In a largely male-dominated industry, Mara Stusser and her team set out to create a female-forward, welcoming cannabis dispensary in Los Angeles aptly called CALMA, which is an Italian feminine noun that means “tranquility” or “calmness.”
The 3,250-square-foot dispensary opened July 21, and Stusser had to get creative with her marketing efforts.
“Trying to open a new business during COVID is especially hard,” she tells Cannabis Dispensary. “It was a challenge on its own to figure out how to get the word out. You’re also challenged with marketing when it comes to cannabis, so we really put a lot of faith in … spreading the word in our community and the West Hollywood area to start, inviting neighbors over, having friends and family come. They were all so extremely supportive, so that helped us in getting a lot of people here in the last four weeks.”
The store’s design incorporates elements of its name, evoking a sense of tranquility with pastel colors and marble details. The dispensary also features a large LED video wall that displays calming images, including ocean waves, waterfalls and forests.
“We wanted to create a space [where] … other women, as well as all cannabis consumers, felt comfortable to come in and shop,” Stusser says. “Oftentimes, you walk into a store and it’s kind of intense, and you just want to get in and out. We wanted to make sure the space was very welcoming and felt like a second home for cannabis consumers.”
The CALMA team wanted to create an inclusive space for not only female customers, but also for its female employees.
“We know … the cannabis space … [lacks] a lot of women leaders, so we decided we wanted the shop to be run by all women,” Stusser says. “We work very hard to empower the other women that we hire to offer them growth and advancement in the industry.”
CALMA’s store manager, who has a robust science education and used cannabis as a remedy in her own personal health journey, leads the dispensary’s education program and authored a staff training manual to educate budtenders on terpenes, cannabinoids and other aspects of the plant.
Employees are also encouraged to try the products in the store, so they have their own opinions on the items when discussing them with customers. CALMA also invites vendors in to educate the staff on their brands and products.
“We do spend a lot of time making sure the staff understands all the products in the store and that they’re able to pass that education along to our customers, as well,” Stusser says.
CALMA carries a wide selection of products, including flower, pre-rolls, edibles, infused beverages, tinctures, bath bombs, oils and concentrates.
“We really took time to meet with as many vendors as we could,” Stusser says. “It’s hard to meet with all of them, but … we’ve got a schedule with all the vendors and we meet with them, test their products, see which ones our staff really support, and those are the ones we do business with. We curated our store as a team, based on what we like and what we know are really good products.”
The dispensary has a cannabis delivery license, which allows it to offer home delivery to its customers, which has been particularly helpful during the pandemic. CALMA also offers in-store and curbside pickup, but Stusser says many customers have wanted to shop in-person to check out the new space.
This has led CALMA to take extra precautions inside its store to keep staff and customers safe. Hand sanitizer bottles are positioned on every table, including the reception desk for use when customers first check in. The dispensary’s staff wears masks and gloves during their entire shift, and they clean surfaces roughly every hour.
Navigating the age of social distancing is new to every business and consumer, Stusser says, and like other businesses, CALMA is doing its best to learn how to operate during the new normal.
“I think we’re going to be able to make it work,” she says. “It’s manageable, but it adds on a couple extra steps.”
As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, CALMA aims to evolve with it, Stusser says, adding that one day, she hopes shopping at a dispensary feels just as normal as going to the grocery store.
“We don’t want you to feel like you’re doing something wrong by coming in here,” she says. “It’s just so important to change that narrative around cannabis, so we’re trying to make it warm and welcome, and our staff is knowledgeable and friendly.”
In the future, CALMA wants to expand, and Stusser says the goal is to open a second store within the next two years. The company’s mission, she adds, will remain the same: to empower women, change the narrative around cannabis and offer a variety of products at affordable price points.
“We wanted to create a space that’s not only welcoming, but also affordable,” Stusser says. “We’re in a pandemic and a lot of people don’t have jobs, and paying $90 for one eighth of weed can really kill you. We really wanted to build a space where, again, people feel comfortable and they can come in and buy affordable cannabis products. We want to keep that going in all our stores and really build a brand."