As more states legalize medical and adult-use cannabis, more patients and customers are visiting dispensaries for their first time. Is your staff prepared to help them have the best experience possible when they walk in the door?
California-based theWEED—Wellness Earth Energy Dispensary—has worked to continuously improve its budtender training and ready them for first timers, says General Manager Stewart Stinson. The company launched in 2006 and was acquired by its current ownership in 2016.
Here, Stinson offers advice on how to ensure the budtenders at your dispensary are prepared to help new medical patients and adult-use customers have the best experience possible during their first visit.
1. Hire the right people for the job.
theWEED looks for budtenders with an aspiration to eventually become an assistant manager or inventory manager, not someone who is just looking for a temporary, part-time job, Stinson says.
Ideal candidates are also able to get a read on the customer and adapt to his or her mood, he adds. “They’re both introverts and extroverts and sort of chameleon to what the patient or customer is giving off that day,” he says. “There are people like tourists who come in and they’re super excited to see everything and you have to give that back to them, but there are also people who are struggling with cancer or Parkinson’s or fibromyalgia, or any of those really tough things.”
theWEED has a two-step interview process. Candidates take a test for baseline knowledge and math skills, and then they speak with a manager so the two can get to know each other and see if the candidate is a good culture fit for the shop. Although a college education is not required, it is preferential, Stinson says.
2. Set the foundation with good training and ongoing education.
theWEED’s initial training for budtenders lasts 90 days and is always ongoing as new products are developed, Stinson says.
“The first 90 days that we bring a budtender on, it’s a fairly stringent training program, not only for the shop but mainly to build up their knowledge base,” he says.
Budtenders usually spend their first 30 days cleaning and getting a feel for the shop and its customers, Stinson says. The company provides educational packets to its employees that describe the chemical properties of CBD, for example, and there is a budtender training manual that all budtenders are required to read and sign. There are also periodic quizzes, where a manager will ask questions such as, “What is the maximum amount we can sell a new adult-use customer in terms of concentrate or edibles?”
Between the first 30 and 60 days, new budtenders shadow senior budtenders, and after 60 days, they are on the sales floor, still training under a more seasoned employee, but learning hands-on how to talk to customers and cashier.
The dispensary carries more than 2,000 products and more than 200 brands that new hires need to familiarize themselves with. In addition, if a new employee has no prior cannabis experience, they need to learn how to talk to customers about everything from the basics—the definitions of flower, vape pens and edibles, for example—to more intricate details about identifying strains and the crosses of each flower, as well as detailed information about each product.
“We provide a staff gram for every full shift that they work, which is an added bonus for a budtender at our shop,” Stinson says. “We really want them to understand the products that they’re selling more so than just trying to sell something.”
Budtenders are expected to build a relationship with customers to find out what product is best for them, and they are discouraged from pushing products that are on sale simply to get rid of them, he says.
3. Let the customer lead the way.
When first-time customers enter the dispensary from the lobby, the receptionist makes sure that the budtender knows it is their first time. All the nearby budtenders greet the new customer, and the budtender working with him or her determines whether the customer is in a hurry and wants a brief rundown of the shop or if the customer wants to spend more time at the dispensary and wants a full tour.
The full tour begins at the front of the store and goes through each one of the products, with the budtender pointing out some of his or her favorite products along the way. During the tour, the customer will often give the budtender some idea of what he or she is looking for, and the budtender will lead the customer to that section and assist in choosing the right product by asking a series of questions, such as, “Do you want a CBD or THC product? How are you looking to feel? Is it something you’d like to use to go to sleep? Is this something to treat cancer? Is this something to alleviate anxiety?”
“The customer should lead us down that path, and we can point them to either our favorite products or something that we know other customers have used based on the knowledge base that we’ve built,” Stinson says.
There are regulations that the budtenders need to be aware of, as well, such as limits on the maximum amount of product a customer can purchase.
“The medical patient tends to be a little bit more knowledgeable just because they’ve been using it for six or seven years,” Stinson adds. “It’s not that the recreational customers aren’t knowledgeable—they just don’t know what they don’t know yet.”
4. Anticipate the frequently asked questions.
Oftentimes, if customers have never used cannabis, they have questions about the differences between indica, sativa and hybrid phenotypes and how each will affect them. New customers will also often ask how much of a particular edible they should eat. “And we always recommend [that] it’s always easier to take more, but it’s not very easy to take any back,” Stinson says. “So, start slow, take two hours. It’s going to be a new product to your body. Some people digest it faster than others, it gets into the bloodstream faster than others, so really take your time.”
Another common question, he adds, is whether a product will make the customer smell like marijuana. “A lot of the customers, they don’t want to smell,” he says. “The flower does have a certain pungent smell to it, especially some versus others, so they’re like, ‘I want to get something where I can participate, but I don’t want to be worried about going to work the next day and smelling or putting it in my car and I get pulled over,’ or something like that. So, then you’re pointing them in the direction of vape cartridges or edibles, tinctures, things like that—they don’t smell.”
5. Make the customers comfortable.
Visiting a dispensary for the first time can be overwhelming, so Stinson recommends that budtenders make the customer feel as comfortable as possible by educating them about their options without overwhelming them with too many choices. “I say to my budtenders or other shops that I talk to, ‘Hey, dial in what they’re looking for and then don’t overwhelm them with this option and this option and this option,’” he says. “Just say, ‘These are my favorite products, [and] this is why they’re my favorite products. If you like gummies, I like this brand because of value or the feel that it gives me,’ or whatever it is.”
Pointing a new customer in the direction of a best-selling product is often a good choice, he adds. “People always like to go with the crowd, so that’s an easy way to make them more comfortable, and always make them comfortable.”
If customers are not comfortable answering questions, then budtenders shouldn’t force them, Stinson says. “Don’t push them. At the end of the day, it’s about them and them having a good experience, so … we … have [knowledge] available if they want it, [and] we’re here to answer the questions.”
Budtenders should be available to answer customers’ questions if they have them, he adds. “I’d rather be asked the questions than try to pick your brain and you’re not very responsive,” he says. “Feel free to come in with 100 questions or exactly what you want, and we’ll try to accommodate.”
theWEED provides water for its customers and adorns the dispensary with artwork to make a trip to the dispensary more of an experience, Stinson adds. “We try to make it more of an experience than just going to your local store, going to a 7/11.”
Photos by Jelly Creative