A Head Above the Rest

Level Up swept this year’s entries in VMSD’s 23rd annual International Visual Competition
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Posted July 5, 2017

BEST IN SHOW
FOOD AND BEVERAGE/CONSUMABLES
“LEVEL UP”
THE HIGH ROAD DESIGN STUDIO, TEMPE, ARIZ.

Cannabis dispensaries – both medical and recreational – are becoming a unique facet of the retail scene at large. Megan Stone, founder, principal, interior designer, The High Road Design Studio (Tempe, Ariz.), has been at the forefront of dispensary design since 2013, using her skills to transform the expected “stoner/hippie” aesthetic of these built spaces into an upscale, classy ambience.

Level Up (Scottsdale, Ariz.), a medical marijuana dispensary, was already aiming to get ahead of its competition as it prepared to translate its trailer-operated outpost into a storefront in the affluent Scottsdale, Ariz., area, where medical use is allowed, but recreational use is still illegal. Located in a small shopping center near a private airport, the retailer wanted to convey a sense of decadence and style, catering to baby boomers and those around or under 40, without alienating its younger customer base, which consists of 18- to 25-year-olds.

The result is a space that exudes a masculine, high-end vibe with aviation iconography, chrome accents, black leather, stacked stone, lush green hues and a felt feature wall. As Stone puts it, the store needed to communicate a sense of European luxury – not like an “American muscle car, but like a Jaguar.”

A customer’s journey starts by checking in with the receptionist in the lobby. They are then led to the waiting area to wait for an available “budtender.” After selecting their product, they exit back into the lobby, creating a full circular path.

That journey is supported by the dispensary’s atypical merchandising system, which caught the attention of VMSD’s 2017 competition judges.

“We went to great lengths to keep the merchandising modular,” Stone explains about the display cases, which feature extendable shelving so product is easily readjusted, as needed. Various risers and platforms were designed to sit atop the shelves and house leather jar holders for organizing plant product, transdermal patches and edibles.

“We couldn’t display any of the products [in reach of customers] that contain cannabis, which is 98 percent of what the store sells,” Stone says. “We had to somehow get the product on display in an attractive way so people could view it, and we had a limited space to do that.” Stone notes that instead of product going up and down the full length of the cases, their depths were utilized, so product is more viewable.

“Education and discovery are the name of the game,” says Stone. “Most people come in expecting to buy a joint, and then they realize this is the ‘Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory’ of cannabis. Being able to display the product and make sense of it, concisely show the necessary information next to it – all of those basic merchandising techniques are so challenging right now because of the nature of the product.”

As Brent Hodge, director, merchandising and creative, Bromwell’s (Cincinnati) – and one of VMSD’s 2017 judges – puts it: “This redefines what you would expect for the medical marijuana user.”

Joe Baer, co-founder, ceo, creative director of ZenGenius (Columbus, Ohio), and another 2017 judge, echoes his sentiment, “The merchandising is great for a new market. What’s the goal of merchandising? To elevate product. It doesn’t feel like a hippie shop!”

Read more about the 23rd annual International Visual Competition winners featured in VMSD's July 2017 issue by clicking here, and be sure to check vmsd.com throughout the month of July for parts II-VI of this competition coverage.