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Medithrive marijuana dispensary avoids design cliches in San Francisco

The progressive Californian city of San Francisco was one of the first places in the US to allow the legal medicinal use and sale of marijuana, in 1995. Two decades on the trend has spread to further cities and states, leading to an entirely new retail category.

The recently opened Medithrive dispensary in San Francisco’s Mission district is seeking to create a new generation of outlets for the sector, with a store format designed in-house.

Director Jeff Linden – who started his career at department store group Macy's before working at a range of ‘conventional’ retailers – wanted to put his experience to good use. “What I was trying to do was bring some mainstream retail design and merchandising techniques to this industry,” he says.

Traditional cannabis dispensaries have been very functional, often with an aesthetic based around secure counters and bullet-proof glass. Medithrive set out to change that.

The law requires that customers must be registered via a doctor – which can be done online or at a clinic across the street – and show ID before being admitted to the 1000 sq ft store. But once inside they find a rather different customer experience to the more traditional ways of buying cannabis.

An open floorplan features floating checkout pods made of cast, recycled glass. Video microscopes allow customers to see their product in full detail to check its quality. Customer service is face-to-face, to encourage customer interaction akin to that found in an Apple store. “We were keen to remove the counters, apart from a patisserie-type counter for edible products,” says Linden.

A natural material palette features stone and wood, with a red oak ceiling providing a warm feel, with a patch of moss growing in a planter in homage to the brand’s original store, which featured the same moss growing on a wall.

A conscious decision was made to avoid the design clichés of the sector. “We wanted to stay away from green and from pot leaves. We wanted to take the industry in a different direction,” says Linden.

A very broad demographic is using the store. “They are between 18 and 80 years old,” says Linden, and use the merchandise for a variety of pain and stress management uses. “A lot of younger people are keen to stay away from pharmaceuticals, and this is far less harmful that alcohol for destressing.”

Trust, in both the product and the vendor, are important to customers who like being able to purchase marijuana in a safe and legal environment. “Our products are all tested… and you can look at them under a microscope to see that they are bug and pesticide free,” says Linden.

Customers are limited to 1oz of marijuana on each visit, with an eighth of an ounce the most popular purchase – customers can pick three eighths for $100. The limit is not harming profitability. Since opening in April the store has been serving up to 400 customers per day and is achieving sales in the region of $1400 per sq ft.

“There was a lot of curiosity when we opened, but sales are still climbing steadily,” says Linden.