A World-Leading Cannabis Dispensary Architect Explains How He Does It
The architecture firm, The McBride Company, based out of Vermont, has done everything from hotels to restaurants and retail stores and is the sole design ambassador for the Margaritaville Hotel chain. Johnnie Rush, the chief business innovation officer for McBride, used to be an Imagineer at Disney. In fact, he was one of the top Imagineers, as Vice President of Imagineering for Disney.
So far, with Johnnie at the tiller, McBride has designed twelve different Marijuana dispensaries. The photos in this article show designs for particular locations, as well as just design exercises. The Cannabist interviewed him and got the lowdown on how to design a truly fantastic marijuana dispensary:
“Rush has made it his mission to transform the architectural frontier of cannabis dispensaries in the same unique, transporting way. Transporting how exactly, you ask? Imagine pushing a button on a fortune telling Mystic Pineapple which then produces a note telling you which cannabis item you should buy.”
Drawing from his experience as an Imagineer, this is how Rush designs a marijuana dispensary:
“In Imagineering, we create the suspension of disbelief. It’s in essence the same thing [as designing for the cannabis industry]; telling a story that creates an emotional connection.” says Rush. “When you establish an emotional connection with the consumer, you create a relationship. We’re applying the same line of thinking to the cannabis industry — here’s a real new industry that’s always kind of operated in the shade, not quite legal, sketchy, even when dispensaries were legalized.”
One of their goals at McBride was to break existing negative stereotypes of the cannabis industry, says Rush.
“It’s usually a space that feels temporary or not inviting, not a space you should be. These kind of back-of-house operations moved to the limelight so through that, there’s consolidation. Suddenly every dispensary is going to be competing on just two things: their brand and the relationship they have with the customer. The brand is more than just packaging and logo, a brand creates an environment — a visual experience you tell through different stories, through customer service, through the design of the space. And then, how am I leveraging my social media tool kit. It’s great marketing.”
Creating a brand identity in a store isn’t just as simple as a design customer asking for a cannabis store that looks “like an Apple store,” says Rush. Apple devotes serious money into building their narrative, and copying that just doesn’t make any sense.
“For cannabis retailers, it’s a bit of a challenge. Everyone needs to be educated — even current consumers — about cannabis, because the tech is always changing; the strains, the products, concentrates, butane versus ice bath. It’s constantly in flux. Which is a good thing — it means more diversity of products. But for the consumer, a big part of what that retailer needs to do is to create an environment that speaks to those questions.”
The retail space will stop being an afterthought for cannabis retailers incredibly soon, says Rush.
“Suddenly, when you look at the exponential growth of dispensaries, it’s changed expectations. People see the importance of having a specific brand. Now there’s competition, in Denver alone there are nearly 400 dispensaries."
“The [dispensaries] that are fun, the ones that have created a social network and maintained this relationship win.” Otherwise, they’re just all the same, and there’s no reason for a customer to feel brand loyalty.”
To nurture positive feelings and emotions within a space, like safety, comfort, and interest, Rush says:
“Once the logistics are out of the way, then it becomes use of color, tool, texture, lighting, graphic, that tells a story of the brand.
In Florida, a company called Grow Healthy wanted to project the idea that they control the product from start to finish. The design for that is starting to become very earthy, natural, the idea that you’re walking into a comfortable space that feels safe. It’s fun, part of it is a museum part of it is a retail space.
You have size, as well — a small spaces versus a cavernous area that you feel exposed. With that, you change the temperature of the lighting from a cool lighting to more of a warm lighting.”
Finally, Rush explained the interiors of two of his most interesting stores, Pineapple Express, their first dispensary, and The Glass Pipe. The company got a lot of exposure from the Pineapple Express design, leading to the other work, and making them much more well known as a leading dispensary architect.
“Pineapple Express is an attainable luxury, indulgent. The idea behind the brand is this retro storyline, so all the elements and colors and textures were lifted from the old luxury resorts in Hawaii, Waikiki. It’s subtle but you see that in the materials.
“The View-master wall was a very novel way of taking the same thing that everybody does, slapping an LED screen on a wall, but we wanted this to be very experiential. So the stories; the strains; and explanations of concentrates, the differences between indica, sativa — all of these educational aspects are answered through the View-master. You flip through and suddenly you have this super cool interaction.”
“They all have something unique and interesting about them. The Glass Pipe is service-based — packaging and dispensing technology without the use of human hands. Once you kinda know what you want, you don’t have to wait in that line again. We’ve created this online ordering system where you kinda bypass the wait.
“The unique part of [The Glass Pipe] is when you walk in and you input your info, a robot in the back of the house packages, dispenses, puts it in a tube, and shoots it up to the front. The labor now is focused on creating the relationship with the consumer and not packaging the order.
“The over arching story is, they all have very consumer-driven design that can be leveraged not only with the marketing program, social media platform, but also packaging, if done the right way.”
All Images via The McBride Company/The Cannabist