Differentiating your store from others can be difficult, especially when other stores are in the same neighbourhood or city and able to stock the same products. With more retailers sprouting up daily, leaving customers with more options than information, why should customers walk through your doors? What makes your store stand out from all the rest?
Creating a destination store isn’t easy, but the resulting experience can be rewarding for your store, your customers, and your community.
A great store starts with a great team. To Christina Michaels, owner of Marigolds Cannabis in Gastown, Vancouver, British Columbia, that means diversity. Located in an historic and eclectic neighbourhood, all sorts of people walk in, so Michaels made sure to have a diverse team encompassing different cultures, age groups, genders, and cannabis experiences. The team’s passion for the plant is contagious, and the more they learn, the more they can share with customers and create an interactive environment.
“We like to come out from behind the counter and talk to people,” says Michaels. “My team are engaged because they like where they work, and that creates fun customers that are happy to be there. Plus, you can’t try before you buy, so they are always willing to try new products and give recommendations.”
That connection between budtenders and customers is one of the most important factors in creating a place that people want to come back to, according to Will Forseth, co-owner of The Peak Cannabis Co. in Calgary, Alberta.
We always make time to have a conversation.
“We always make time to have a conversation,” he says. “We run a small staff on a consistent schedule, so regulars who come in at the same time get to build a rapport with their budtender.”
His goal was for the retail experience at The Peak to be less transactional—to not only sell things to people, but also get involved in the community and have quality conversations about cannabis.
“One thing we engrain in our team is the motto: we are in retail, but we are not in sales,” he says. “The easiest thing to sell your customers is what they want to buy, so we don’t push. We want customers to say ‘I like shopping here because I know who you are, you know who I am, and you never push anything on me.’”
In a retail market where consumers are increasingly conscious of what they are buying, what’s in it, and where it comes from, this one-on-one interaction opens up the floor for knowledgeable budtenders to educate the public about the industry, which customers appreciate.
Creating a beautiful space is just as important for reeling in customers and keeping them on the hook, but Alchemy Cannabis Co. in Toronto, Ontario, has taken things to the next level. As the first cannabis retailer to be featured on the front page of Interior Design Magazine, the store knows a thing or two about creating an atmosphere.
Owner of Alchemy Cannabis, Richard Browne, worked with Paolo Ferrari, a “savant of interior design”, according to Browne, to create what he calls “a magical, multi-sensory journey” for customers. Upon entering the store, the customer is met with verdant greenery and video screens with dreamy, psychedelic imagery.
“Everyone has a different experience with cannabis, but it’s all kind of a dreamy experience and we want to get customers into that mood.”
Ferrari designed each subsequent room to evoke a different feeling, all while optimizing the layout, technology, and displays integrated throughout the store. After the clean, neutral décor of the main retail space, customers move into the accessories room, which shifts into what Browne calls a “cinematic, David Lynchian aesthetic” with mirrored ceilings, surreal eco-resin walls, and backlit displays that make the equally modern-style accessories look like pieces in a museum.
“It’s hard to explain the feelings you experience in the store,” says Browne. “I can talk forever about how great it is, but you really have to walk in to experience it.”
Cool people and a cool space come together to create a great experience for customers.
It comes down to a good product for a fair price and an honest, consistent experience.
“Alberta and Calgary are super competitive when it comes to stores, but providing education, if people want it, sets us apart,” says Forseth. “It comes down to a good product for a fair price and an honest, consistent experience.”
The Peak has a designated area set up for budtenders and customers to sit and chat, ensuring that their experience with cannabis, and the store, is a good one. Alchemy, too, goes above and beyond to provide more information to customers by printing proprietary display packaging for products with terpene and strain information, and displays open products in “out-of-this-world” pods so that customers can see and smell products.
Marigolds takes a different approach, leaning more towards an upscale boutique shopping experience.
“Marigolds is a retail boutique store first, where cannabis and cannabis-derived products and accessories are our product mix,” Michaels says. “Interacting with that is, in a way, no different than high fashion. You go there because they carry the brands you know and the staff knows about the trends, the fabric, the fit. It’s no different in cannabis—you need to know all the nuances of the products.”
She goes on to say, “Marigolds was designed to say ‘come into my home’. Because of the restrictions, when you enter the store I want you to feel like you are coming into my space. No judgement, no pressure.”
As cannabis becomes less of a novelty and more accessible, and as cannabis consumers grow more curious, they will be looking for more than simply a grab-and-go, convenience store-style experience. Convincing them to walk through your door instead of someone else’s becomes a matter of providing the best feeling when they enter.
According to Forseth, as long as you are upfront, fair, and honest with your customers, they will keep coming back. Oh, and don’t forget to have a little fun while you’re at it.
“We are selling cannabis for a living—if we’re not having fun, we’re doing it wrong!”