Megan Stone, founder of cannabis retail design firm High Road Studio, has been a medical cannabis user for over a decade. Yet when she first began visiting dispensaries in California, she rarely found herself feeling comfortable or welcomed. These shops just weren’t catering to her, a woman who was far from the stoner stereotypes society had long, often falsely, perpetuated.
Now, Stone helps design dispensaries with accessibility and inclusion in mind, but she’s not the only one who found her early dispensary visits unpleasant. My own first dispensary experience involved a very high man watching cartoons who seemed neither interested in nor capable of answering a single question.
As reports indicate that women are getting into cannabis more now than ever before, we wondered how shops can better appeal to changing demographics. We chatted with Stone, dispensary owners, and cannabis patients/customers to find out what they look for—and what they avoid—in a dispensary.
Don’t Objectify Women
Seems like a no-brainer, but a lot of women just aren’t into seeing posters of women in skimpy outfits smoking joints at their local shop. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a sexy edge to your decor, but you can do it in a way that isn’t using a women’s body just to sell products. For instance, Studio City dispensary TheWEED displays work from local artists on its walls. One such artist is Los Angeles-based painter Nina Palomba, who created five fun, retro, cartoony paintings depicting her relationship with her partner, burlesque dancer Miss Tosh. They’re sexy, but in a playful way that doesn’t just cater to the straight male gaze.
What’s on TV matters, too. Two women we spoke with said they hate going into a dispensary and seeing lewd or sexist media on the TVs. So, one tip is to play something everyone can enjoy. Some popular choices seem to be cannabis-specific channels or cooking shows. Better yet: cannabis cooking shows.
Many women told us they feel more comfortable at a dispensary if it’s not just staffed by men, and some even prefer discussing their specific cannabis needs with women budtenders.
It’s also always great to see women in managerial and executive roles, too, both in the cannabis industry and beyond. Stocking products made by women-owned companies certainly can’t hurt.
Be Present in Your Community
Chrissy Hadar, Co-Founder and VP of Retail and Branding of Oregrown Industries, said one of the company’s early goals was to change the perception of who a cannabis user was.
“When we first started three years ago, there was this huge misconception of what the average cannabis user looked like,” Hadar said. “A lot of people thought it was this adult-child who sits in his parents’ basement and plays video games. We got to thinking about how we, as Oregrown, were going to debunk that stereotype, that myth, because those aren’t the people we see coming through our doors. We see doctors, lawyers, college students, mothers, fathers, educated people…But instead of telling people that, because you can tell people that all day and they won’t listen, we decided to show them.”
Oregrown is definitely not in anyone’s basement, but out sponsoring and setting up booths at community events. This allows people at family-friendly events to encounter the dispensary in a casual way, without having to go into the store itself first.
“Women will come up, with their kids, to the booth and say, ‘Hey, I’ve never been into your store, but I have a question.’ So we’re able to answer those questions on their home turf. We’ve seen a lot of turnover where a woman will come [into the shop] a few days later…and say, ‘Someone recommended I try this topical,’” Hadar said.
Maintain a Clean, Tidy Shop
Another easy one, perhaps, but everyone we talked to said a well-lit, clean shop was paramount. Dark, dingy, disorganized shops were not likely to win a repeat visit, especially when there are so many choices that don’t feel like skunky weed caves.
A Welcoming Lobby
Stone notes that every space has a place where people decompress and gather their bearings, if only for a few seconds. In retail spaces, she said it’s the first 10 feet of the shop and in a dispensary, that’s typically the lobby. Details like an approachable receptionist or a cozy environment can go along way in setting the stage for the rest of the experience.
For instance, Hadar describes Oregrown’s space as a “homey” one, with printed benches and coffee and tea available to those who are waiting.
Display Products in a Curated, Educational Fashion
Stone advises not putting everything on the shelves at once, but instead spotlighting certain items in well-lit displays at waist or eye level. She also suggests presenting written information, including pricing and other pertinent details, alongside products so customers don’t always have to ask.
Stone also notes that there should be enough space for patients and customers to browse without feeling crowded. Studies indicate that people who are accidentally bumped into or brushed by strangers are less inclined to buy and often spend less time in stores.
Spend Quality Time with Your New Customers
This one could really go for all first-time customers/patients and neophyte cannabis users, but one thing we kept hearing again and again is the need to get reliable information from people who seem happy to offer it. Make sure you employ budtenders who are willing to listen and really help clients figure out what it is that they’re looking for at a dosage level that’ll work for them.
Shops will also benefit from having the space to really accommodate each patient without making them feel rushed. And in thinking about accessibility, consider providing a place, if possible, for patients to sit if prolonged standing is difficult for them.
A Reasonable Amount of Discretion
Despite the increasing normalization of cannabis, Stone noted that many customers still prefer discretion.
“Can a soccer mom park in your parking lot and get to and from your door without being seen by the other mothers on her kids’ soccer team?” she asked.
Yet few women are going to want to walk down a dark alley to get to your front door, and going to the dispensary shouldn’t feel like trying to find an underground rave. Stone suggests balancing this with landscaping including hedges, trees, or bushes.
“Those things can provide privacy, while at the same time making the space feel more inviting, more loved, and more alive,” Stone said.
Secure, But Not Too Secure
Dispensaries need to feel safe and part of that involves well-lit parking lots, entrances, and exits. Yet dispensaries with too many security measures have the opposite effect, in that they tend to make people feel like they’re in looming peril. Receptionists behind bulletproof glass and gruff armed guards can make someone feel like they’re somewhere they shouldn’t be. At least two women we spoke with said an intimidating guard at the entrance was a big turn-off, even if that person’s role was ostensibly to protect them.
Keyva King—who is working with Stone on opening her own dispensary, Royal Highness, in Palm Desert this autumn—encountered this issue when visiting various dispensaries, particularly in San Bernardino County, in the past.
“[Dispensaries felt] like holes in the wall, where either you’re going to go to jail or get killed for visiting,” King said. “I’ve been to stores with security screen doors and metal detectors and then lawn chairs for the waiting areas. I wanted nothing of that sort. I always wanted something welcoming, but not too upscale as to be intimidating.”
Dispensaries can convey a more approachable image by hiring friendly security staff and, if possible, placing receptionists at counters, the way you’d find a clerk at a spa or boutique. King’s dispensary is conveniently located within an existing medical complex and will have an open lobby, where guests can see the entire retail space upon entering.
Carry Inclusive Products
There are several products on the market that are meant for people with vaginas and people who menstruate. These include products to alleviate cramping and PMS and to increase arousal. Stocking these products shows that you’ve considered these needs. It’s also a good idea to diversify the potency of your wares.
“We know that not everybody is coming in to get as high as they possibly can,” Hadar said. “We’re really mindful in offering a wide range of dosing. We like offering things that are low THC, maybe high in CBD—something people can use as an intro to cannabis or something to just enhance their life and the things they enjoy.”
You Don’t Have to Just Sell Weed
Just because you’re a dispensary doesn’t mean you can’t sell other lifestyle products, which is something Oregrown does, too.
“When you walk into our store, it looks like a high-end retail store because we have our clothing and lifestyle brand,” Hadar said. “It really does attract a lot of women because women do a lot of the buying for their families if they have a family and if not, women, in general, tend to love fashion.”
Consider the End of the Experience, Too
Stone points out that many women carry purses or bags, so a place to set those items down while fishing out a wallet is desirable.
“Make sure that you don’t have so many impulse items cramming your sales counter that your customers don’t have a place to set their purse and the literature they likely picked up while sitting in your lobby,” Stone suggested.
She also advises making sure there’s plenty of space in this area for privacy.
“Women feel a lot more vulnerable about taking cash out of their wallets than men do, so you want to provide a little shoulder room in your point-of-sale station so that people feel like there’s a little bit of discretion around this transaction,” Stone said.
Stone also suggests stocking attractive bags to place purchased items inside, just like one might receive at any other department store or shop in a mall.
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