A marijuana shop would have to be pretty darn opulent and over the top to earn the nickname, “the Taj Mahal of THC.” But then again, until recently, the bar was set pretty low in this relatively new but fast-growing segment of the retail world.
Diego Pellicer, a cannabis store in Seattle named for a Spanish hemp magnate, looks like a cross between a high-end jewelry boutique and an art museum. Customers get concierge-level service while they shop for gourmet weed-infused edibles, potent tinctures and, of course, designer bud. Add-ons could later include in-house cafes or clothing pop-ups at the flagship Washington location and its sister Denver site.
It’s a far cry from traditional pot dispensaries, with their bulletproof glass, burglar bars and ever-present bouncers. And it’s a breakthrough in selling cannabis and related products, with store owners and investors pouring seven figures into designing sleek and modern spaces that model themselves on Apple emporia and Whole Foods markets rather than old-school, psychedelic head shops.
The design is a vital part of the outreach for an industry that can’t advertise in mainstream media. In essence, its physical locations are acting as powerful marketing hooks to attract older, affluent buyers, many of them first-timers. And further, the architecture and the trained staff can keep them engaged once they’re inside, encouraging them to hang out longer and spend more.
As more states legalize marijuana (currently 28 states have said yes to medical weed, and eight of those and Washington, D.C., also allow recreational sales), pot sellers are reaching beyond the typical stoner dude and going after what one industry pioneer has dubbed, the “Chardonnay mom.”
“We want to open up the market—that’s why we sell truffles and have ‘bud-tenders,’” said Jocelyn Pettway, director of facility design for MedMen, the management company and investment firm that operates well-appointed cannabis stores in several areas, including Los Angeles and New York. “And the space itself needed to feel welcoming, not a place you’d be afraid to walk into.”
MedMen’s shop in the tony West Hollywood neighborhood features floor-to-ceiling windows, iPads on walnut display tables and clever merchandising for the pot-friendly athlete and the pet owner looking for natural remedies. The shop was recently revamped to the tune of about $150 a square foot, Pettway said, in line with posh retailers like Nordstrom.
The clean, curated and sophisticated shops, all with a strong educational element about product sourcing and effects, “take the intimidation out of the buying experience,” said Vivien Azer, managing director at Cowen & Co., who analyzes the cannabis industry. “And they’re legitimizing the product category.”
Just in time, and not coincidentally, for a projected boom in legal sales of medical and recreational-use marijuana, expected to hit $50 billion by 2026, Cowen research shows. Azer said the increases are coming “disproportionately” from buyers over 26 years old, a segment that grew more than 30 percent in the last several years, compared to about a 4 percent bump in 18-25-year-olds.
The upscale retail trend has already spread around the country, from New York and Florida to California and the Pacific Northwest, with some stores (in San Diego and Tampa, Fla.) resembling day spas and promoted as “wellness centers.” Shops in Las Vegas have their own regional Sin City flair.
At Diego Pellicer, “the Versailles of Seattle pot shops,” according to a local magazine, its 3,300-square-foot space features statues and chandeliers, granite floors and handmade hickory display cases. (How better to show off a $3,600 marijuana cigar stuffed with 28 grams of premium dope? It recently sold, by the way.)
In brainstorming a cannabis retail concept, “we didn’t want it to seem like we were selling weed out of a garage because that model is outdated,” said Alejandro Canto, owner and COO of Diego Pellicer Seattle. “We wanted to remove the stigma, and the consumer these days demands a better, high-end experience. As a retailer, you have to be proactive.”