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Old Bank Branches Are Turning into Cannabis Dispensaries

Designers are finding that bank branch layouts offer security and service advantages that translate well to the cannabis space

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BANKING BUDS: A typical standalone bank branch has a number of security, floor layout and customer service features that are easily converted to dispensary purposes.

Banking Buds: A typical standalone bank branch has a number of security, floor layout and customer service features that are easily converted to dispensary purposes.

AT FIRST BLUSH, banking and budtending may not strike you as having much in common. But some pioneering dispensary designers believe that bank branch layouts offer security and service advantages that translate extremely well to the cannabis space.

Stick with us and you’ll see that you can easily make your dispensary as secure as a bank branch.

Roots and Branch

There are three parts to this story. The first is that physical bank branch buildings are closing left and right. Banks are shifting more of the transactional and service work they do online to accommodate evolving customer habits and to cut costs. That means the U.S. (and other countries) have a growing inventory of purpose-built bank branch structures that can be easily converted to other brick-and-mortar purposes, including cannabis retail.

The second part of the story is that these emptying bank branches have built-in features and functionality that transfer very well to dispensary needs, particularly around security.

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Banks are designed with safe and secure layouts that correlate closely to the needs of a dispensary. Take a look at the sample floor plan above.

It’s a typical bank branch floor plan, reimagined as a cannabis dispensary by a leading multinational financial and retail technology integrator. You can see nearly a dozen features and design parameters inherited from the bank branch that would be useful to cannabis dispensaries. These include:

Store Layout

Overall floor layout. Bank branches and dispensaries require similar divisions and apportionments of their back-of-house and lobby layouts.

Lobby design and customer flow. A typical bank lobby’s customer flow design is a natural fit for a dispensary that is focused on guiding customer movement from an “explore zone” to a “sales zone” for secure transactions.

INTERIOR concept: What a dispensary converted from a bank branch might look like, with ATM and educational kiosk islands, sales counters, a beverage bar and a walled-off, extra-secure area in the back of the building.

Interior concept: What a dispensary converted from a bank branch might look like, with ATM and educational kiosk islands, sales counters, a beverage bar and a walled-off, extra-secure area in the back of the building.

Security

Bullet-resistant (BR) windows and glass. Physical crimes committed against dispensaries are an ongoing problem. Threats range from smash-and grab attacks to armed robberies. Bank branches have hardened security infrastructure that can help protect your staff, cash and inventory.

  • Safes and vaults. This is more security infrastructure that any dispensary operator would be glad to inherit from a bank branch.
  • Cameras. Banks and dispensaries have remarkably similar video security needs.
  • Panic buttons. More bank security that dispensaries can use.
Payment Processing
  • ATMs. Given the frequent need for customers to access cash, dispensaries need ATMs. Operating bank branches do have physical ATMs, of course. But if those must be replaced, the buildings typically have designated floor areas and/or wall sconces for unit placement.
  • Cash recycling machines. These cash-counting devices are terrific for accurate cash management. Bundling up cash and securing it in the safe as soon as possible also hardens your security stance (both internal and external).

Old Bank Branches Are Turning into Cannabis Dispensaries

Customer Service
  • Drive-thru lanes. These may or may not be useful to cannabis store owners, depending on where they operate. Some legal markets, like California, allow for cannabis to be delivered to customers via curbside pickup or a drive-thru window. Others, like Washington state, do not.
  • Transaction drawers. These are the sliding trays you see at bank and pharmacy drive-thru windows that gained touchless transaction popularity during the pandemic.
  • Air tubes. Closely related to transaction drawers are the pneumatic air tubes that enable goods exchanges via cannisters with drive-thru customers. These vacuum tubes allow you to operate multiple drive-thru lanes, not just the one at the store window.
Marketing & Education

Many banks have set up lobby kiosks as mini-stations to market to and educate customers on their services and products. It’s the same for dispensaries: Customer education will increase your sales!

The third pillar of this story is that even if they aren’t converting an actual old bank branch, designers of new dispensaries can “think bank” to build out a retail space that runs as a safe, secure operation.

Imitating what banks have done successfully is a great idea!

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time cannabis operators have looked to other retail verticals for inspiration. Many of today’s medical dispensaries are based on pharmacy layouts. Others borrow heavily from common liquor store or retail boutique designs.

Mardi Najafi

Mardi Najafi

Kiss and Teller

Bank-inspired dispensary success stories include Florida-based medical dispensary chain Surterra Wellness and Gunnison, Colo.-based San Juan Strains.

Surterra Wellness

Award-winning industrial designer Mardi Najafi leaned on the best of banking design when creating medical dispensaries for Surterra Wellness, which operates 45 medical dispensaries in Florida. Najafi recently told Global Cannabis Times that he was specifically inspired by Capital One’s blend of inviting, open lobby space and operational security.

A few years ago, the McLean, Va.-based bank began converting its branch lobbies into “Capital One Cafés” with Peet’s Coffee shops and lounge areas. The idea was to turn dull bank interiors into casual gathering places where bank customers could sip coffee, use free WiFi and participate in free money coaching and financial planning programs.

Najafi, Director of Retail Design at leading Toronto-based interior design firm Figure3, says the choice to emulate the Capitol One Cafés was informed by customer research.

“When we narrowed in on the customer profile at Surterra and for medical cannabis in Florida, we found that the pivotal person we needed to have connecting and accepting this brand was a household caregiver,” he says.

“And in this case, that caregiver profile was a 35-year-old Floridian mom. Our focus groups really helped us understand how to send signals of trust to the mom.
That led us to the bank-influenced store design.”

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San Juan Strains

This dispensary in Gunnison, Colo., is literally housed in a former bank branch. The facility has a drive-thru lane with a full-functional transaction drawer.

“The bank branch was empty for years and after [a previous occupant] moved out, we moved in,” says Nicki Anderson, a budtender at San Juan Strains.

“We use the drive-up teller drawer to check ID, receive payment and deliver the product. We’re also using a lot of the former bank branch’s security technology, including the panic button to alert authorities.”

More Banksy Buds

Here are some more cannabis operators that are either housed in old bank branches or use bank-like infrastructure to do business:

  • The Flowery, Miami, Fla. This dispensary is housed in a former bank branch.
  • The Gallery, Seattle, Wash. This dispensary is also located in a former bank branch.
  • SOL Cannabis, Las Cruces, N.M. This dispensary serving the greater El Paso, Texas market is installing a teller drawer to provide touchless drive-thru customer sales and support.

Old Bank Branches Are Turning into Cannabis Dispensaries

  • Tumbleweed Express Drive-Thru, Parachute, Colo. This may be the very first cannabis dispensary drive-thru in the U.S. Tumbleweed opened this shop (pictured, above) back in 2017 – but it’s not technically a bank-inspired design. Instead, the dispensary was converted from an old car wash. Customers took awhile to get used to it, but now the drive-thru is a hit.
  • Mint Cannabis, Tempe, Ariz. This cannabis dispensary and café has a drive-thru lane and serves a menu of cannabis-infused food dishes as well as standard medical and adult-use goodies.
  • Curaleaf Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, Nev. Curaleaf’s Las Vegas Strip store has a drive-thru window and serves customers nearly round the clock from 8 a.m. – 3 a.m.

Whether they are adopting design ideas and best practices from banks or actually converting old branches into new dispensaries, operators are getting solid bang for their buck with this growing trend in cannabis retail.

This article originally appeared at Global Cannabis Times, a sister publication of VMSD.

Harry Brelsford is a Principal Analyst with The CannaTech Group with offices in Seattle and Austin. He can be reached at [email protected] and at (206) 201-2944. Randy Roe is a Principal Analyst at The CannaTech Group and a Retail Technology Coach at Retail Technology Coaching, LLC. He can be reached at [email protected] and at (425) 426-7867.

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