Cannabis Design and Construction are Team Sports

By Robert Spence, with Andrew Poticha

We are in the midst of a cannabis boom—and that means a building boom, too.

Rapid growth inevitably means new facilities are needed in real-time to meet the industry’s skyrocketing demand for product. That in turn means construction is needed for all types of buildings, from state-of-the-art cultivation centers and processing labs to customer-friendly dispensaries.

Much like the complexities of operating a cannabis company itself, construction is no simple undertaking. Projects move like freight trains: There are thousands of decisions to make, and once you gain momentum, it’s difficult to stop on a dime.

The stakes are incredibly high: every square foot impacts a business’s bottom line, often in ways that aren’t immediately evident.

When it comes to facility construction and expansion, cannabis companies need a design build partner who understands the industry and has experience problem solving on the fly. Outside partners must bring solutions in real-time, drawn from their own experience.

At Mission, we’re constantly discovering new ways that the right construction partner can positively impact the bottom line. Following are four ways that partnering with a knowledgeable design-build partner has improved Mission’s bottom-line.

Dial in on customer experience

Get customer experience wrong and your potential customers are likely to move on to the dispensary down the road, never to return. And the way a space is built is a huge part of that experience. Early on, we tried the approach of using one stellar design that we could prototype and then implement it across multiple markets. For us, that experiment was short lived.

Trying to replicate environments across markets and locations proved too restrictive in practice. We couldn’t take advantage of existing design features, like an abundance of natural light, and soon found that choices that made sense in a 2,500 square foot space didn’t translate at twice the scale.

There are also vast differences in markets in terms of the aesthetics and features customers demand, from the sleek, high-end design of Las Vegas to the more organic showrooms of the Midwest.

It’s our job to know our customers and commit to meeting their needs. To do that, the right construction partner helps us think through the options, bring ideas from multiple past experiences and locations, and then work with us to collaboratively determine what makes sense for the project.

Ultimately, there needs to be enough flexibility in the design process to address the needs of new markets. Five years ago, we thought our dispensaries would be totally analog, with no digital signage or menus. But consumer preference moved in another direction and our design had to follow suit.

Build beyond regulatory compliance

Changing legislation and regulation that varies from state to state can create costly real estate missteps—unless your partner has the knowledge to design for compliance beyond minimum requirements.

Every cannabis company accepts that meeting compliance and security standards is an essential part of their business. And yet, as we strive to be secure and compliant, we also want to welcome our clients in and start a conversation about our products. As such, it’s essential to design and build with style and security equally in mind.

Construction partners help identify the weakest points in the facility’s exterior structure and build in layers of defense to keep our people, products and profits safe. The right partner knows how to look for security weaknesses—like a standard commercial roof that could easily become the fastest route for an intruder to gain access—and stay vigilant in identifying future risks.

Cultivation: Building for higher-quality products

The physical space where cannabis is grown has an enormous impact on the quality of the products that are eventually produced and delivered to consumers. Striking gold with plant genetics and breeding is hard enough; mass producing a new strain at scale requires considerably more technical skill and the right environment to replicate success.

At a minimum, cannabis companies need tight control over the growth and production ecosystem, which starts with intentional design of the building and the systems that power it. Advanced HVAC to regulate and measure air purity and reduce environmental strain, sophisticated water management systems and carefully calibrated lighting to ensure growth that meets market demand are only the beginning.

Cultivation facilities need clean-room-like controls to keep outdoor plants, pollen and pests at bay. Short-cuts don’t work: your facility is likely to experience a production shutdown following a state inspection if you’re not using the latest technology to reduce contaminants. The farm down the road could be using a prohibited pesticide; your building systems are your defense from an unpleasant inspection that uncovers illegal chemicals in your crop.

Additionally, knowledgeable design-build partners can maximize the space for every building function, from the grow rooms to onsite processing and packaging.

Prepare for what’s next

We rely on our design-build partners to provide critical services and knowledge that we don’t always glean from our seat on the inside of our own cannabis operations. While we focus on innovative ways to get more and better product into the hands of customers, an outside construction partner is able to continuously look at ways for us to scale up operations without taking on undue costs.

While our spaces may not be standardized, many of the components within them are modular, meant to break down and replicate across our entire network. There’s no need to adopt a new point-of-sale system, for example, if an existing one can be reconfigured and reapplied in a new environment.

The same approach helps guide many of our choices, from whether or not we want to include a living plant wall into a new space, with all the work that entails, or find a lower cost, scaled down version that we won’t mind parting with when the trend inevitably passes. Our partners help us think through finishes and materials that will still look new in a few years, rather than delicate materials that need constant upkeep.

Fielding the right team

Ultimately, design and construction are team sports. Not everyone is going to come to the table with the same knowledge or perspective. Having a construction partner who understands the nuances and complexities of the cannabis industry should be a given. The stakes are simply too high and the demands too great as cannabis companies balance operational stability with growth plans and the need for flexible environments.

About The Author

Robert Spence, CDT LEED AP, is director of facilities for 4Front Ventures/Mission Dispensaries, a national multi-state cannabis operator and retailer, with a market advantage in mass-produced low-cost quality branded cannabis products.

Andrew Poticha is principal of Cannabis Facility Construction and the construction partner for 4Front Ventures. He has led the construction of more than 30 cultivation facilities, processing centers and dispensary projects in 10 states since 2015.

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