After a decade of finding their feet amidst intense brand competition and strict regulatory oversight, Michigan’s dispensaries are beginning to see a return to the familiar: forging wellness-centric community connections that center on the plant and its benefits. During the legal market’s infancy, some opportunistic brands prioritized revenue at the expense of developing community, but today’s licensed operators are more in tune with the movement’s origins and are focused on building hyper-local relationships.
Flora is among the leaders in the effort. With a choose-your-own-adventure retail journey gently guided by budtenders the store calls “florists,” a next-door coffee shop and cafe that inspires visitors to stay for a while, and neighborhood input through every step of the design and development process, Flora considers itself a dispensary for the people of East Lansing by the people of East Lansing. It’s a place where seasoned consumers and first-timers come together to explore new products, learn about the plant, and settle into a community of like-minded partakers who prefer to shop locally.
Founder Thadd Gormas and Director Ahvi Aungst intended from the beginning to create a space that fit East Lansing’s legacy atmosphere. As one of the denser Michigan regions when it comes to industry representation, Flora faced a healthy amount of competition.
“There’s been a lot of consolidation in the Michigan market recently,” Gormas said. “We’re seeing a lot of local brands buying up smaller shops and then conforming to a more streamlined approach. We didn’t see that happening in this community, so we decided to stay aligned with a vision that focuses on art and culture as we try to define a space that captures our love and passion for cannabis.”
Gormas, Aungst, and their team asked themselves, “How do we bring cannabis and artists together?” The answer, they decided, was to make the location approachable enough to feel like a community gathering place. Instead of a storefront-only approach, the Flora team developed a whole plaza of related businsses, including a dispensary with a drive-thru lane. The result reflects relaxed creativity that inspires locals and visitors alike to come in and take a load off.
“We’ve put years into building this experience, asking the community what they needed to feel at home,” Aungst said. “Flora is really tailored to that feedback. Every person who comes into our store feels like they’re part of a community, and that’s exactly how they’re welcomed by us.
“I think that’s why Flora has been embraced by the neighborhood,” she continued. “It’s been a great place for people to learn about new ways to use cannabis and feel comfortable asking those questions that go beyond the standard indica versus sativa. At the end of the day, our mantra needs to stand true: Relax, energize, clarity, and balance. We aim to make it easy for consumers to pick a vibe that is right for their next adventure.”
The location opened on 4/20 last year with an all-day party complete with popular Detroit DJs. Consumers were invited to check out the goddess-themed space as they perused products from local boutique brands, participated in education and networking opportunities, and learned more about the store.
“Flora is really focused on being a place where you can come in and safely ask questions,” Aungst said. “We make sure every person who walks in is having a meaningful interaction with one of our florists, and we make sure to create unique experiences that help people figure out what they’re looking for.”
A journey through Flora is an interaction-heavy experience. The team offers consumers educational games that may result in special perks, the drive-thru features an exclusive menu, and local vendors and brands regularly collaborate with the shop to provide deals, discounts, and resources.
“Our experiences and adventures are big hits,” Gormas said. “It’s a fun way for people to get to know new products, and it hits to the core of our approach: being a safe space for everyone who is part of the community, whether or not you have previous cannabis experience.
“The drive-thru is another example of how we listen to our community,” he continued. “We spent three years in discussion before we started building, and even after that, we kept listening. Opening post-pandemic, we realized a lot of people still weren’t ready to get out of their car and go inside. So to meet them where they were, we tore out some concrete, ripped a hole in the side of the building, and took a whole new approach. Now, consumers are able to drive up to a screen, talk to a person, and look through a streamlined menu of our products.”
Flora has seen 25 percent of its consumers opt for the drive-thru over walking into the store, and the team expects the number to grow. Thankfully, this projected growth was factored into the design by SevenPoint Interiors when the design-build firm took on the project.
“When we met with the Flora team for the first time, we quickly realized they wanted the store to be an immersive experience for consumers,” said Desmond Chan, creative director at SevenPoint Interiors. “They wanted people to be able to visit the coffee shop and cafe, take advantage of the drive-thru, and have a clear view into the team’s grow space, which is next door to the dispensary.
“We installed large windows so consumers can enjoy transparency into the operations side of things, some fun floral installations, dreamy wallpaper, and modular waiting areas,” he continued. “We wanted to create this cheeky, disruptive, countercultural influence. The customer journey is super-important, so we installed express checkout stations for quick orders and made sure the drive-thru was built in the right location to be able to service the front-of-house, receive deliveries from the back, and service the drive-thru seamlessly.”
Not only was SevenPoint Interiors thorough when considering the customer journey, but the team also played a major role in defining Flora’s atmosphere and providing the dispensary with the branding that has helped cement the store as an East Lansing staple.
“When we signed on with Flora, we learned the meaning behind the brand’s name: the goddess of flowers,” said SevenPoint Head of Design Randy Simmen. “That immediately painted a really nice picture for us to get started. We leaned into flower as a means to empower women with beauty, harmony, and trust.”
Based on directions from the Flora team, Simmen and Chan selected brand colors, materials, and an overall aesthetic that resulted in a thorough mood board for the dispensary’s team to consider.
“Their color references were pretty solid,” Simmen said. “They knew they wanted earthy tones like terracotta, sage, turmeric, and dark evergreen. They were also pretty clear on what didn’t inspire them. They didn’t want to be ultra-modern—no sharp edges or dark atmospheres. They wanted to create an elevated experience centering on this concept of flower as goddess.”
The collaboration was a success, and the designs were a tangible answer to the East Lansing community’s requests.
“From day one, we knew SevenPoint had vast experience and we’d learn a lot from them,” Gormas said. “We visited another store they’d designed and one of our partners said, ‘We don’t really like that store, so why would we want to go with this team?’ Another partner responded, ‘Because they designed exactly what those owners wanted.’ That was our ‘Aha!’ moment. We saw [SevenPoint wasn’t] trying to push us in any direction. They were trying to understand what makes us unique, which is exactly how we approached our community in the first place.”
The Flora team plans to keep listening to their neighbors when it comes to additions to their space. They’re in the process of creating a yoga event that will help people understand how to access a more balanced lifestyle beyond buying cannabis. They’ve also been inviting more local artists to exhibit in the store. But the team makes sure to keep one goal at the top of their minds.
“No matter what direction we go in, we always want to stay true to our roots,” Aungst said. “A memorable moment for me was when a customer came in who wasn’t used to consuming THC. Our florists provided additional options to meet their needs without THC, and [the customer] followed up by sending us a handwritten note saying, ‘I thought I was broken for life, and this has helped me heal.’ I consider that a major testament to what we’re doing, what we want to continue doing, and who we want to be to our community.”