Designing Your Canadian Cannabis Shop
On October 17th, 2018 the licensed sale of recreational cannabis became legal across Canada. There were long lineups as retail storefronts opened their doors in most, but not all provinces (in Ontario, currently only online sales are permitted).
Following trends in states south of the border where cannabis has been legal for several years, Canadian cannabis stores have been built and designed to meet strict provincial guidelines, while creating a safe and enjoyable buying experience for customers.
Through modern architecture and interior design, these retailers are working hard to entice customers and change the stigma around cannabis use.
Here are some of the things we are seeing in the design of Canadian cannabis shops – and some of the key bylaw and permitting considerations that can impact the design and approval process.
Sophisticated, high-end retail design.
Many Canadian consumers were greeted by unexpected professional store designs: many of which felt more like a jewelry store or an Apple Store than the stereotypical shops many may have been anticipating.
“These stores are trying appeal to those who do not regularly use cannabis… and don’t associate themselves with the typical drug-culture image,” observes Nicole Sarioglu, Senior Designer with CTM Design and Architecture.
Sarioglu says this approach is reflected in the warm, bright, modern, and minimalistic designs we are seeing. Many stores reflect current design trends, such as predominantly white walls, contemporary furnishings, soft lighting and use of natural finishes in the millwork and flooring. Even paraphernalia, such as pipes vaporizers, are smartly showcased behind glass.
(Not exactly the dark, sketchy ‘head shops’ of our youth, blaring Bob Marley and reeking of incense!)
High times meets high tech.
Like many retailers, Cannabis shops are installing digital menu boards for a cutting edge feel. From a practical standpoint, these boards are also a breeze to update as inventory and pricing changes.
Unlike, say liquor stores, there is no product on the shelves. In Alberta, buyers must complete a form with their order, which will then be delivered to the front counter. Many stores are simplifying the process with a high tech twist, as staff with iPads or mobile devices greet customers and take their orders while they line up.
In some cases, technology displays and animated videos are being used to educate customers on a variety of topics such as THC levels, cannabinoids and what the user can expect from a particular strain.
One thing stores are forbidden from doing is providing any information or advice around medical/naturopathic benefits of cannabis. However, it is okay if a customer Googles it themselves, which is why many stores provide public computer access (often on touch screen panels). In the US, several stores offer private consultation rooms, where a patient can consult with a doctor by a video link (something we expect will take hold in Canada).
Mellow out: managing expectations around permits and approvals.
CTM Project Manager, Jonathan Paul says those who are interested in opening retail cannabis stores need to have realistic construction timelines that take permit approvals into consideration. He says that many clients underestimate how long this can take.
Paul notes that approval times for retail stores vary according to province and municipality. It can average between 2 to 16 weeks. He suggests it can take even longer when the approval is for a business that is under added public scrutiny, such as a liquor store or cannabis dispensary.
“This is why it is important to partner with a full-service engineering, design and architecture firm. They bring a detailed understanding of the bylaw, zoning, signage and permitting requirements – covering all aspects of your build,” Paul says.
Cannabis stores face a few unique requirements other businesses do not. For example, it is mandated that the store interior cannot be visible from the outside, which require privacy decaling of all window and doors. Product must be safely stored in a secure room with no public access. As is the case with liquor, signage cannot promote or suggest intoxication.
Creating a unique design standard.
Your design standard is another name for the blueprint package that details the layout; furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E); signage and other branding elements that make your store distinct.
As an interior design specialist, Nicole Sarioglu says it is important to work with an architectural and engineering firm with proven retail experience.
“Your design team should have a good understanding of how consumers interact with the retail environment, and how this impacts their purchase decisions. From lighting to layout, it’s about creating an amazing customer experience,” Sarioglu reveals.
Jonathan Paul agrees, adding that the design standard will serve as the blueprint for your success, especially if the plan is to open multiple locations.
“Stores that share a brand should offer a similar customer experience regardless of location. The best design standards can be easily adapted to fit spaces of various sizes and configurations. This will save you money and headaches as you expand your brand.”