, and to me as owner.

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 boxes 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!