In our home state of Maryland, the Medical Cannabis program is finally rolling out. Patient registration is now open and in just three weeks, nearly 5,000 Marylanders have signed up. To serve these patients, 102 dispensaries were awarded Stage One license pre-approvals this past December.

With several dispensaries opening in a small state, the need to differentiate will be imperative. Those who develop smart strategy and sophisticated design to communicate their brand will have a much-needed competitive edge. A good dispensary doesn’t sell products, but provides a thoughtful patient experience. The location and physical space of the dispensary is a crucial part of the entire branded experience. Aside from adhering to all the necessary zoning requirements and regulations, dispensary owners should consider the following when scoping out potential locations and beginning buildouts for their business:

Is the location convenient for my target audience?

Who are the people potentially visiting my dispensary? You might immediately consider “anyone who consumes cannabis,” but this is a broad audience. With over 100 dispensaries to choose from in the state of Maryland (and at least one other competitor in each district), it’s important to hone in on your specific target audience.

Determining the neighborhood demographic information is always a start, but you must dig deeper than data and statistics. When scoping out your location, think (and act) like a patient. Where do your patients live and work? How do they spend their weekends? Where do they shop? Which restaurants or grocery stores do they frequent? What other brands target them? Empathizing with your customer and imagining a “day in the life” will help you find a location that fits into their daily routine and is most convenient for your customer.

What does the exterior building look like?

The exterior and interior of your dispensary are immediate reflections of your brand and set the stage for the customer experience. Every customer touch point matters, especially the physical surroundings. Your brand identity must be consistent through all aspects of your company, so the best way to ensure this is by starting from the outside in.

Are you laid-back and affordable, or sophisticated and high end? If the latter, your target audience might be confused when they arrive at a strip mall storefront. If possible, make sure your exterior aligns with the brand If you want your dispensary to be known as modern and cutting edge, an industrial building fits in with those descriptors.

Considering your target audience, you’ll want to think about other aspects of convenience, such as an area with lots of walking traffic or parking lots. Do you plan to cater to city millennial used to walking or biking, or suburbanites that are used to having ample parking spaces when they run their errands? Depending on your chosen location, the amount of parking close to your building might be an important factor, especially for patients with ailments that make it difficult to walk or use stairs.

Does the interior décor match the brand?

For many dispensary owners, the interior design plans gets put on the back burner, especially if you’ve gone over budget with prior projects. As you develop your brand strategy, it’s wise to include anyone who plays a part in designing your brand: graphic designer, architects, interior designers, etc. These important professionals will help to efficiently and effectively portray your brand.

If you portray your dispensary as lively and innovative, then your dispensary space must exude that personality, whether it is through the furniture style, paint colors, artwork or lighting fixtures. Apple is a great example of a company that incorporates their brand essence into their physical space. We all know their phones and computers are sleek, clean, minimal and have the distinctive white, silver and black finishes. When you walk into the Apple store, all of the brand's design elements are immediately recognizable in the physical space. Anyone that owns an Apple product would be able to realize they were standing in an Apple store, even without signs or logos.

“Location, location, location.” You’ve probably heard a realtor mutter the phrase once or twice. Simply put, you can buy a perfect home or business in the wrong location — no matter how much you spend on remodeling or decorating, it can’t be moved to another area. Only after you pinpoint the perfect location for your dispensary can you start to implement your brand identity into the physical space and interior.