Over the past two years, Florida-based multistate operator Ayr Wellness quietly has amassed a giant retail footprint in a spread of high-growth markets. As the company has surged and added more stores, it has become particularly attuned to dispensaries’ position as the only link between the entire supply chain and customers. Maximizing both the customer experience and the knowledge-gaining opportunity in every store is central to the company’s continued ascension into the upper echelon of cannabis retailers.
“Everything we do is built around the consumer,” said Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Finnerty. “All the data we’ve got, the brands we built, the products we grow and manufacture, and the packaging we use and how we present that in-store and online has the consumer in mind.”
The Florida-based company’s store in Watertown, Massachusetts, is the physical manifestation of this drive to place the consumer at the center of the world. The store is the only medical/adult-use hybrid dispensary in Ayr’s footprint and, according to Finnerty, it will be the blueprint for branded stores nationwide as the company begins the arduous task of flipping its entire seventy-eight-location footprint to the Ayr brand.
The sleek, white cube located in a diverse, western suburb of Boston most recently housed a florist. Built in 1945, the 4,500-square-foot space was brought up to code during build-out with site and foundation upgrades, electrical, and HVAC work before opening to the local community
“Ayr’s purpose is to create wonder, and you really see that come to life in the store,” said Finnerty.
For him, design plays a central role in disarming stigma and challenging assumptions about what buying cannabis should look like today. “People want to do this intimidating new thing in an environment that’s approachable, welcoming, and doesn’t make me feel like I’m doing something wrong or I’m in a 1990s head shop,” he said.
Inside, the stark white base coat gleams in the natural light, which floods in through energy-efficient windows on the second floor. The space’s high ceilings have a metal baffle, while the terrazzo floors, silver composite panels, and other mid-century details give the space its classy touch. A curved, royal-blue countertop houses the point-of-sale system and sits in front of an open-backed shelving unit showcasing Ayr-branded merchandise, dab rigs, bongs, and other ancillary accessories. At a glance, the store looks like it could be a minimalist streetwear pop-up or a showroom for a new electric sportscar.
“It’s very much our chief executive officer’s vision that we could be selling almost any premium consumer-packaged-goods product or fashion product in that store,” Finnerty said. “It’s clean and upscale, but it’s also approachable and not scary.”
A giant TV grabs consumers’ attention upon entering the store, showcasing content about the newly minted full house of Ayr brands. “The TV plays some really exciting content for each of our product brands that are available in our store and across the state of Massachusetts, and we really try to position the products at different consumer targets we service.”
The display screens help the company get around limitations on showcasing product on the shop floor, allowing the store to tout its Kynd premium flower, Entourage vapes, Secret Orchard vapes, Wicked edibles, Levia THC-infused seltzer, and HAZE concentrates and position them clearly in front of specific target demographics.
“Our product brands together as a portfolio can meet any cannabis consumer wherever they are on their journey,” said Finnerty. “The store has to serve everyone who walks in the door, and our brands are designed to meet those needs across age groups, economic situations, and levels of experience with the plant.”
Like a handful of other major dispensary chains, Ayr has realized the most effective sorting mechanism for the consumer begins with understanding whether they are looking for a low-touch, high-efficiency experience or a high-touch, slower experience. This simple structural change has been a huge gain for stores as they seek marginal gains in efficiency while giving every customer the experience they hope to find.
“As you walk in, if you pre-ordered and you want to pick up, we’ve got a designated area for you to get your product and get on your way,” said Finnerty. “But for those people who are walking in fresh and perhaps new to cannabis, they want to talk to budtenders and get educated and make a decision through conversation. We create convenience for people seeking convenience and immersion for people seeking a more personalized experience.”
The Watertown store is set to serve as something of a template for the Ayr retail experience in future. The company is engaged in an ambitious national renovation project, which will see it flip stores from one of Ayr’s seven retail brands (largely acquired through mergers and acquisitions) to its eponymous chain.
“[Watertown] is the articulation of what we want our store design to be,” said Finnerty. “These elements like the giant screen and the floor inlay are becoming consistent features of our stores. You can see some of them in the past nine or ten stores we opened in Florida. But Watertown brings all of these things together in a truly thoughtful way that really helps it stand out.”
And yet, as integral as interior design is to customer acquisition and retention, the interactions customers have with the staff rightly propel the company’s innovation at the retail level.
“We can get the best at automation, the best cultivation, the best logistics, but the last touchpoint is always with a person who represents us and our brands interacting with our consumer,” he said. “We absolutely treasure our budtender feedback and the knowledge of our retail staff.”
Finnerty added the company has been surveying its customers regularly since February and captures about 8,000 responses per month. Those are then analyzed by the company’s insights department. “I gotta tell you, I am blown away by the level of engagement our retail store managers have with that platform there, which is on top of all that feedback they get every day at the store level,” he said.