March and Ash: Uptown in the Country

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March and Ash Imperial Valley | 2433 Marshall Avenue | Imperial, Calif. 92251 (Photos: Walter Wilson Studios Inc.)

It’s not every day one finds a tractor smack-dab in the middle of a dispensary’s salesfloor. Yet, that’s exactly what makes a life-sized statement inside the March and Ash dispensary in Imperial, California.

The Imperial store is one of three in the March and Ash chain; each is designed to reflect the surrounding area. Imperial Valley is a rural, agricultural community, so a tractor occupying a place of honor makes a certain amount of sense. Although the vintage vehicle would seem out of place in the chain’s other shops—in San Diego and Vista, California, which display metropolitan and suburban vibes, respectively—the elegantly rusted antique perfectly fits a landscape bookended by the Colorado River to the east and San Diego to the west, where everything from cotton to fruit, vegetables, and alfalfa is cultivated. (Oddly, the only thing not legally farmed in Imperial Valley is cannabis.)

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The tractor may be the first design element to grab the eye, but what’s most alluring about the space is the lighting, which is warm and inviting and creates a “down-home” atmosphere. Most of the shop’s customers are 40 to 60 years old, and many are first-time dispensary visitors who harbor preconceived notions about how a dispensary might look. The toasty overhead lighting, bouncing off the polished concrete floor much as it would in a more conventional retail space, puts them at ease, according to Public Affairs Director Spencer Andrews.

The 4,500-square-foot interior is evenly divided between the reception/lobby area, dispensary floor, security room, break room, inventory room, and prep room. The lobby sets the tone with a leaf-shaped oak table flanked by vintage leather chairs and a cream-colored couch. March and Ash logo wear—caps, T-shirts, and hoodies—are prominently displayed for customers to browse as they wait to enter the dispensary proper. Above, a massive March and Ash logo blazes across the entire ceiling. Two big-screen TVs perch above glass doors between the lobby and the sprawling retail floor.

“Creating a comfortable lobby was important, as it is the first experience the customer has when entering our shop,” Andrews said, describing the space as “spacious, warm, and pleasant.” He added offering branded merchandise in the lobby not only gives the store an additional revenue stream, but also lends an extra air of traditional retail to comfort shoppers who are unsure about the cannabis experience. “Our clothing is very popular because of the creative and subtle nature of the designs that allow individuals to sport March and Ash gear without blatantly having cannabis advertised on their shirt,” he said.

From the tractor’s central focal point, the retail floor fans out in all directions. To one side sits the flower bar, fronted by a worn wooden desk and bathed in light from hanging industrial bulbs. A black-and-white painting of a bear foraging for food stretches the length of one wall. The bear motif continues, in the form of a neon sign, on a nearby grass-covered wall. The remaining walls host honey-colored, backlit display shelves.

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“Our stores are quite different from many others in that our open floorplan allows shoppers to freely browse products,” said Andrews. “The products are separated in the store based on type: vapes, edibles, and CBD products can be found in their individual sections. The focal point is the flower bar, an island in the center of the store that displays all of our flower and concentrates. This one element is uniform across all of our shops and is considered the signature design aspect.”

Other aspects are unique to Imperial Valley. A pastoral color scheme utilizes elegant earth tones to strike a balance between a high-end shopping experience and the natural products the shop offers, while simultaneously evoking the community’s agricultural roots. Massive spotlight-like lamps dangle from the ceiling, creating a glow that is at once sizzling and delicate. Above the tractor—which has become an Instagram darling—a March and Ash logo made of individual light bulbs gives the space a high-end-casino-like feel. Stained planks reminiscent of barn wood stretch across the belly of the ceiling. The unique March and Ash logo, an M crowned by an A, is everywhere—on the front of the flower bar, behind the checkout desk, and next to display shelves. The effect creates subtle, yet powerful, branding.

March and Ash opened its flagship location in the Mission Valley section of San Diego in September 2018; by year-end 2020, the company plans to operate a total of six locations. The original store employed twenty people; today, the company’s staff numbers more than 170. The expansion was not without growing pains. “No matter how much planning and coordination you put in place prior to buildout, bogeys will present themselves down the road,” Andrews said. “My advice: Make sure you have a [general contractor] on your team who understands the importance of an efficient buildout and is able to corral the different trades to maximize that efficiency.”

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Centralized purchasing, too, can be challenging when multiple stores serve significantly different clientele. The San Diego and Vista stores cater to a younger, more cannabis-sophisticated crowd than the Imperial store serves. Andrews said each store’s customers drive the stock. “We make a strong effort to carry products across the quality and affordability spectrum,” he said. “We use our internal metrics and analytics to identify which products move well and which products collect dust. This is a completely organic process, as our concierges [budtenders] are never incentivized to sell a certain product or meet certain quotas.”

In fact, Andrews said, he’d rather customers leave the store empty-handed than with a product they may come to regret purchasing. “This is a new industry, and gaining the trust and respect of our customers is paramount to customer loyalty,” he said. “We encourage new customers to browse the store for thirty minutes and ask tough questions of our staff. Unlike some other dispensaries, we’re more concerned with getting to know our customers and less concerned with sales volumes.”

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