SevenPoint Interiors is striking the perfect balance between artistry and production in the cannabis retail space
SevenPoint Interiors, a division of Visual Elements, is the industry leader in shaping the new aesthetic for cannabis retail. Heads Lifestyle met up with Neal Claassen, head of Strategy Business Development to talk about providing fresh experiences and building brand personality and diversity in a quickly evolving industry.
Heads Lifestyle: You got your start in product display with the family business, Schadebo Showcases. Working with family is not always easy but it launched your career. Can you share that story with us?
Neal Claassen: My parents are actually antique art dealers. We moved from Holland to a manor in England when I was ten, and there were no good showcases available in England so my dad started importing them from Holland. When we moved to Canada, we started bringing the same displays here, and when the Canadian dollar was super low in 1990, we started manufacturing them in Toronto. Family business may not be easy, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I have a relationship with my parents that most people would envy.
Back then I was only smoking it and buying it from “a guy” who would pull it from his cowboy boot, just like everyone else.
HL: Could you have ever imagined back in those early days that you’d be part of a firm like SevenPoint Interiors defining the look of the new legal cannabis space?
NC: Back then I was only smoking it and buying it from “a guy” who would pull it from his cowboy boot, just like everyone else. It was a time, of course, when the sale of cannabis was de-criminalized in Holland. I remember going back to see my friends in Amsterdam and we would shop for dinner, go to a store and pair a nice wine, and then go to a coffee shop to pair the weed for desert. I thought it was very civilized. Now we get to enjoy this normalization of cannabis in Canada, but it saddens me that they are moving backwards in Holland. Life is like a pendulum, I suppose.
SevenPoint Interiors head of Strategy and Business Development Neal Claassen at the PAVE design gala in Vegas.
HL: SevenPoint is a division of Visual Elements, which specializes in high-end retail experiences. Making the leap from corporate to cannabis was clearly a brilliant move, but also very gutsy considering its reputation as a bête noire. Did you ever worry about the reaction of your more traditional clients? Did any of your existing clientele object to the new venture?
NC: It was a real eye-opener when years ago the guys from Cannabis Culture invited me to tour their stores in Toronto so I could give them retail help. This was when mid-market retail was getting hit hard and stores were closing everywhere. I saw then the potential of cannabis retail. It was at that precise moment that Visual Elements acquired my whole company (me included) and it didn’t take much convincing to take this sector seriously. Of course, we were worried about what Coach and Nordstrom would say if they saw their store pictures next to those of cannabis stores, so out of respect we created the SevenPoint brand so we could keep it all nicely separated. To be honest, I think most of them still have no idea, but the stigma is quickly fading so I don’t think it will be an issue for much longer. We will keep doing our cannabis business under the SevenPoint brand though, simply because it is so well recognised.
I love the creativity in cannabis retail. Nobody can claim that they have figured it out yet, but at the same time you can see who the smart retailers are.
HL: All things being equal, cannabis is a product like any other. Are there design issues that distinguish cannabis from, say, a Coach bag? What is the greatest challenge to marketing cannabis?
NC: Of course there are, and that can be a really long topic. First of all, a Coach bag is aimed at a specific demographic. You can’t do that in cannabis. If you have a cannabis store, EVERYONE is your customer from college students to retirees and hipsters to soccer moms. With Coach bags, we have had some time to perfect the craft, but cannabis is brand new and constantly changing. You need fresh ideas all the time. What we do know is that a strong education component is necessary for new clients. But for those who know what they like, you need crazy fast response times to process $5000 worth of transactions per hour. I love the creativity in cannabis retail. Nobody can claim that they have figured it out yet, but at the same time you can see who the smart retailers are. Right now, everyone is making money. Even the ones that just throw a counter in a box and put up a sign like a market stall in Marrakesh. (I won’t name names.) It will be in a few years when we approach market saturation that the creative retailers will come out on top.
SevenPoint Interior's Versailles-inspired trade show space.
HL: You have a strong connection to the art world. This was on display in your conference booth at Lift & Co this past summer. Can you tell us about your wall of art?
NC: It’s in my blood. I love building museums. In our show booth, we didn’t want to show a straight up cannabis retail environment. What’s the point? That is a place where we can show off our design-build chops. We actually took an abstract pattern from Versailles and recreated it in laser cut metal. That stuff is just way too cool. Here at VE, we like to say that we strike a perfect balance between artistry and production. A funnier way to say it is Cinderella meets Heavy Metal.
We pepper our clients with questions till we feel we really know who they are and we can reflect their personalities.
HL: SevenPoint has designed some high-profile retail cannabis shops including The Hunny Pot and Spiritleaf. How do you go about creating individual personalities for each dispensary when they’re all selling the same cannabis?
NC: In a word: listening. Many people think that these companies pay us and we create magic, but the truth is that when you hire us we put you to work. We pepper our clients with questions till we feel we really know who they are and we can reflect their personalities. This is really important because a brand without personality is hollow. We also need to ensure there is diversity in this really young industry. From diversity we will learn what works and what does not.
A Spiritleaf Cannabis retail space custom designed by SevenPoint Interiors.
HL: Stoner culture was well established long before legalization with its own aesthetic. How do you bridge the gap between the old pot leaf iconography and the more polished corporate needs of the legal market? Or is there even a demand to respect the roots of the culture?
NC: Stoner culture will always exist, but there is no need to bridge any gaps. Like I said before, now is not the time to segment the market as you have to sell to a wide variety of demographics. Once there are enough stores out there to satisfy demand, you will see some stores go back to stoner culture and they will thereby create a following. Just look at the lessons you can learn from Amsterdam! All I can say is that if you are to open a store in Canada today, don’t scare anyone off.
All I can say is that if you are to open a store in Canada today, don’t scare anyone off.
HL: SevenPoint Interiors has a SM post that states: “An intoxicating blend of wood, glass and steel.” Tell us about the materials you use in your trade and what each one contributes to an overall design?
NC: Like fine food, materials need to work in combination. No material does much by itself. Having said that, the reason we focus on fine metalwork is because it’s the hardest of all the trades. It’s fun to do the things no-one else can. Our principal, John Simmen is one of those guys who can make a Harley from scrap metal and a welding rod. They should make a TV show about him.
Toronto's first legal cannabis retail store, The Hunny Pot Cannabis Co. designed by SevenPoint Interiors.
HL: Do you incorporate hemp into your designs?
NC: Yes, but only as fabrics. It’s crazy that there have been so many restrictions on hemp in the past. It’s a beautiful product and it is exciting to see new hemp products coming to market. It’s still really hard to source in volume.
I love how this is dubbed cannabis 2.0. This industry is changing so fast that we will be at cannabis 57.4 in just 5 years.
HL: The industry is getting excited about the second wave of legalization—edibles! This will open up new categories of products and therefore new display requirements and opportunities. How do you see this new market?
NC: This is only one of many developments. I love how this is dubbed cannabis 2.0. This industry is changing so fast that we will be at cannabis 57.4 in just 5 years. Right now edibles are all to be packaged like everything else, so there won’t be many different display needs, but it does show that stores need to be really flexible to keep up with rapid change.
Everyone is your customer from college students to retirees and hipsters to soccer moms.
HL: You’re a passionate skier and coach. You’ve stated that you joined the family business right out of university instead of skiing for a living. Can you share with us your love of the slopes?
NC: Ha! Yes, I originally graduated from Ski Area Management. I was young and all I wanted to do was ski. I moved to Banff and that life was a lot of fun, but I quickly learned that it is hard to make a serious living in that industry, so I went to university. I was planning to go back afterwards, but here I am. I still coach; and racing with the kids in Ontario can be a blast. It’s not the same as skiing in the Rockies, but the trick is not to compare the two and enjoy what you have.
An old Austrian ski instructor pulled out a bottle of Stroh Rum to ring in the New Year. I had no idea it was 151 proof.
HL: In our experience, nothing makes perfect powder better than a slopeside safety meeting. Any stories to share?
NC: Ah, the famous safety meeting! I can honestly say that I prefer my drinking after skiing, especially if you are pushing the envelope. I do have a great memory from the morning of January 1, 1990 at Mt Norquay. If you have never been there just understand that Norquay redefines steep. An old Austrian ski instructor pulled out a bottle of Stroh Rum to ring in the New Year. I had no idea it was 151 proof. I took three shots like everyone else because it was cold out. By the time I got to the top of the mountain I was a mess. I have no idea how I got down.
A selection of cannabis strains on display at Spiritleaf Cannabis.
HL: Is cannabis just another product category or does it speak to your personal lifestyle?
NC: I have not been terribly passionate about using cannabis since I left Banff. I now prefer using it at home and only to celebrate with friends. The freedom to use cannabis on the other hand is something I am fiercely passionate about. I also think that being in the position that I am makes me responsible for doing everything I can to bring life to this freedom in an elegant and dignified manner. I am also very excited about research and what we will find out about the benefits of cannabis in the future. I’m just perplexed at how a disproportionate amount of research funding is going to investigating the harms of cannabis. I guess we need to be patient.
I think that being in the position that I am makes me responsible for doing everything I can to bring life to this freedom in an elegant and dignified manner.
HL: What does the future hold for SevenPoint Interiors?
NC: We are really fortunate to be so far ahead of the rest of the store building industry in this sector. What we are doing now is investing in research and product development to stay ahead. Much of the exciting stuff is in a patent process right now, but we will do a big unveiling at MJBIZcon in Vegas in December. I guess you will have to come to Vegas to find out.
Lear more about SevenPoint Interiors at: sevenpointinteriors.com
And follow them on Instagram at: @sevenpointinteriors
Also, check out Elleke Claassen Arts & Antiques at: ellekeclaassenantiques.com