5 Tips for a Successful Drive-Thru Dispensary
Photo by Chad Brath

5 Tips for a Successful Drive-Thru Dispensary

Harborside’s retail manager, Pedro Fonseca, reflects on what works best for the company’s new drive-thru dispensary in Desert Hot Springs, Calif.

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January 9, 2020

Harborside, a California-based, vertically integrated cannabis operator, announced last month the grand opening of its newest dispensary in Desert Hot Springs, which features the first drive-thru dispensary service in Southern California.

The 4,800-square-foot medical and adult-use dispensary is Harborside’s fourth retail location in California, and Pedro Fonseca, the company’s retail manager, hopes the drive-thru service will not only offer convenience, but also help to normalize cannabis.

Harborside welcomed local officials and celebrity guests to its public grand opening celebration Dec. 7, and so far, the community has wholeheartedly embraced the drive-thru, Fonseca says.

“People have loved the convenience,” he tells Cannabis Dispensary. “Right now, it’s not as hot as it gets. I believe last year, in the summer, it was an all-time record high of 125 degrees. So, I think once we start getting into that weather, they’re going to extremely appreciate it because of the simple fact that they … can stay in their car, drive through [and] order products.”

Photos by Chad Brath
Harborside's 4,800-square-foot dispensary in Desert Hot Springs is the company's fourth retail location in California, and serves both medical and adult-use customers.

The dispensary’s drive-thru has two windows, one where customers can place their orders and another where they can pay and pickup their products.

Harborside offers a discount for patients with a state-issued medical cannabis card, and the service has already seen repeat customers, Fonseca says, although customers are usually more inclined to come inside the dispensary upon their first visit.

“Buying cannabis is just like any other thing—it’s a trust factor,” he says. “They want to trust what they’re getting, so they come in first, they check things out, and then we find that they just go to the convenience factor of the drive-thru … and they become our repeat customers.”

The biggest challenge, Fonseca says, is that Harborside’s drive-thru dispensary is only the second of its kind in the state and is located in a completely different market than the first retailer that implemented a drive-thru model.

“Because we’ve always been used to roadblocks or obstacles, we’re really good at moving them aside and figuring out how to rework things and moving forward,” Fonseca says. “It was just the unknown. I think the scariest part was not knowing, what do we expect? What’s going to happen? How’s this going to work?”

A little bit of research into market trends and customer demand has helped Harborside find its footing, however.

“It just flowed, and the team has done an amazing job being out there,” Fonseca says. “They have done a phenomenal job … servicing the community.”

Here, Fonseca shares some lessons learned and offers his top advice for other dispensaries looking to launch or optimize a drive-thru service.

RELATED: 15 Tips for Drive-Thru Dispensing

1. Rely on knowledgeable employees.

Some of Harborside’s drive-thru success can be attributed to its knowledgeable staff, Fonseca says. Employees consult with customers at the drive thru as they would inside the dispensary to understand what they want and need from a cannabis product before making recommendations.

“What are they looking for? What are they used to having?” Fonseca says. “We do all that, which in a sense, is just in the drive-thru with them in their car versus in the store. We wanted to make sure that we were giving the best experience possible, whether it’s in the store or in the drive-thru.”

2. Use a streamlined menu.

In order to keep the line moving while still giving employees adequate time to consult with each customer, Harborside opted for a limited, drive-thru-only menu to cut down on the time customers spend deciding on products.

“[In the drive-thru,] people [may] not [have] as much patience as they would if they knew they had to get out of their vehicles,” Fonseca says. “So, what we ended up doing was a more streamlined menu for efficiency purposes. … We have a menu that’s about 12 items, and it’s more just grab and go, but you’ll have a variety of your top-selling or most-looked-for flower, topicals, cartridges and edibles. We limited it because we figured that [if] you give customers too many options, they’re going to be tied up making decisions.”

Harborside has modified the drive-thru menu a few times already since its inception, replacing low-performing products with other options. The dispensary also plans to reevaluate the menu when festivals, such as Coachella, come to town, in order to better attract tourists.

“[We’ll have a menu] that’s more focused on the festival goers than maybe the day-to-day customer, … or maybe we’ll have two menus—one for festival goers and one for the local customers who are always there,” Fonseca says.

Harborside's sign is visible from a nearby highway.
3. Identify top-selling products and make them available at the drive-thru.

Harborside used some level of sales analysis to curate its limited drive-thru menu, Fonseca says, offering only the highest quality and best-selling items.

“We went through and looked at what our movement was in our other facilities,” he says. “[We looked at which products were offered] at other cannabis dispensaries in the area, and looked at what people [were] selling and … the consistency of [the] product … in-house.”

Harborside also consulted with vendors to learn how certain products were selling in the market, he adds.

4. Find and maintain a great workflow process.

A streamlined workflow process has also been critical to Harborside’s drive-thru success, Fonseca says.

Once the dispensary’s top-selling products were identified and added to the drive-thru menu, Harborside staff placed the items in a secure area near the drive-thru and worked from those racks, rather than leaving the drive-thru to grab the items from the regular sales floor.

“[We worked to] streamline our menu, streamline our inventory process and practices, and [made] sure the items are within an arm’s grasp,” Fonseca says.

5. Implement robust security measures.

Harborside’s drive-thru operates under the same regulations as a traditional dispensary, Fonseca says, but the company has been more diligent about security measures in the drive-thru.

The facility is set up like an old-style bank drive-thru with bulletproof glass and a door that opens to give the customers their products, as opposed to a fast food drive-thru set up, where an employee hands customers products through an open window.

“We just took more of a safety precaution, for … the customer and obviously the dispensary employees,” Fonseca says.