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Desmond Chan, Randy Simmen Want To Make Timeless Dispensaries

Desmond Chan, the creative director of SevenPoint is Randy Simmen. Right now, they’re bringing their creative eyes back to Illinois, where they brought to life 50 Sunnyside storefronts along with Cresco Labs. Together, Chan and Simmen find creative solutions within any county’s different, sometimes ridiculous rules and regulations about what dispensaries can and can’t do.

The duo shared their experiences with us recently, including how they help companies not to restrict creativity and their amazing work on Scarlet Fire Cannabis Co., which is a Grateful Dead-themed project. 

The SevenPoint Interiors Story: What started it all?

Randy:Visual Elements is our parent company. There is a primary focus on high-end retail manufacturing. Right? So, we create stores for Nordstrom, Coach and Louis Vuitton clients such as Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton and Hermes. My dad actually started the business, and he’s been doing it for 30-plus years. Visual Elements began in 2010 I believe. I guess over the years I’ve been working for my dad since I was a teenager. Des and me have been good friends for many years and have this incredible manufacturing facility. When we saw the potential, we decided to use it in a more original and consumer-facing way. So that’s when we started the COFO brand, which was targeted to highlight emerging designers locally in Toronto.

SevenPoint Interiors was founded in 2017 with the cannabis-related side. SevenPoint Interiors was established in 2017 to provide design and manufacturing services for the cannabis industry. But understanding that the customers are not our typical… They don’t have retail experience. They don’t necessarily know what it is to operate a retail store, but they won the lottery and they want to open a dispensary as fast as possible, right? That’s when we took the opportunity and opened SevenPoint Interiors. We were so focused on cannabis that there wasn’t any question as to what we did.

Desmond:The fact that there was only X licenses per month in Canada was what caused the odd rush. It was a simple question of when could we open? That led to a modular system that we’ve created to help with quick turnarounds. So, it’s a pre-engineered store fixture system that’s modular, it can expand, it can contract and accommodate retail spaces of many different sizes. All the while we are focused on designing a fixture specifically for cannabis. So everything that came from, what’s your experience when you’re looking at flower? Our flower global system was created. We have our capsule, which again, it’s magnifying.

Randy: Yeah, when we realized how quick these turnarounds were, we were like, “You know what? We need a fixture system to support all of these projects.” Because we can’t design brand new fixtures for every client who comes to the door, who needs to open in 12 weeks or whatever it is, right? The fixture system was a great idea. It’s budget-friendly. Because we’re vertically integrated, not only are we providing the interior design piece of things, but we’re also managing the budget. I think that’s where we actually have a leg up because we’re vertical. We manufacture for other design firms too, but sometimes a design firm doesn’t necessarily know what it costs to build the thing that they designed.

So a lot of times by the time the design is done and it comes time to price the store, that’s when the client realizes, “Oh shit, I actually can’t afford this. What can we do to value-engineer it?” And so, that’s sort of something we do too, right? You can also offer other solutions that will bring you the same style and design but with a cheaper price.

Desmond: We design to a budget. That is our advantage. We can help you reach your budget if you tell us that you have a thousand dollars available to buy store fixtures. A team of engineers is available. All of our production staff is present, helping with estimating and all other tasks. All of us share our ideas and create a budget that is feasible.

HT: Is that a draw for companies, that it’s more in-house? There’s more quality control?

Randy: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And it’s a bit of a smoother process between the design and to manufacturing because we’re handing it off internally from our design team to our estimating team, to our engineers, to our production staff.

Desmond: We’re all under one roof, which makes things easier.

HT. Now that you have the ability to move quickly and not compromise quality while working at Chicago’s stores, what lessons do you hope to pass on to Chicago? How to manage regulations, for example?

Randy:Yes, one hundred percent. Just living through and working during the five-year period of Canadian legalization, which began when it started. A lot of the rules and regulations that you’re seeing roll out in the States that have now almost come and gone in a way, when dispensaries started opening in Toronto, it was like, okay, we need a barrier to entry. So, you can’t see anything from the street. We don’t want to see any product or any transactions. Every store either frosted their windows or put some sort of divider wall at the entrance and a check-in desk that’s dedicated for a security person to stand there and check IDs all day. 

Reality is, now most of the check-in desks are empty because they don’t want to pay for an employee to sit there all day to just check IDs. Now, there’s a sign that says if you’re under 21 you must show your ID. And then it’s up to the budtenders inside to make that judgment call of whether they’re going to check you or not.

It started out as a strict and difficult rule everyone had to adhere to. And now, you can see it’s relaxed a little bit. This is what it should be. Some regulations seemed a bit excessive. But now, for example, we’re working on some projects in Ohio and they want man-traps for entrances and exits that are—

Desmond: Yeah. All the way from the reception to the floor. And then we’ve seen all this happen, all these regulations that are just over the top. It is easier for Canada to have the same regulations as everyone else, however, each state has its own rules.

Randy: Each county is unique.

Desmond: It is now different in America from one county to the next. So yeah, we’re just learning all this on the medical side. One client is Ohio. Anyone that receives their license, they have to be open before, I think … February 23rd. And so, everyone’s rushing to get the design in the works, but then a lot of times it’s just educating our clients to say, “Hey, you know what? Design takes time and isn’t a push of a button.” And then production time is this, build the work back, we got to set weekly meetings. If we want to achieve certain milestones, then it is essential that certain decisions are made. Otherwise, everything can get delayed.

HT: Have you ever found some regulations and restrictions to be creatively restrictive? Or do you see them as opportunities to think more creatively and come up with solutions to these problems?

Randy: Both. Working inside a box is always, I don’t know, it comes with its pros and cons. One example we can give you, I don’t know if you saw the Project Scarlet Fire—

HT: Grateful Dead Theme Store. Great work.

Randy:You may have seen photos of the tunnel or of those series of walls. So that store, we didn’t frost the windows. Although we did make some partition walls, the tunnel that runs from the front of the store to the back allows you to see through them. You can see people move between the panels but you don’t see the product and you don’t see any transactions. We wanted to add visual interest, but we also had to work within the confines of concealing the sightlines.

Desmond: And when you’re in front of the store, you have to see it in person because it automatically wants to attract you and it looks like an optical illusion of some sort. Or people that are like, “Is that a mirror or something happening?” It makes you just draw clients in to experience the space.

HT. How was that store designed?

Desmond: Although every client is unique and different, Dave is the most passionate Grateful Death lover of all. Because he loves to have fun, he travels long distances for the shows. We sort of agree, you’re selling weed, why not take the opportunity to up that retail experience because you can?

HT: What are your top three essentials in a retail environment? 

Desmond: Well, lockable fixtures. Lockable fixtures are essential. If you’re showcasing any cannabis products on the floor, they can’t be open shelves so that people can take them or anything like that. The point of sale efficiency. So at the cash desk, something that we have established as how we plan the space is so that usually the vault is right behind the POS … And we’ve created this pass-through system where you can drop, from the vault, your product in, close the drawer and then from the sales floor side, open up the drawer, grab the product, turn around, give it to your client. It’s just quick during rush hour and things like that. Lockable bags are the key. Many people desire to experience the moment. Some people would like to see the actual flowers. Some people like to see the actual flower.

Randy: And that’s state-by-state too. This is not allowed in all states. In Canada, there’s no open-sell in Canada. Everything’s packaged and it’s got a government seal on it, right?

HT. What common visual choices do your clients or you respond to?

Randy:When we first approach new clients, we send them a questionnaire. It’s a detailed questionnaire. It forces the customer to think about some questions that they probably hadn’t thought … about before reading the questionnaire. The first thing we focus on is your brand. What’s your brand about? What’s your brand story? What’s your identity? This is because the aesthetics of a brand are driven by it. Who you are and who your target audience is and what’s your aesthetic as a brand.

Where are they at right now, if they’re an existing brand? Where would they love to travel or go? That message and their strengths as brands is something we really strive to relay. Be sure to carry their brand story and colors. That is what really drives it. For example, we have one client that’s called Lake Effect. They’re out in Michigan. They are currently selling blue products in their store. We redesigned their space to make it more imposing. 

Desmond: Also, they wanted to have 1500 SKUs.

Randy: So based on the way those questions are answered, we know we’re going to need a lot of shelving. We know from a brand standpoint it’s going to be a lot of blue and then Des pulls together a mood board of different materials that complement each other. All depends on what brand you are. I don’t know that there’s an aesthetic that we necessarily lean toward. 

Desmond: We’re definitely kept in-the-know with a lot of forecast resources that we look into. So we know what’s, for example, we know what colors are trending 2023, ’24, ’25. Really, it’s just paying attention to what’s happening, I guess, globally and following market research. Resource to think. To build a store that’s kind of future-proof, right? That’s an important factor for us. Timeless. Something that’s trending right now, but it’s going to be timeless for the next couple of years. 

HT: How does cannabis assist you both in creativity?

Randy: Obviously during working hours, if we’re at the office, we stay away from it. Both Des and I enjoy smoking marijuana, getting creative and problem solving. It’ll help me zone in on one thing. 

Desmond: [The]Smoking weed is a good way to get into the ideation stage, according to me. Then we start to think about ideas. Then when we sober back down, it’s, “Let’s get her done.” We tally up what we’ve explored and then put it to work. But for me, it’s been my lifetime with smoking. It’s always been part of my creative process, and I think for Randy as well.

HT: Please let us know if there are any topics you would like to emphasize for you both, your company and the general area.

Randy: The module system was covered, and we are continuing to develop it. The importance of branding, we can’t talk about that enough. Many clients come to the table. Not that it should, but obviously if someone comes to the table who’s got their branding figured out, it just makes, we know the process is going to be smoother.

Desmond: Not only is this, Canada’s cannabis shops are oversaturated. The government gave us a free hand. Anybody can start a cannabis shop. And we’re seeing many close now.

Desmond: That didn’t pull up their socks to do their work on how to operate a cannabis store, we’re seeing it, right? However, this also showed how crucial brand positioning is to the cannabis industry. Education is important.

Randy: Customer service is a good thing.

Desmond: Education and customer service. You want to walk into a store and you want to talk to somebody that not just knows what they like to smoke, but what’s good for you, for whatever effect you need, be it for health reasons or for recreation. That’s such a key, important factor, we’ve noticed, with the oversaturation of all these different stores here. The ones that are succeeding are… It’s either a price war, if not that, then it’s education, customer service. It’s like once you find your hairstylist, you kind of stick with it, right?