Megan Stone is founder and principal of The High Road Design Studio, which specializes in helping cannabis companies find their brand identities and design dispensaries.
The Minnesota native's unique background includes a business degree specializing in marketing and time working in a dispensary. At The High Road Design Studio, she combines her passion for the power of cannabis, marketing and design. In addition to helping others in their business ventures, the award-winning designer also opened her own dispensary, Royal Highness, in Palm Desert this year.
We caught up with Megan to learn about her diverse experience in the cannabis space, challenges and the future of the industry.
What inspired you to create High Road Design Studio?
When I started High Road, I wasn’t able to find very many dispensaries that spoke to who I was as a consumer, nor that I thought brought much integrity or wellness to the experience. I was trying to be the change I wanted to see in the world.
I have been a patient throughout my adult life, and I found myself in the unique position of working as a budtender in a California dispensary while I went through design school. I was inspired to create High Road based on my experiences in California and seeing the impact that the small changes we made in our stores had on our patients’ experience. Seeing firsthand how badly this industry could use design, while learning about design, is what led me to create a business around it —The High Road Design Studio.
What was your career path to creating High Road Design Studio?
I completed a bachelor’s degree in business with an emphasis in marketing and went into sales for the building industry out of college because I have always had a passion for design and architecture. Design just wasn’t presented to me as a career path in rural Minnesota. That first sales position brought me out to Southern California in 2007, and upon arrival I began educating myself about the medical marijuana laws. I immediately became a patient myself because I had always been a user of cannabis for wellness. Then the recession hit, and like many people my age I found myself without a job. I had a big desire to change careers already, so I took advantage of the recession and put myself back into design school. I was looking forward to having a new career when the economy took off again. And it was in that time period that I began working in a dispensary. Once I got to the inside of this industry, I was able to create my own path and career within it in a way that blended all of my passions and skills.
What’s your mission?
To elevate the cannabis consumer experience through professional retail design. We believe there is an unparalleled opportunity to change peoples’ perceptions of cannabis and its users by applying design-thinking to all aspects of the store environment and customer experience.
When you design a dispensary – where do you start, and what’s the process?
I always start with understanding my client’s story, their goals and how they want their customers to experience them. I combine that with their physical architecture as well as the laws and regulations governing their market and then let the creative process guide me from there. I might also grab a great sativa, smoke a bowl, take a walk and let my mind do the rest.
What are the biggest hurdles for the industry in your opinion?
As boring as it may sound, banking and taxation. These are huge issues that every retailer has to deal with on the back-end of their operations, but it has a significant impact on what they are able to do with the buildout of their store. If my clients were able to access traditional forms of financing or able to treat their business expenditures the same way from a tax standpoint as any other retail business, the lengths that we would be able to take the retail environment to would blow our current portfolio out of the water. But these hurdles are very real and have a very real impact one everything a business does, including its design.
Where do you see the industry in 5 years, and where do you see yourself?
I see this industry in every state in this country, and potentially in every country in this hemisphere. And I see myself on a beach…
The past five years have taught me that predicting anything five months out in this industry is a fool’s errand. I don’t think there has ever been a point in time where what my life or career looked like was anything that I thought it would be like a year earlier. I truly like the uncertainty of the industry. I like knowing that however things go for this industry five years from now that the growth and potential of High Road is simply unpredictable.