“Experience.” There are a lot of buzzwords that fly around in the cannabis industry, but experience is one of those that gets passed around like quality sativa at Burning Man.
What kind of an experience is this going to give me?
A mellow body feeling that makes you relax and sleep like a college freshman?
(Because the phrase “Sleeping like a baby” has never actually made any sense, they’re up every two hours!)
Cannabis and experience are words that are synonymous, usually in the conversation about what will happen during the use of the cannabis, not normally when it comes to the purchasing of the product, or building a dispensary, until now.
With the opening of their newest Greenhouse Dispensary in Skokie Illinois, CEO-Mitch Kahn and his partners are out to change the way the cannabiz does biz, and it starts with the experience.
Greenhouse’s Skokie location isn’t in an industrial area, part of a strip mall, or hidden away off the beaten path.
Their latest offering sits next to one of the most exclusive and historic malls in the Chicago area in a building that used to be a 15,000 square foot… bank.
Khan explained part of his reasoning for choosing the bank as the location of his massive new store:
“We couldn’t be more excited to open such a great facility across from such a great piece of property, I think it provides access to many more people who are trying to figure out what might work for them to help parts of their lives.”
The old bank is making, well… bank.
It’s more than a cash grab and a lot of good bud.
Greenhouse is different, from the laid-back vibe to the diffused light spilling in from the massive two-story windows, it’s approachable and easy to navigate.
Product is displayed within giant glass cases and the staff walks the floor with iPads to answer questions for everyone — from the first timer to the expert.
As Kahn explains, “Our entire objective is to provide a safe, comfortable, educational, fun environment for people to explore the plant. So many people don’t know a darn thing about this and they’re nervous about it, to be quite honest. We designed a building to make sure everybody is comfortable and we continue to train our people to make sure that the person who is most uncomfortable and little curious about cannabis can come in and feel like they’re not walking into a head shop. This is Main street, it’s okay, and this plant can help you.”
The irony of a dispensary taking over a massive bank isn’t lost on any of the people who are familiar with the building or the location.
To Kahn, it had to go much deeper than a quick joke and smile if he and his team were going to build something that lived up the haute reputation of the historic shopping district.
Their goal is to create a sustainable business model that lasts longer than the initial novelty and euphoria that comes with access to retail cannabis.
“Honestly, you could have a bad environment and only “okay” product and you would sell every gram of it. That’s not how we built the whole business. You have to do things the right way, you have to build brands, you have to have great people and a great experience. Supply will catch up with demand in Illinois. When it does a few factors are going to matter a great deal: First of all, who is well located — and that’s why we love the real estate we have. Secondly, who will provide great product at a fair price? And finally, who provides a great experience. If you don’t do all three of those you can’t win.”
If they weren’t selling cannabis, Greenhouse would make a very chill bookstore or coffee shop.
Leather chairs and alcoves to sit and relax make the massive 15,000 square foot dispensary feel welcoming.
Transforming a 65-year-old building that started as a funeral home, morphed into a bank, and has now turned into a dispensary, was a challenge architect Peter Theodore and his partner Steve Corlis from the firm Camburas & Theodore, LTD., welcomed.
“We wanted the building to stand on its own. We wanted to create a form that makes you ask the question: ‘What is behind that wall?’ I think for us the most exciting part was the exterior because of its location on the corner. Banks are generally not known for their architecture. We think we created probably one of the most unique experiences for a dispensary, and we’ve seen a lot of dispensaries. I don’t think any of them that we’ve seen really capture the overall environment the way we did here.”
The transformation from bank to dispensary took about a year of design and construction.
But first, the city of Skokie, Illinois had to approve opening a “pot shop” across from the famous Old Orchard Mall, home to Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and several other high-end retail outlets.
“I could tell you that Skokie was nothing but accommodating, welcoming, helpful, and did everything they could to help us. They were terrific to deal with — couldn’t have been better,” Kahn noted about the process.
Theodore adds his thoughts towards bringing a new face to an already famous area:
“This is an iconic area for retail and style, and even architecture, and that’s the way we approached the design of this corner — was to create something that would have a gravitational pull towards the center — something that would become more sculptural. The building was bifurcated, broken up, and it never really saw its true evolution until this design. So we capitalized on a curve that was the beginning of something and then we created this curtain-like effect and pulled up the facade to the center to draw people in.”
It’s no secret that the retail industry has taken a big hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic and even the historic mall that sits across from Greenhouse has suffered its own casualties.
Kahn looks at the cannabis industry and his new store concept as a step towards the future of retail and as a way of offering relief.
“I think it is “a” step for sure and I think that we are providing new opportunities, new jobs, new revenues, fill some tax holes that every city and every state has, and I think we can be a part of that solution.”
Part of the solution for Kahn was to go in a different direction when it came to hiring a team.
“We need to have people in position who we can trust. You can be confident they’re doing things the right way and being professional and paying attention to regulation. We have people who are passionate about cannabis, but also understand customer service and retail. Taurin is one of our managers and comes from a very successful career at Nordstrom, I believe they are one of the best large retailers in America that provide some of the best customer service. So why wouldn’t we go to those places and get their people?”
Recently at the Emerge Virtual Cannabis Conference & Expo, several hundred cannabis industry experts met in a virtual world to talk, learn, and connect.
One of the main conversations was how cannabis is still very much in its infancy and as it grows the need for experience and leadership is vital to that growth.
The model that Greenhouse-Skokie has set with the blend of business and thoughtful design could be a step in the right direction for others in the industry to follow.
Theodore shares his thoughts on how they studied the retail and cannabis industry, “In a lot of traditional retail architecture, the model is to show off as much of your product as possible or expose as much glass to the street as possible. We actually went contrary to that by diminishing the amount of glass visible from the street and creating a sense of intrigue. We created some constraints in order to create an enhancement. It doesn’t have that stereotypical feeling to it. You don’t feel as if you’re going into a dark space, as if something nefarious is going on. The whole idea is that you know cannabis has been legalized and that it’s serving a lot of different purposes aside from being recreational, and it’s helping people.”
“We gave them a blank-ish canvas and with their brilliance they created a phenomenal building that’s so unique in the cannabis space. I have not seen any other buildings that are as interesting and dynamic. You drive by Greenhouse, it could be a bookstore, could be an Apple store, it could be anything. I am super proud of the outside and how it looks,” Says Kahn.
But does all that actually work or is it a bunch or marketing hype?
It’s a Friday in September and a certain cannabis writer is hanging around Greenhouse, getting more information for his story, or maybe hoping they will offer him a free sample.
A 70-something couple slowly walks into the building.
They have never tried cannabis of any kind, barely drink, and are very conservative.
The dad, who we will call “Mike,” has had trouble with sleep and has body aches from decades of hard work, his daughter has pestered them into going to Greenhouse.
They look terrified.
Taurin, one of the managers, dressed in a fashionable sport coat, walks over to the couple along with Myles, a very chill, very professional sales associate — and the craziest thing happens — they begin to talk with and listen to the couple.
After about 30 minutes, the older couple walks out with their first ever cannabis product.
Kahn doesn’t seem surprised.
“Real professionals running the business is just a… first of all, it’s a pleasure. Second of all, it’s a great comfort. At the end of the day, we have to have the right customer experience. We really tried to create a fun experience where it is what you need it to be. If you’re in a hurry or need to spend an hour talking. I don’t know that I’ve been to another dispensary where you could do both of those things effectively because generally dispensaries don’t have enough space, or enough people, to do it the right way.”