“When developing brand integrity, I start by defining the brand’s constants and variables. This dictates what will be the same at every store, but also allows space in each dispensary for a localized fingerprint.”
When a customer walks into a cannabis dispensary, the design and layout of products will have a direct impact on their purchasing decision and whether they will become repeat customers or not. As much as you would want your customers to be wowed by the setup at your dispensary, this must also be balanced against the need to ensure maximum security, uninterrupted workflows, brand consistency, scalability, and the efficient use of space. But this does not mean completely overlooking your “eye for design” to meet regulatory and other requirements. As Virginia Maggiore puts it, while prioritizing brand integrity, one should allow some wiggle room for each dispensary to have a localized fingerprint. In other words, its an intricate balancing act that requires the touch of an expert.
We had the privilege of speaking with one. Virginia Maggiore is a registered architect with over eighteen years experience in store planning and design. Currently, she is working as an architect at the award-winning and leading company in retail design and retail architecture, RDC. She has helped to design several cannabis dispensaries and she now serves as the principal of RDC. In this brief interview, she takes us through the key considerations in planning an executing the design and layout of a cannabis dispensary.
How did your career path lead you to the cannabis industry?
During my 18+ years working in retail design, I’ve worked with dozens of brands during all stages of the store design and construction process, so naturally I was interested in working on a dispensary project as the cannabis industry grew and expanded into retail.
About 3½ years ago, I joined RDC and began work on a few dispensary projects. I was excited about the opportunity to lend my experience and knowledge to help the industry follow general best practices for retail. Since then, I have taken on management of all RDC’s dispensary projects and have now designed so many dispensaries that I am considered an expert in my field.
You have worked with several cannabis brands such as Cookies and Traditional. Can you briefly highlight some of the most epic moments while designing such “unconventional spaces?”
The Traditional dispensary project was a great example of a strong brand with a clear vision. I loved working with them because they wanted to do things that had not been done before. For example, their jar tables are oversized replicas of the jars they sell their flower in, they showcase the product and have all the functions of a cannabis display case, including security features. It was fun to brainstorm with the client, the millworker, and the engineer to make this concept a reality.
With Cookies, I enjoy working on their designs for cannabis dispensary applications because they have exciting locations and want awesome, creative renderings for their stores. They encourage me to really push the boundaries for design during the licensing process.
It is important to note, the most epic moments throughout this process come from the client’s vision. I am frequently approached by clients that want to work with me and engage RDC because they know we can execute really dynamic and wild ideas that other firms simply cannot actualize. Some that have stood out to me include dispensaries that have found creative uses for their space beyond just selling cannabis – such as incorporating a recording studio, an event stage, or skateboard ramps.
You have been recently appointed as the Principal of RDC. What does this role entail?
Being named principal is such an honor and I’m proud to now serve in a leadership role within the firm. In this role, I contribute to guiding the company internally, and am an ambassador for the firm when meeting clients, attending events, and participating in speaking engagements.
It’s different from the position I held previously where I only had oversight of my own team and I am now more focused on the company’s goals as a whole. This means that I am not only meeting clients with projects that fall under my umbrella of experience, but I am also looking to connect non-cannabis clients with other groups at RDC that fit their project needs.
You have been actively involved in dispensary brand rollouts. Can you briefly shed some light on some of the following key issues:
How to localize while maintaining brand integrity
Maintaining brand integrity is something I develop with clients early on because successful brand rollouts require scalability and modularity. When developing brand integrity, I start by defining the brand’s constants and variables. This dictates what will be the same at every store, but also allows space in each dispensary for a localized fingerprint, such as a nod to the neighborhood or city they’re in or something relevant to the architecture of the building they will be occupying.
Controlling variables is important because it protects brand integrity, builds familiarity for customers, and standardizes operational flow for staff. Still, I like to have some ability to run free with a creative idea at a specific location to acknowledge that they are in a new location rather than just putting down ‘cookie cutter’ stores.
Impact of state and local regulations on dispensary design
Becoming familiar with applicable local and state cannabis regulations is really critical in the early stages of a dispensary project since these requirements could impact the store’s design, layout, or operational flow. For these reasons, it is vital to get ahead of regulations as soon as possible so that they can be incorporated into the initial planning.
In my experience, state and local cannabis regulations aren’t so vastly different that I can’t create consistency in the brand across multiple locations. When designing a dispensary from scratch, I suggest brands meet the most stringent regulations so they are already prepared for a brand rollout and don’t have to make significant design changes during business expansion.
Variables in customer choices, competition, and what the dispensary experience needs to offer
Understanding variables that may impact the dispensary experience is important during early design work with clients. Customers have a lot of options for their preferred dispensary, especially as we move toward federal legalization, so it is critical to establish what sets your brand apart.
The dispensary experience may include a “wow” factor, which is great for getting a customer to cross the store threshold for the very first time, but might not be enough to compel them to return. After a customer has been “wowed,” it’s important to figure out what will continue to drive them to return to your dispensary, whether that be educational elements, ease of transaction, knowledgeable staff, or other components that contribute to a positive dispensary experience.
Designing for multiple customer personas to provide a familiar experience that introduces them to new products and an inviting space that gets them in and out the door quickly
Before designing a dispensary, it’s imperative to identify your customer personas – whether that be self-guided, staff-guided, or a combination of the two. It is valuable to understand customer flow through the space to ensure customers are having educational moments and a positive dispensary experience, regardless of customer persona.
When designing the dispensary, space should be allocated on the floor plan to accommodate these customer personas, such as incorporating a consultation room or lounge space if the store wants to facilitate longer customer dwell times. Including these spaces ensures customers feel comfortable sticking around and don’t feel rushed through the dispensary process.
What are some of the key design considerations to have in mind when planning a dispensary?
The two main considerations when planning a dispensary are product displays and high-level space planning.
Successful cannabis displays should consider what types of cannabis will be displayed, such as edibles, flower, pre-rolls, or other cannabis products. Additionally, it’s important to determine whether cannabis will be confined to controlled areas, such as behind the counter, or if the dispensary will offer self-guided shopping experiences with products placed throughout the store.
When I talk about product displays, I absolutely have to talk about security too. Secure product displays may incorporate dummy products on the sales floor that customers can interact with rather than real cannabis. Another method is when cannabis is displayed on the sales floor, but under lock and key, on tethers, or a similar method that still allows that customer to feel like they are on a journey to discover the product while maintaining security.
When planning a dispensary and determining how much space to allocate to certain areas, one also needs to think through the flow of your store. Think about how product will flow through the space, including where it enters the building, where it will be stored and handled, how it gets to the front-of-house, and ultimately, how it gets through the transaction process and to the customer.
If this flow of product through the store is inefficient, this could open the dispensary up to unnecessary risk.
What’s next for Virginia?
As additional states and cities legalize, I am excited to gain experience working in these emerging markets. Also, as new facets of the market open up, like consumption lounges, I look forward to designing more unique cannabis spaces and incorporating new ways to enhance the consumer experience.
It was a great pleasure to have this one-on-one with Virginia Maggiore from RDC. Readers who wish to keep up with the company are more than welcome to visit their website.