In Part I of our series on cannabis branding, we talked about the importance of being authentic, both for yourself and for your customer. Recently, Noise 13 went on a tour of some of the Bay Area’s dispensaries to audit the differences. We have a few canna brands as clients, so it’s important for us to regularly review what’s in the market, how consumers see and experience these brands. During our four location tour, we noticed that dispensaries, like the brands they carry, are starting to separate themselves by targeting an audience and keeping the experiences authentic to their strengths.
Bloom Room feels like it’s been around forever. Since their inception in 2013, they’ve been dispensing medical-grade cannabis to a fairly broad clientele base. Most of their customers have been coming to them for years, pre-legalization. If you were one of the folks who had a medical card before 2018, you’ll recognize the vibe, very straightforward, flower focused, and many old school brands that, since regulations, are recently being pre-packaged.
The small space is exposed brick – accented by the occasional bright red or orange wall – and gives off a fun easy vibe reinforced by the artwork they put on the walls. Zany mixed media art feels inspired by the creativity of cannabis. Flower brands are lined up for you to see, open and smell while the knowledgeable staff is there to answer questions if you have any.
The clientele of the Bloom Room seems familiar with cannabis, and they know what they’re looking for. It’s not a “boutique” experience as some of the others on our list — but that’s OK! And feels really honest to who they are. Just don’t expect bells, whistles, or comfy seating.
If Bloom Room is like a High School AP Class, Dutchman’s Flat feels like the upper-level grad student seminar. Located in the suddenly-burgeoning Dog Patch neighborhood of San Francisco, Dutchman’s Flat takes things a little more seriously. They offer a huge selection of flower, neatly displayed in classic typeface written on small menus, and it’s also projected onto the wall. Their product is kept in small metal tins, off-set with vintage desk lamps. Finishes are metal, and wood and there’s no fuss about extra decor. This place feels like one of those cool coffee roasters where everything is all about the almighty bean.
Historically working class, the Dog Patch neighborhood of San Francisco is moving in the direction of all SF real estate — up. While that may be true, Dutchman’s Flat does a great job in its aesthetic of balancing those blue-collar roots with a flair for the high-end. It shows that when done right, these dispensaries should be in dialogue with their neighborhoods as well as their consumers.
Found nestled in a residential neighborhood in the Mission District of San Francisco, Harvest feels like an update to the neighborhood drugstores of past generations. They also have a second location in the Avenues. Harvest attracts the newer cannabis consumer with a clean, safe, holistic vibe. Harvest seems to be targeting females as well with many low dose options, lots of edibles and alternative forms of consumption.
Harvest offers a heavily curated experience from start to finish. Their friendly staff makes the experience feel more like a retail shop, with people to help if you need but space to browse. The design is mostly open shelves, tall windows that flood the store with natural light, lots of warm wood and colors. It’s simple and unintrusive and conducive to exploring the world of cannabis without feeling intimidated or rushed. A trip to Harvest would fit right in during a day of shopping at boutiques or local markets.
Barbary Coast goes a very different route, with a vintage bar aesthetic that harkens back to SF’s early 20th-century traditions of gentleman’s clubs and upper-crust saloons. Dark wood, Tiffany-style lighting fixtures, and lush seating give their dispensary and smoking lounge a vibe straight out of a detective novel. It’s the sort of place you want to hang around and experience — not dash in for product and leave in a rush. They complement this experience with an array of budtenders and knowledgeable staff who take care to recommend — the same way a good bartender at your favorite bar might describe the best cocktail for your mood.
Occasionally the intrusion of technology in this space works against what the rest of Barbary Coast promises. Sure, it’s OK to have HDTVs in the lounge to watch a game, but the use of iPads at checkout felt anachronistic — like we stepped out of time for a moment just to check out. In our experience, it’s all about giving the consumer one unbroken experience from start to finish. To note, the iPads at the counter are new as they started with printed menus. But we know this location gets busy so we understand the need to speed things up when there’s a line.
Are there any dispensaries that you think are making the experience unique? Have you found your tribe in this space? The location that has both the products you want and the vibe that makes you feel most comfortable? As we continue to explore brand experiences, we’d love to hear what you find best connects to your lifestyle as a cannabis consumer.
Read more here about why Noise 13 + Cannabis are a perfect fit.