Elevating Cannabis Retail at IRDC

November 1, 2018

The International Retail Design Conference (IRDC), produced annually by VMSD, is recognized as the premier educational and networking event for the store design and visual merchandising community, and draws hundreds of attendees from the U.S. and abroad. With the conference taking place in Seattle this year combined with the burgeoning state of  the cannabis industry, it was both timely and relevant to call attention to the rise of a distinct design niche—cannabis retail. 

Seattle was one of the first cities in the world to sell recreational cannabis from licensed storefronts. Currently there are more than 450 retail dispensaries in the state of Washington, and this year, retail sales are expected to reach nearly $2 billion. With this trend now occurring all over the country, there is a need for industry thought leaders who can offer relevant retail design content to the cannabis industry. 

VMSD recognized this opportunity, and I was honored to be invited to co-chair the event and deliver the keynote address. Together with Marijuana Venture, we assembled educators and featured industry leaders to provide cannabis retailers the information they need to understand the most mission-critical concepts and philosophies that are top of mind for any retailer in the 21st century.

From 12:30 to 4:00 p.m. on October 2nd at The Motif Hotel in downtown Seattle, we spent the afternoon talking about cannabis retail design with a room of more than --- captivated  intrigued professionals. After the opening remarks by VMSD Editor-in-Chief and Conference Chair, Jennifer Acevedo, I kicked things off with my presentation titled, “Prophets of a Paradigm Shift: How dispensary design will influence society for decades to come”.  I spoke to the audience on how far we have come and how important the cannabis conversation is today, not only in the retail sector, but in society as a whole. We must remain diligent in our efforts to elevate cannabis retail as this industry stands to influence our world for generations to come. Design has the power to alter perceptions, and help usher cannabis into the mainstream and onto Main Street.

Marijuana Venture Managing Editor Brian Beckley then moderated a panel of local dispensary owners. The discussion—Green in the Emerald City—allowed these Washington business leaders to share their commitment to the industry, including their path to becoming dispensary owners as well as challenges, frustration, misconceptions, advice and plans for the future. The panel included Shy Sadis, owner of The Joint; Aaron Nelson, director of actualization for 2020 Solutions; and CEO of Cannabis City, James Lathrop.

From there we moved into some practical Retail Design 101 information as it relates directly to the cannabis industry. Anne Marie Luthro, principal of AML Insights, energized the crowd with her enthusiastic delivery of—The How Behind the Wow at (Cannabis) Retail: Best practices behind great retail experiences. She talked about shopper behavior and specific cannabis retail design challenges. Walking attendees through every critical shopper moment, she offered valuable advice on how to enhance existing stores or thoughtfully design new dispensaries with the shopper experience in mind. 

Joe Baer, creative director for ZenGenius Inc., continued the design conversation by sharing the basics of visual merchandising. He discussed VM philosophies, the importance of a VM strategy as well as specific VM tactics to experiment with and evaluate in order to create a plan for success.

Legal cannabis arguably is the biggest disrupter to hit cultures and economies the world over and dispensaries are ground zero for this social revolution. Owners and retailers have a unique opportunity to not only strengthen their business model and ensure a profitable retail business but also to make a huge shift in culture and society as well as consciousness and wellness through powerful design and branding.

Thank you VMSD for your willingness to invest in the success of cannabis retail by organizing this pre-conference event. I look forward to continuing this important conversation and seeing what milestones we can celebrate at IRDC 2019.