Prairie Records Dispensary Chain: Hitting the High Notes

PrairieRecords working 002 web mg magazine
PrairieRecords working 002 web mg magazine

Prairie Records provides an experience unlike anything else in retail cannabis. The flagship store in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan—one of three in a chain—revels in the dynamic relationship between cannabis and music, mixing an atmosphere of sophisticated modernity with elements of a jazzy basement. The “Top Hits” wall shows off featured cannabis products, and listening booths offer playlists curated to match strains.

“One of the biggest competitive differentiators for Prairie Records is its aesthetic,” said Adam Coates, a former Labatt Breweries executive who now serves as chief commercial officer for Prairie Records parent company Westleaf Inc. “By using records, we can provide customers with something tangible to hold in their hands, allowing the in-store shopping experience to be much more engaging and approachable. We’re passionate about educating our customers and sparking curiosity. Education through music is a way to connect, after all. Most people know music better than they know cannabis.”

Prairie records register
The chandeliers over the checkout add a dynamic feminine element.

The store is designed for a holistic, immersive, and engaging sensory experience from entry to exit. Rows upon rows of wooden shelves house vinyl records organized into genres. However, where consumers normally might find a track list on a record jacket, there resides information about a strain, format, THC and/or CBD levels, and the type of music with which the product pairs well. Once consumers have chosen their “record,” they’re free to explore a deeper experience. The process is both familiar and innovative.

“Education through music is a way to connect. Most people know music better than they know cannabis.” —Adam Coates, CCO, Westleaf Inc.

For the store itself, the process was somewhat more complex. Strict Canadian regulations forbid most marketing, making building powerful product brands extremely difficult. Westleaf cleverly bypassed the issue by developing strong consumer loyalty to the store, not a product. “Everyone has a relationship with music, so this creates a strong connection among customers,” Coates said. “The great thing about music is there’s a different time and place for different genres. As you go through your day, you go through different moods and songs on your playlist, and we believe cannabis and its related products carry a similar notion. Marrying music and cannabis in our retail environment is a great way to truly build a distinctive customer experience.”

display for strain and music pairings
“Record jackets” contain strain information and suggested music pairings.

The design
Westleaf turned to renowned design firm KLD Interiors, known for custom upholstery, bold paint choices, art, and dynamic space planning. The first thing designer Kimberly Dyck commissioned was jazzy wall murals. But she didn’t stop there. “For the flagship Saskatoon location, we wanted to elevate the design with something more edgy and trendy,” she said. “We collaborated with our design team and had them select music posters that would be reflective of the audience’s demographics. Keeping in mind Prairie Records’ retail concept is rooted in celebrating the relationship between music and cannabis, we wanted to add art that would not only be fun and visually striking, but also relatable for their clientele. The posters are sourced from local vinyl stores.”

prairie display case

Next, she turned to color. A lusty mix of dark mocha browns and lighter tobacco shades creates a sense of smoky elegance. The bold vinyl-black industrial brick walls echo a groovy basement feel. Dyck said colors have a big impact on people’s emotions. “The design team carefully selected dark, moody colors with subtle texture to create a very calm, chill, relaxed vibe throughout the store,” she said. “The ‘Top Hits’ wall was designed as a high-impact feature wall. The textured sound-panel wall was created to buffer the store noise, as well as provide a visually pleasing backdrop to the stunning custom metal rings, which feature some of the top cannabis selections.”

As you go through your day, you go through different moods and songs on your playlist, and we believe cannabis and its related products carry a similar notion.” —Adam Coates, CCO, Westleaf Inc.

Sharp leather chairs are placed strategically. “Adding a layer of warm, colorful texture not only softens the space but also adds another level of interest and a tactile feature,” Dyck said. To tie all the details together, she utilized modern hanging ceiling lights that create moody, back-lit auroras. “These lights are so fun,” she remarked. The chandeliers over the checkout add a dynamic feminine element, their curves and gold finish softening the space’s masculine features. “Not only do these funky fixtures provide much-needed lighting over the counter for employees and customers, but they also bring a new dimension of texture,” she said. To balance the brooding walls, wood floors reflect a splashy peanut butter hue.

Vinyl album shelves

How to package the intense, yet inviting, interior within an equally inviting exterior perplexed the team. In the end, they selected a rich charcoal paint finish to complement the brand image. The channel letter neon signage was inspired by the Palace Theatre—a musical landmark located in the heart of Calgary, Alberta. “The signage is both an homage to Prairie Records and Westleaf’s hometown of Calgary, as well as a tribute to a building that has deeply shaped Calgary’s music scene,” Dyck said.

prairie records display case
Dark, moody colors and subtle textures create a distinctive vibe.

Business has been strong (“better than expected”) and word of mouth great, according to Coates. “Since the start of the year, we’ve launched three retail locations in Saskatchewan, as well as our e-commerce site to serve the province,” he said. “Our retail strategy includes opening more than thirty stores across Western Canada by the end of 2020. Our goal is to be a leader in cannabis retail, and our journey is truly just beginning.”