INNOVATIVE THINKING AND ESTABLISHED PRINCIPLES OF PRODUCT DISPLAY MERGE TO REDEFINE MARIJUANA’S RETAIL EXPERIENCE AT AJOYA.
WORDS: Sean O’Keefe • IMAGES: James Florio & Kyler Deutmeyer
Like any industry, in retail marijuana, maturity takes time. With maturity, of course, comes enhanced decision making benefiting from past experience and the insights of others that compels new thinking, improved processes, and tangible results. Such is the case for Ajoya, a Louisville dispensary determined to elevate the retail marijuana experience though branding and design. The brainchild of brothers Joey and Shaun Gindi, Ajoya celebrates personal freedom and marijuana’s diverse user-experiences. More lifestyle brand than dispensary, Ajoya is a forward-thinking champion of cannabis’ versatility while contributing to an evolving conversation on retail marijuana practices.
“This product has been consumed for centuries by people from all walks of life and all forms of accomplishment,” said Joey, Ajoya’s Chief Operating Officer, a responsibility he assumes with the same panache expected of his Wall Street counterpart, minus the tie. “Our thinking continually returned to the experience of marijuana and how that word ‘experience’ means so many different things to the people who use it.”
The Gindi brothers have been in the retail marijuana business since 2009 when they opened a medical dispensary in a strip mall owned by their father. Initially, their objectives were to simply build a customer base and make a profit, admittedly never really thinking of brand building. As they outgrew their space, the Gindis envisioned a more consumer-driven operation to distinguish themselves from abundant completion. In strategic meetings they focused on the notion of the user experience, while paradoxically recognizing that people’s marijuana experience expectations are so varied.
A spark was ignited when Joey turned to HighBridge Creative, a Louisville branding company with an identify design portfolio in similar markets like craft beer. Working across the spectrum of user experiences, HighBridge Creative recommended that Ajoya focus on consumption’s targeted effects, ranging from an infusion of energetic creativity to a desire to subdue either pain or anxiety and calm the senses with many variations in-between. “Breaking the experience into a range of effects, we found the inspiration for what we’ve done,” said Joey. The four experience categories at Ajoya—settle, unwind, focus, and elevate—are indicative of the product’s effects and set the stage for the retail design the Gindis were looking for. Color-coded, well-defined product experience statements are keys to Ajoya’s differentiation. However, the product evaluation and purchase experience is where Ajoya really distinguishes itself and credit there is shared with Roth Sheppard Architects and builder B&B Remodeling.
Well known for exceptional design in a wide range of building types including high-end retail and public safety, Roth Sheppard has been pushing the edge of design by shaping solutions to the user experience since 1983. Their award-winning experience includes boutique spaces like the Denver Art Museum’s gift shop, several Room & Board stores, and other lifestyle brand retailers. “The notion of a lifestyle brand focused on the user experience was the departure point,” said Tyler Joseph, a project designer with Roth Sheppard. “The design took shape around an efficient, open, professional customer experience that builds on well established principles of product display and feels nothing like a stereotypical headshop.”
Walking into Ajoya, the design differences are hard to miss. Gone are the Bob Marley posters, candles, and dusty glass skull bongs stacked to the ceiling. Immediately, the store is wide open with no physical distinction between the guest waiting area and product display. A circular reception area allows check in and funnels the unfamiliar toward a lively color-coded display detailing the range of experience choices, a theme that resonates throughout the store. Supplemental products, apparel and merchandise on display including—yes, cool glass skull bongs—allow customers to engage in the potential purchase process while they wait rather than being separated from the merchandise as dispensaries generally do. Customers then engage with budtenders across a sleek white retail bar at individual service points that allow semi-private consultations without the transaction feeling like a backroom deal. Service points are partitioned by triangular glass display cases showcasing a wide range of edible, concentrated, and infused products that range from chewable candies to hand lotion, hair gel, and much more—some of which is strictly medicinal with no impairing effects.
Roth Sheppard was able to draw parallels between displaying high-end merchandise like jewelry and marijuana’s crystalline structure. This thinking influenced a wide range of lighting choices throughout the space. LED lighting is incorporated to illuminate the sparkling trichome crystals on the marijuana buds, while backlit illumination panels at the retail displays enhance closeup product presentation. Color-changing LEDs hangs above the lounge area and track lighting used to draw attention to soft goods.
“Product display is really important to any retail experience,” said Joseph. “At Ajoya, we designed each detail of the main bar and the display cases to enhance the products being offered and instill confidence in their quality to the customers.” Beyond the glass display cases at the countertop bar, Ajoya’s bulk product inventory is pre-packaged and stored in color-coded square boxes behind the budtenders, keeping everything close at hand but without a sense of clutter.
Joey and his team continue to refine the sales process, currently offering a collection of four different experience-specific marijuana strains as a flight for those who may be unsure about exactly which type of experience is ideal for them. Ajoya’s leadership is also planning to increase staff training to ensure bud tenders are all speaking a common sales language and have a deep knowledge of their products, effects, anticipated longevity, and other distinguishing characteristics. Further adding to Ajoya’s vision of promoting a lifestyle brand, beyond the typical paraphernalia, the store also carries and array of lifestyle accessories such as Stashlogix tote cases and Apothecanna lotions. While retail marijuana itself maintains a high-level of consumer demand, long-term success in retail sales will continue to be an evolving conversation between retailers, designers, and consumers. Tried and true sales strategies like customer funneling, effective merchandising and lighting, and a well-informed sales staff will always be positive contributors to success and maturity will always be a backdrop for an elevated retail experience.