Once people walk into the dispensary, it’s up to the retailer to maximize the shopping experience. In 2023, the modern retail storefront educates the consumer and paints a picture with scents and sights, gifting everyone a feel for the effects of each product.
Creating the best cannabis retail experience possible is the goal of Highway Cannabis CEO Chris Colón. The team put meticulous thought and detail into its new storefront. After five years of conception and development, Highway Cannabis Co. launched its flagship experiential retail store in a coveted spot in Marina Del Rey bordering Venice Beach. With heavy pedestrian and driving traffic, plus a consumption lounge coming soon next door, the area is home to a diverse array of adult consumers.
The Highway storefront is welcoming. The atmosphere echoes what consumers know and are comfortable with: a store with a standard beverage fridge, stocked shelves, and nothing behind glass (that is except for in the refrigerated glass concentrates display case in the Scorpion Bar).
The brand also developed its very own proprietary tech, a regulation-safe sent jar for sample buds, that guests can smell and experience at their Blossom Bar. It offers more sensory activation and ways to learn about the menu, the buds, and their various terpene profiles. This enables customers to get a feel for the product beyond its packaging. Highway is letting the weed speak for itself.
Highway’s CEO brings with him a depth of cannabis retail experience as the former President of Nectar Cannabis, the largest vertically integrated Cannabis Company in the state of Oregon, where Colón led the growth of the company to 17 retail locations and to over 400 employees. His background also includes time spent as President of endurance sports company Motiv, and a stint on the executive team at Consumer Capital Partners, an innovative investment and operating company focused on relevant consumer, franchising, and lifestyle brands and trends (including Smashburger).
We caught up with the CEO after the opening of Highway Cannabis Co. to ask for some actionable advice for both store owners and brands on how to excel in cannabis retail.
1. Form + function
“I love the design, but what I love even more is the function,” says Colón. He says the Highway retail team set a few goals, “foremost was to normalize the shopping experience through a more traditional open-shop retail concept. From there, it was all about creating an inspiring yet comfortable environment for our customers. Each category was carefully considered through the lens of how to create the best shopping experience for each customer profile.
2. Offer several ways to buy
Experienced guests who know exactly what they want. This is why Colón suggests an easy checkout method for avid shoppers. At Highway, it’s express checkout. There’s also a more educational, hands-on process for the “Cannacurious guests.” These first-time shoppers can enjoy conversation and absorb education by speaking with a budtender. “Customers can pull up a chair at the Blossom Bar to stop and smell the flowers or get assistance from any of the budtenders around the store,” says Colón. “Everyone can have the type of shopping experience they want without interrupting the flow around them.”
3. Elevate the offerings for concentrate lovers
Cannabis concentrate consumers will not shy away from dropping serious money on certain brands and experiences, like solventless or rosin. Highway made its own dab space separate from the flower and other offerings in the store, with a refrigerated glass display case. “Dab connoisseurs have a private space to peruse the concentrate selection in a speakeasy-like environment,” says Colón.
The private room allows concentrate lovers to get up close and personal with the product. “It was designed to feel like a speakeasy and private room that caters to dabbers. Like the wine room at a fine dining restaurant, the Scorpion Dab Bar has a temperature and humidity-controlled display case optimized for concentrates.”
4. Design a unique experience that sets you apart
Alongside the Scorpion Dab bar, there is a flower Blossom Bar for smelling every single flower product on the menu. “Being able to smell the plant’s terpene profile is an essential part of flower shopping,” says Colón. Highway designed its own patented-smelling device, called an atomizer, to offer consumers a personalized “aroma bar experience.”
Highway even provides an atomizer with coffee beans between flights to cleanse the palate.
5. Drop the glass
“Most dispensaries have their products behind glass and display shelves and only a few budtenders, like a fine jewelry store, which leads to a slower shopping experience,” the CEO tells Hall of Flowers. “Shoppers like to be tactile, shop with all their senses, and feel like they have the autonomy to choose the product they want and place it into their basket.
Colón says this enables well-read cannabis consumers to skip the line and grab what they need. “We also know several shoppers know exactly what they want to buy and want to get in and out,” he says. “We created a fast-track way for them to be able to do this and for other shoppers, they can have more of an exploratory experience.”
6. Meet shoppers where they’re at
To fill the shelf with not only connoisseur offerings but also weed at an accessible price point, vertical integration works wonders. “We developed our in-house line of products that can sit on a shelf with any of our top brands, but at a lower price point,” says Colón. “This gives consumers the best of both worlds: the brands they know and love, new up-and-coming brands, as well as our own comparable high-value products that are easier on the wallet.”
7. Opt for a consumption lounge
There’s a consumption space next door to Highway Cannabis Co., located in the very same parking lot, called “The Open.” It’s a cannabis consumption-friendly private event space that is slated to open soon in 2023. Colón says he plans to offer up the space to be utilized by charitable organizations in the local arts community of Venice and the Westside of Los Angeles. “We want to invite artists and collaborators into the space to hold events, as a part of our ‘give back’ to the community mantra.”
8. Celebrate and support your local communities
Giving back to the neighborhood is good karma, and can create lifelong bonds and local brand loyalists.
“Cannabis, culture, and community are the heart and soul of our cities. The artisans of our local communities are getting squeezed out in every major city across the country due to rising real estate costs and inflation,” says the CEO. “Our commitment to the communities we serve is to provide locations and occasions for locals, artists, craftspeople, small businesses, and causes to be seen and heard. From art gallery events to craft markets and fundraisers, this is the first step of Highway’s commitment to the Westside community.”
9. Take customer feedback
“My advice to any brand or company that wants to survive the long haul is to make sure you are listening to the needs and wants of the customer. Provide a superior quality product at an attractive price point, be consistent, and always be innovating on ways to surprise and delight the consumer.”
If brands want to stand out to retailers, Colón suggests tapping into fun marketing initiatives, celebrity partnerships, or developing a new type of edible, rare, unseen product forms or formulations.
10. Aim for win-win-win
Whether you’re a retailer or a brand owner, you must push for partnerships that are symbiotic: a win for the brand and for the retailers, all while benefiting the consumer. “On the B2B side, know how to grow your business and work with your retailers,” says Colón. “When we are looking at a potential vendor partner, we are looking for relationships that benefit our stores, the brands themselves, and most importantly, our customers. We want everyone to win.”