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    Interior Design & Marketing

    Here’s what you need to know about how to design an intriguing cannabis retail store …

    By Vanessa Bairos, M.Sc.  | Project Coordinator | CannDelta


    CannDelta, in partnership with the Business of Cannabis, has produced a 10-article series entitled “So, you want to open a cannabis retail store?” which is aimed at preparing prospective cannabis retailers with the tools and resources needed to open their own cannabis retail store. This series covers everything from initial planning, estimated start-up costs, the licensing process, location selection, staff hiring, inventory management, and much more. The goal of the series is to empower prospective cannabis retailers with the knowledge and resources needed to change their mindset from “one day” to “day one”. Interested in accessing all 10 articles in one place? Download the CannDelta E-Book now using the sign up link at the top of this page.


    The key to success for cannabis retail stores – whether you’re just setting up shop or you’ve been in business for some time now – is converting casual customers into loyal customers who will be champions for your brand. The design of your store will go a long way towards this goal, and while it may seem daunting, focusing on key concepts with your target customer demographic in mind will go a long way. Like most things in the cannabis industry, cultivating a unique customer experience through branding and marketing can be a challenge but, if done right, will put you ahead of the pack. In this article, we will explore how to create a store design that is both inviting and consistently intriguing to create a strategic and successful brand, separating you from the competitors. You will hear from licensed retailers across Ontario who have offered up tips to help you design a great store.


    Now that you have set up shop in a prime location, the interior/exterior design can attract consumers who are either well-versed or new to legal cannabis in Canada. Unlike traditional retail stores, a cannabis dispensary holds a unique position in being a source for cannabis products and a resource to help navigate cannabis regulations. A successfully designed dispensary will help bring your brand to life. Being intentional with the physical environment and focus of creating an ambiance for your target customer demographic will differentiate yourself from other retailers. As a new cannabis retail store owner, you want every customer who enters to not only make a purchase but to also be inclined to return the next time. Strategic merchandise selection and placement, along with the creative integration of digital and physical experiences will go a long way towards achieving this goal. The store should reinforce your brand experience through immersive design, starting with the storefront, the signage, and storefront display. Your store ambiance, carefully crafted using lighting, colour, and material helps create a memorable feeling for customers. Each variable needs to be carefully optimized based on your vision for your store. It is important to remember that it is okay if don’t nail this at first, but you should be continuously assessing customer feedback to inform positive changes to your design.


    Whether customers enter your store for a first look around or they visit with something specific in mind, you want your space to encourage them to browse and tempt them to purchase. There are numerous tips for achieving this:
    • Make sure your store is as accessible as possible with aisles wide enough to accommodate mobility devices.
    • Colourful displays and showcases make it easier to see products/merchandise but you will also want to create a space that is open, uncluttered, and has an inviting area where customers can glance around your store.
    • Making sure customers can comfortably navigate the store without having to squeeze by other patrons or display shelves. Building your layout around an established traffic flow important (increasingly so to maintain social distancing).
    • Most customers turn right upon entering a store so, showcasing popular products at a short distance inside and to the right will be eye-catching for the customer and more likely leading to a sell.
    • Place wall units and taller displays around the perimeter of the store and then use cabinet style display showcases, and multi-sided islands with glass sides/tops throughout the store to provide visibility. Cabinets should be fitted with locks to secure merchandise. Some retailers can get ahead of themselves and order too many display cabinets which can get costly so ensure you are buying a reasonable amount.
    • Displays should be rotated every few weeks, so your store offers new glances every time a returning customer enters. Relocating merchandise or displaying it in different ways can give it a fresh appeal to a consumer.
    • Give new brands/items a place of prominence, so customers can’t miss them.


     If you’re reading this article and are thinking about starting a cannabis store, you might feel that you’re a little bit late to the game. In fact, you are a little bit late to the game, but that’s okay, you have the advantage of seeing all your competition’s cards. You can select branding that sticks out from the crowd, your logo can be something other than a cannabis leaf, your company name can be something other than a cannabis pun, your store can be something totally unique. Just as you should seek to put some distance between your store location and the competition, you should equally look to carve out your own territory in the marketing realm.


    Do some reconnaissance: put on your best “customer” disguise and go scout out what your competition is doing. Find out what elements you like, then get a second opinion, then a third… and so on. Every store owner has something (or a list of somethings) they wish they had done differently, talk with them and try to suss out what they would change about their own store, learn from their mistakes. If the first cannabis store you walk into is yours, you’ve gone about this entire process the wrong way. You want the store to be true to your vision, but ultimately, you’re building it to appeal to the customer.

    DIY (or not)

    Because we’re inundated with well-crafted branding and effective marketing campaigns on a daily basis, we may be lured into the false sense that it’s easy to do ourselves. This would be succumbing to survivorship bias, where we don’t acknowledge the mountain of failed brands and forgettable marketing. Marketing and branding professionals can take the grab-bag of ideas you have in your head and refine it into a cohesive strategy. A marketing company can also help you from running afoul of strict promotion regulations. Whether you decide to work with a professional or go it alone, the process is largely the same. Start with a core concept or core message and build outwards to peripheral details that convey that vision.  Building a design portfolio with photos of materials, colours, furniture, or really anything else that exudes the message is a good next step. Use this collection of inspiration to decide on colour pallets and company typeface.  Your logo and your name are the two most important branding elements and will largely dictate the success of your company, invest in them accordingly.


    Due to the strict regulations around promotion, retail loyalty programs are largely prohibited, leaving little to no wiggle room to ensuring cannabis retailers can keep consumers coming back to shop. However, focusing on personalized service, consistent inventory, partnerships, and education can be creative avenues to heighten a customer’s experience and create brand loyalty. Focusing on personalized in-store services such as attentive and knowledgeable salespeople can increase a customer’s overall experience, especially those who are new to cannabis. Keeping a consistent inventory will also drive the customer experience as customers find specific strains or brands that are suitable for them and ultimately want to purchase more. Guarantee that the customer’s second visit does not fall short from the first due to out-of-stock products. Partnerships between retailers and license holders is becoming popular, where license holders provide retailers with branded ‘swag’ for free giveaways. Lastly, providing education to clientele who is new to cannabis will assist in helping the customer feel safe to purchase and consume cannabis in a familiar space.


    Cannabis retail stores are already faced with the challenge of having competitors who sell the same products, so the most effective strategies for marketing and advertising are having a comprehensive marketing and media relations plan, attractive artwork/branding and creating a brand with good selection and customer service which can be spread through word-of-mouth. Choosing the correct segments of the market and catering your retail store to focus on those will inevitably create a strong branding experience and lead to success. Ensuring that your advertising is only ever reaching adults by using age-gated platforms and venues will go a long way towards staying compliant with regulations. Some market research and comparisons on what other retailers are selling can help direct the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ of your cannabis retail store.  Using your sales data to identify consistently popular products allows you to curate your inventory to make room for new products without sacrificing customer favorites. Cannabis retailers who will survive and thrive in this competitive marketplace will need to focus on the customer experience, good product selection, product-focused education and a strong, consistent brand.


    In light of the current global pandemic, store protocols have to be adapted to value customer safety over everything else. Being able to adapt and incorporate digital streams for online sales and curbside pick-up service, protective shields, personal protective equipment, adhering to social distancing through visible markers and signage will keep customers safe and more likely to buy from your store.  With no end date in sight for the pandemic, store design that mitigates close contact and incorporates preventative measures will create a safe and welcoming environment for the customers.


    From design to marketing, there are creative ways to help your cannabis retail store stand out from your competitors. For this article, we covered what to consider when thinking about design as well as helpful tips for a store layout. You should now be equipped with the information needed to build an awesome brand for your retail store. In next week’s article, we cover physical security and other regulated features to incorporate in your store design.


    Featured below is advice from current Ontario retailers who have been there and done that. You’ll hear more from these retailers, along with others in the industry throughout this series. What strategy have you found to be the most effective for marketing and advertising? “Great artwork”
    • Rob Heydon, 420 Love Main and Gage
    “Word of mouth. Never underestimate the power of the spoken word”
    • Don Tetrault, Bud Bank
    “Failing to plan, is planning to fail. It is important to have a comprehensive marketing and media relations plan.”
    • Steven Fry, Sessions Cannabis
    “word of mouth – good pricing, the right product selection, and outstanding service sell themselves”
    • Jason Krulicki, One Plan Kensington Market


    Prospective and current cannabis retailers needing support should reach out to CannDelta for a free consultation. CannDelta is a Toronto-based regulatory and scientific cannabis consulting firm that can be reached at info@canndeltav2:8890 or toll-free at 1 (877) 274 6777.

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