Getting dispensaries with consumer lounges to operate cohesively as single businesses will be one of the most exciting challenges for the industry in the years to come. If product sales are the main revenue driver of a consumer salon, this will inevitably reduce store sales. Squaring this circle will require consumer show owners to get creative.
In terms of creativity, one concept stands out: The Artist Tree. The dispensary chain’s location in West Hollywood, Calif., one of five in the state, is a three-story complex that puts art and creativity at its heart, partially treating its retail space as a art gallery and its consumer lounge as an event space. Designed by architectural firm RDC and located alongside other high-end dispensaries in WeHo’s so-called Emerald Village, the space has positioned itself as the cannabis store for creatives in a major creative mecca, focusing on the concept to differentiate itself from increasingly fierce competition.
The complex on Santa Monica Boulevard operates under a stack of licenses, with a dispensary on the ground floor to ensure that all customers pass through the most important retail location first. Upon entering, customers are greeted with a floor-to-ceiling glass cube illuminated with a purple hue and filled with clones, which are available for purchase. A consumer lounge occupies the second floor, and another consumer and event space for edibles sits above.
“People love that the show is growing” on the ground floor, said Patrick Mullarkey, director of the WeHo site. “We have a budtender who also specializes in cultivation, so he’s on top of making sure the plants stay healthy and giving advice to consumers who want to buy them.”
From this first impression, it is clear that the flower is queen at The Artist Tree. In the store, the tables are packed with options from top to bottom, ranging from indica to sativa. The menu features a strong portfolio of well-known Californian flower brands like Alien Labs, Maven Genetics and Cannabiotix, all housed in new jars that allow customers to pump air through them and smell the terpenes.
The store’s edibles selection features staples like Kiva, Wyld, and Cann, in addition to a rotating cast of niche products, including Keurig-style brewed coffee pods, peanut butter, and beverage enhancers. sleek nano from Alt. The latter partners with the store to operate a mocktail bar with live music in the upstairs drinking lounge.
Throughout the studio, artwork by accomplished local designers hangs from bespoke light fixtures. All the art is for sale, and the dispensary does not take a share, unlike traditional galleries, which can take up to 50% of the proceeds as a commission. In The Artist Tree’s eyes, it’s just another experience enhancer that sets stores apart and builds community relationships.
“These are the things that will keep The Artist Tree alive whenever Amazon starts selling weed,” Mullarkey said. “It will give us a foothold and a prominence to our community that will entice them to come here instead of just going for the cheapest.”
At the far end of the dispensary, a wall of faces painted by Jahlil Nzinga opens like a den of villains onto a VIP sales room for distinguished guests and privileged friends of the store.
Upstairs, the spacious and airy drinking lounge is relaxed and clean. Its stately decor, color-coordinated shelving and balcony seating make it a far cry from the heady, cavernous coffeeshops of Amsterdam. At the other end, customers can flaunt themselves on stools in a long bar where they can rent Stündenglass® bongs, dab rigs and gravity infusers (costs range from $15 to $40) or order coffee and macaroons by Hervé or infused mocktails.
“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into developing mocktails that taste extremely great and also give you a special experience,” Mullarkey said.
Where the show really comes into its own is with the programming, especially the ticketed events. The Artist Tree hosts something almost every night of the week. Some are free; others are not. This opens up a significant new revenue stream for the salon beyond product sales.
If the dispensary and salon don’t compete to sell products, tickets allow for a steady stream of revenue without forcing the salon to double as a restaurant, which is the baffling path some other establishments are going down. The Artist Tree’s calendar of events is packed with stoned yoga, sound baths, stand-up comedy, open mics, and drag brunches, all of which are well-attended, brand-sponsored, and hosted by a dedicated member of staff. Mullarkey and his team see the event component as key to building awareness of the business.
“People tell their friends they saw a comedy show at the only place in LA where you can buy and smoke weed,” he said. “This type of word-of-mouth marketing is invaluable, especially in a highly competitive field.”
The top floor, also technically a consumer lounge, is reserved for special events and gallery exhibitions. It even has a tabletop rosin press, allowing customers to buy heads-up and make their own concentrates.
While the West Hollywood location might be the chain’s crown jewel, the company has a strong portfolio of stores in great locations. Locations include a beautiful boutique in Beverly Hills, a store in Riverside, a store amid the landmarks of Koreatown in Los Angeles, and one of only two operational dispensaries in Fresno, the largest city in California’s Central Valley.
In West Hollywood, the company has created an exciting plan for the successful marriage of retail and consumerism in a neighborhood that caters to both locals and tourists. Management realizes that creating space for people to smoke their weed and leave isn’t really necessary, wanted, or financially lucrative in a place like Los Angeles. But by adding an element of entertainment, The Artist Tree has created a draw, established a new source of revenue, and avoided the sad fate that many salons suffer: emptiness.
“As soon as your space starts to feel empty, you’re going to start losing the clientele you had,” Mullarkey warned. “Customers won’t experience the energy or vibe they’re looking for in this space. We want to make sure that we always bring something new to the table so people feel compelled to come back.