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Sensi Magazine

High Profile: Taking the High Road

Jan 02, 2019 03:00PM
Design is one of those inherently beautiful aspects of living that makes you pay close attention to colors, shapes, textures, functionality, and aesthetics, and as the cannabis industry grows, design has become an integral part of its message. Still, design in the 515 cannabis dispensaries in the United States as of May 2017 (according to STASTISTA.COM) isn’t always as stylistic and engaging as it could be. Imagine if every one of those had the foresight to create spaces that made you feel not just welcome but eased into a space that bellowed finesse and originality. That’s where Megan Stone and Benjamin Schutte come in. Stone is the award-winning founder of High Road Design Studio (HIGHROADSTUDIO.COM), and Schutte creates brand identity for clients they work with and together, they have focused their expertise on designing exceptional dispensaries that encourage positivity and professionalism without compromising the integrity of high-end design. Stone’s uncanny ability to invoke emotion in the spaces she creates make the cannabis experience all-encompassing.

Stone was a cannabis patient who worked in a dispensary in Orange County, where she realized there was a gap in the overall feel of dispensaries. She recognized a need for a more positive and professional retail experience that could also influence how the cannabis industry was perceived. Understanding that the general populace is still grappling with the notion that cannabis isn’t taboo, she found a way to mainstream dispensaries’ look and feel.

“As I explored career options with area design firms, the need for expertise in this niche was reinforced,” Stone explains. “No one was focusing on this type of project work. It became a natural fit for me to pursue this career path as an independent business owner. It was out of necessity for me; it was the best way for me to serve this industry that I so passionately believe in.”

High Road Design Studio has multiple projects in the works in Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and California.

“Cannabis and a legal path to it has completely written the course of my adult life,” Megan Stone says with a smile. “As a patient, it has provided tremendous relief and supported my health and wellness in a way that traditional medicine simply couldn’t. And it has provided me a career path that simply didn’t even exist before. My life partner and I both have strong careers in this space. In fact, this industry brought him to me. In every aspect, personally and professionally, it has positively impacted me.”

Stone and Schutte met at the International Retail Design Conference while she was presenting a project. Schutte had worked for over 10 years in design with prestigious brands like Reebok, Samsung, CVS, Electrolux, and Aramark. When Stone needed a graphic designer who was also a cannabis advocate, she knew Schutte, with his keen eye and knack for innovative brand strategies, was the ideal candidate. After working on multiple projects together, Schutte says, “the stars aligned” and she had the resources to make him a full-time member of the High Road team.

“I’ve always viewed brand strategy and graphic design as a means to help communicate stories visually, a way to draw people in and connect on a personal level,” Schutte says. “As an advocate for the cannabis industry, I jumped at the chance to work with Megan and help create unique, authentic brands that represent the positive benefits and combat the common misconceptions.”

Schutte’s experience in retail design gave him great insight into how people engage with brands, he says, but he never felt passionate about selling power tools or home appliances. “Working in the cannabis industry has given me the incredible opportunity to apply my skill set in design to emerging brands that can shift negative public perceptions and bring about real, positive change.”

Now a force in design, Stone and Schutte have created a niche in the cannabis industry, taking dispensaries to a level that would rival any cutting-edge retail space. They subscribe to the mindset that not only should you be passionate about what you do, but you should also always do your best to understand what your client envisions, how they want to communicate that to their clients, and be contributing to the betterment of the world in the process.

Empowering clients to see the power of design as a modality to increase the bottom line is essential to growth. The duo believes it’s paramount to develop stores that convey the holistic, thoughtful approach to life that cannabis delivers. “From space planning to the materials and finishes that we specify, to the interior brand moments, and the way product is merchandised, we try to infuse the brand story and ethos throughout the store experience,” says Stone .

Though not everyone in the design community took the cannabis industry seriously initially, Stone was adamant from the very beginning about changing perceptions and making cannabis retail design something to be revered. “I have persistently and passionately stayed the course. It was clear to me that design thinking was the proper fix for this industry and the perfect way to educate people about cannabis,” she says. “This industry is full of objective and subjective challenges, and designing safe, compliant, impactful retail spaces has the power to reform people’s perceptions.”

Originally from the Midwest, both Stone and Schutte have an approach that brings happiness to every project they work on together. Through their precision, refinement, and sheer inventiveness, every dispensary they design incorporates a refreshing level of creativity. They love cannabis retail design so much, they’re developing a dispensary of their own in Palm Springs that will be named Royal Highness.

Even when Stone is met with challenges, High Road Design Studio is more than ready to face them. “I really appreciate the guardrails that specific client needs and site challenges put on the design process,” she says. “The best ideas come from the constraints. Creativity is ignited when trying to solve a problem.”

Approaching cannabis retail design with the ideology that you can change minds and break down stereotypical walls society has conditioned itself to, Stone has dedicated herself to changing misconceptions. “I try just to be a good example and leave a positive impression. And more importantly, I try to leave them curious and wanting to ask more questions. It is a win if I can leave them questioning their own beliefs.”

Disruptors in the industry, High Road Design Studio is opening minds, changing perceptions and stigma, and creating dispensaries with warmth and purpose.