What do you picture when you think of a weed dispensary? I envision lots of green neon leaf signs, glass container lined shelves with names like ‘Tripleproof Bluemoonshine’ scribbled across the front, and brandless zip lock bags as takeaways. I should preface by saying I’m not someone who frequents weed dispensaries often, but growing up in Portland, I had my fair share of encounters, and none of them were pretty.
But in the wake of Oregon’s weed legalization three years ago, there was a noticeable shift of in-store experiences. It’s become a fun scavenger hunt to see them all, and there’s a lot of new places to discover. On SW 1st Avenue in downtown Portland, for instance, a black painted, old-bones building houses Serra, one of the pioneers in elevated dispensaries that could easily be mistaken for a high-end boutique. From the street, you can see an impeccably decorated lobby and barista/coffee bar combo, with the rest hidden behind a wall of frosted glass windows. How could you not be intrigued? Here, Brand Director Cambria Benson tell us all about it.
On how the team is branding weed as elevated, but still accessible:
“Serra is a complete diversion from the typical weed store. When we were working on the branding of the company, I had very distinct viewpoints that I wanted to express, so we ended up doing a lot of designing for the physical stores at the same time because the experience people have in the store is an integral part of the brand DNA.
The millennial generation has such an appreciation for good design and good branding, and so I think a lot of younger people are intimidated by the traditional cannabis environment. Every decision we made as a company was to combat that and create a welcoming retail experience. Our name, ‘Serra,’ literally translates from Italian to ‘greenhouse,’ so everything from the frosted windows at our store front that let in the light, to the greenhouse-style glass-topped cases that hold all of our pipes, jewelry, and vapeables, contributes to the more approachable, elevated aesthetic.
We want to bring the elevated cannabis lifestyle out into the open, so when we pick partners, like artists, to work with, we look for people who have that same viewpoint. I always tell people, when you go to my house, more than half of the objects on my shelves can either be smoked out of or are some vessel for holding weed. One of our ways of normalizing cannabis is by selling products that fit into your existing environment.”
How they created a system that makes shopping for weed easier for everyone:
“We feel a huge sense of responsibility for our consumers and giving them the best experience, and we’d never want someone to buy, say, the strongest Indica and spend their entire weekend in Portland holed up in their hotel room because they chose a super strong strain [laughs]. Names like ‘Sativa’ and ‘Indica’ are intimidating, and a lot of people are put off because they feel like they don’t know what they’re shopping for. We have a ton of people in Portland who do understand the entire language, but so many new consumers are unfamiliar, so we wanted to create a way to learn about different flowers in an educational way.
I got into smoking because my brothers and husband both did, but I always just smoked whatever I was given. I never knew the experience I was going to get, and I think a lot of people are unaware that you can have a wide variety of responses to different strains and flowers. As a novice consumer, you would have no idea how to find a strain that will make you want to go clean your house or help you fall asleep. We started our Feelings Guide to make the experience less intimidating. We have six options: relaxed, focused, creative, happy, energetic and pain relief. Each flower and edible are assigned ‘Feelings’, as well as a sliding scale of what type what kind of high you get, ranging from a lighter head high to a full body high. It’s great conversation starter; it’s something even your parents and grandparents can relate to.”
On all the exciting innovations in the weed industry to watch for this year:
“It’s so exciting to watch the marijuana industry transform from a ‘vice’ to a real lifestyle. Soon, bringing marijuana to a dinner party will be akin to bringing a bottle of wine. We want to bring it out of the ‘stashed drawer,’ literally and figuratively.
At Serra, we just announced our partnership with Woodblock Chocolate, a bean to bar roasted chocolate brand from Portland. They have amazing products- they provide the chocolate to Stumptown Coffee for their mochas, and they provide chocolate to Salt & Straw for their ice cream- and now, we are doing an infused chocolate bar with them that will be launching at our stores the next few weeks. It’s so fun knowing that as we grow and the legitimacy of marijuana keeps spreading, more and more brands will jump on the bandwagon and produce exciting collaborations.”
Why women should get in the industry ASAP:
“Before Serra started, I was working with my Dad, who manufactures HVAC for [marijuana] grow rooms, and my husband was getting in on the real estate side of the business. I ended up attending a weed conference, and one of the first things I noticed was how many women were entrepreneurs doing amazing things in the industry. It was almost a 50/50 split of men and women who were in either leadership or executive roles.
The weed industry is such a Wild West, and it’s growing rapidly as it is legalized in more states. I don’t want to insult some of the older, existing brands because they paved the way for us to do what we do, but the benchmark of what people expected from a weed company isn’t very high. Now that it’s becoming even more mainstream, there will be so many opportunities in everything from making the products, to branding, to servicing. Of course, it is an industry like any other, but since it’s in its infancy, everyone is so receptive to new ideas and innovation. I’ve never been in a job where you can see the fruits of your labor so quickly. It’s amazing to work so hard and see an immediate impact because of the pace that it’s growing, and it’s so rewarding.
Sometimes, we’ll be in a meeting, and our whole team will just be amazed that we’re in a board room talking about weed. It’s fun to be among the pioneers that are changing the aesthetic of an entire industry. And there’s also job perks, like samples [laughs].”