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Dispensaries: More Than Just a Retail Outlet

Cannabis dispensaries are sitting on gold mines and this is not in reference to the weed they sell. No. This is in reference to how retail stores and, most importantly, customer facing employees, are treated. In a time in the world where people are growing increasingly upset with not feeling valued resulting in people quitting their jobs in mass quantities because of COVID, it is more important than ever to re-evaluate internal procedures that could help improve employee moral, improve retention, and increase and maintain sales volumes.

As it stands in cannabis now, the norm for the treatment of “budtenders” is that it is an entry level role hardly worthy of $15 an hour if even that much. The industry average is $15 an hour. Depending on the state, budtenders must be adults 18 or 21 years and older. It’s safe to say that they are all adults and that dispensaries are not burger joints providing teenagers with their first jobs. In fact, the knowledge required to be a budtender is very vast and time consuming to learn making it a specialized skill. This deserves more than minimum wage.

Considering the marketing and advertising restrictions that cannabis businesses have, your first point of contact in a retail store representing a brand is a budtender. That now increases the skill level exponentially because budtenders are also brand ambassadors. They are also educators as they to educate people on cannabis consumption. If anything, this is a sacred role considering the roots of the cannabis place in holistic medicine and spirituality. This is not running a drugstore counter. This is providing an educational and health and wellness experience to every single person that walks through the door. And in fact, the budtender, as an evangelist, then has an opportunity to turn customers into brand ambassadors too creating a new marketing channel.

It is becoming increasingly disheartening to see so many cannabis businesses employ models from other industries into this new one. We literally have a “tabula rasa” with cannabis, a blank slate, and with that we can create a model industry that seeks to improve upon more outdated models. In fact, there is already paradigm shift of how business is done in the United States post COVID in how companies seek and retain talent. People had time away from work and realized they were sick of being treated “less than” and wanted more money and more respect. The latter comes in the form of upper mobility and benefits. Employees are a business’ largest asset.

COVID has really highlighted the issue of undervaluing talent and led to a mass exodus of people from their jobs. The industries hit the hardest are restaurants and retail. Why? People found out they had much more value while on their own and some have even started their own businesses. They decided that $15 on hour was not enough for the nonsense they deal with day in and day out. Customer service is extremely challenging and the abuse that retail and restaurant workers receive is bad but when employers don’t value them, it’s compounded leading to high turnover rates. That then translates subpar or bad customer service. Unhappy people don’t want to make other people happy. It’s just common sense. The business of sales is customer satisfaction but you can’t satisfy customers with unhappy employees.

Those starting new businesses will be defining how employees are treated and rewarded based on their own experiences. The result will be existing businesses being forced to be more socially responsible and pay people not only living wages but provide competitive benefits like health insurance and maternity leave for both parents, and more training and upward mobility. These newer business models will present a formidable challenge to existing businesses forcing them to raise the bar in this very area to retain employees and increase sales.

The era of greed at the top is coming to an end. It’s possible to pay $15 an hour, provide health insurance, and upward mobility. If China Express can do it at less than $10 a plate and become a billion dollar enterprise starting from a location in a California mall, a dispensary can certainly learn to value their employees more and see an increase in employee morale and an increase in revenue. People buy from happy people. Cannabis is in the unique position to drive this conversation forward and lead in the area of customer service via employee satisfaction and even happiness changing the role of front facing retail into more than product pushing and into an experience that drives more customer satisfaction and revenue growth.

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