Being an entrepreneur certainly has its perks. For one, it occasionally allows you the opportunity to creatively align your interests together into one business. For Neil Demers, the CEO of the Colorado-based dispensary Diego Pellicer, this meant that his shared passion for cannabis and the arts could combine to bring two communities together at the company’s Denver location.
By taking an artistic approach to the design and business model of the dispensary, Demers was able to move away from stereotypical visions of what a cannabis retailer might look like and include in its product offering.
“We found that customers are asking for a more comfortable and familiar shopping experience,” Demers says. He wanted to stand out by making Diego Pellicer an inviting and engaging place, and offer other ancillary purchase opportunities that spanned beyond clothing and accessories.
Commissioning an Artist, and Much More
Diego Pellicer is in a middle- to lower-class area of Denver, and buildings frequently fall victim to graffiti. Before its opening in February 2017, Diego Pellicer’s building boasted a massive wall on one of its sides, which made it vulnerable for tagging. Demers came up with a proactive idea to utilize the space creatively, but he needed a little help.
He approached Forrest Morrison—a self-taught, interdisciplinary artist specializing in public and studio arts, and owner of Satellite Exhibition Services—to commission a mural in May 2017. “It was initially a solutions-driven program. But then the conversation evolved [in]to how we could engage the cannabis community with the art world—and the community at large—to create a stewardship that would embrace the company’s vision, and not deface it,” Morrison says.
That consultative process was crucial to the product. Morrison completed four sketches of the mural before painting began. The final piece, which was inspired by Spanish architecture, mysticism and art nouveau artists like John Williams Waterhouse—depicts a woman cloaked in white, confidently poised in front of a stained-glass window as a bull approaches her. “Hiring an artist is a lot like hiring any other contractor,” Morrison says. “Before you start asking for proposals, you need to know what you would like the artwork to accomplish. These types of conversation will really inform [you about] what type of artist you are looking for.”
Demers noted to Morrison that he wanted the mural to complement the dispensary’s branding without being a direct extension of it. As a result, Morrison created the mural to act as a counterpoint to Diego Pellicer’s fairly masculine branding.
The Big Reveal
Demers hoped to have a modest mural unveiling that would draw a variety of community members to the space. But Morrison took the reveal to the next level, leaning on his deep involvement with the local art industry, and turned the unveiling into a full-fledged art exhibition. He expanded the scope of the event to include commissioned art, 10 craft vendors, a food truck, a smoking truck and a DJ. And Demers secured famous glass maker Dale Chihuly’s piece, Nordic Blue Macchia, to showcase the beauty and the creativity of glass blowing.
A variety of tactics were used to market and promote the event, including traditional print advertisements, email blasts, digital ads, social media and member promotions through Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe (ADSF). Participating artists, including Nick Russo, Michael J. Dowling and Peter Yumi, also took part by marketing through their own channels, resulting in a significantly expanded network that Demers didn’t originally have access to before the Art and Glass event.
The event took place on Labor Day (Sept. 1) 2017, and more than 500 people attended. To ensure that the evening ran seamlessly, Demers had roughly 35 employees (a typical evening usually includes seven) on hand in a variety of roles. Some employees focused on video, photography and social media, while others managed the parking lot, assisted vendors, gave tours and helped with security and sales.
Overall, Demers found that the benefits were worth the extra time, energy and dollars put into the unveiling. “We found a lot of positive results from making this investment,” he says.
For example, Demers established consignment arrangements with some of the top glass makers in Colorado, and it’s also improved his bottom line. “Since the event, our sales have gone up, and we’ve demonstrated the art and cannabis community work very well together.”
For dispensaries considering launching an art event, Demers says that the best way to begin is through building connections with the local art community, investing in quality artwork and allocating enough time for both the planning and execution.
“Hiring an artist is a lot like hiring any other contractor. Before you start asking for proposals, you need to know what you would like the art work to accomplish. These types of conversation will really inform [you about] what type of artist you are looking for.” Forrest Morrison, artist and owner, Satellite Exhibition Services
On Valentine’s Day 2018, Diego Pellicer–Colorado will be celebrating its one-year anniversary. The dispensary will hand out roses to the first 200 women who enter the store, and will highlight in-store promotions on chocolates, massage oils and topicals. In addition, Demers is hoping to have the local artists whose works are displayed in the dispensary on-site for a meet-and-greet, in another attempt to connect his dispensary and clientele with the local community.