Every other Friday, in the weeks when Velvet isn’t providing its employees their bi-weekly pay, the Martinez, Calif., dispensary provides them with samples of new products to try out before they start selling them.
“We like to say that we’re not a sales organization—we’re an organization of ‘consultationists,’” says company President and Chief Operating Officer Matt Morea. “It’s our job to listen, to ask follow-up questions and be able to make … recommendations on products in different categories that might be a bit more to that consumer’s needs. If you haven’t experienced it and you’re not aware of the taste, the smell, the effect, the onset time, it’s really difficult to effectively make recommendations.”
Velvet's dispensary in Martinez, Calif.
Photo by Justin Bowers
Handing out these product samples to employees not only helps Velvet, No. 2 on Cannabis Dispensary’s 2021 Best Cannabis Companies to Work For – Dispensaries list. It represents one way the company is dedicated to offering an inviting and supportive company culture for its majority-women team and, in turn, doing the same for its patients and customers.
“You never know what culture’s going to be like until you put a bunch of people into a building,” says Velvet Chairman and CEO Farid Harrison. “We put a lot of time and energy into making that right and making sure everybody gets along. I think we really view that as a top-down process, so we’re very involved, we’re very available for our team.”
Velvet circulates a monthly employee newsletter that Morea says recognizes various aspects of employees’ work and lives: hiring and promotional announcements, birthdays, anniversaries and times when staff have worked well together and received positive reviews from patients and customers. (The newsletter also shares information about company performance milestones, products entering the inventory and new marketing initiatives.)
Out of Velvet’s 46 employees, roughly 63% are women. “From a leadership standpoint, we created six internal positions or promotions [in 2020],” Morea says. “Five out of those six … have gone to qualifying females on the team.” The company announced three more promotions in 2021, two of which went to women. And when evaluating job candidates, Morea says managers form panels to incorporate a variety of perspectives in the hiring process and better “identify different strengths and potential red flags.”
Prior to founding Velvet in 2018 and opening its doors in 2019, Harrison and Morea had become well-acquainted with the industry. Morea previously worked at CannaCraft and Privateer Holdings, and Harrison, who has largely a finance and real-estate background, had become good friends with a Colorado cannabis operator. “We both saw an industry evolving early on, and we said, ‘We’re going to do this,” Harrison says.
“As we went down this path, we saw it as an amalgamation of a bunch of other, different retail customer-service-type businesses,” he says. “We tried to take best practices from a lot of different industries, so to speak. I think one of the key things that happened for us from the very jump was we brought a leadership group that had significant experience in high-throughput business, specifically coffee.” The group consists of people who worked at Philz Coffee, a chain based in nearby San Francisco.
In addition to being led by experienced retail professionals, Morea says budtenders are motivated in the form of being able to participate in an incentive plan, through which they can earn up to $850 per month, or $10,200 annually. And, listing other perks, he says, “We’ve got paid training; paid time off; we offer healthcare benefits for anybody who’s working full time, which at Velvet, we consider 30 hours a week or more, on average.”
The Velvet leadership team prioritizes giving staff a healthy work-life balance.
Photo courtesy of Velvet
The dispensary is committed to providing employees a healthy work-life balance, says its Head of People and Places Victoria Long: “I think we’ve also been especially focused on that with COVID—making sure folks have the time off that they need in case they need to get a test or they feel they’ve been potentially exposed; being really sensitive to what’s happening in the world and allowing that time to feel like they’ve got boundaries to work out of the office where they can; and for our retail staff, [we] give them the time off, paid time off where it’s applicable, give them what they need to in this time of craziness.”
Also on the topic of work-life balance, the company offers 12 weeks of fully paid maternity leave to both full- and part-time employees, the latter of whom Morea says receive a 90-day average of earnings. Long says she’s excited because Velvet's team currently has two expecting mothers. “In addition to that, we’re doing some good stuff, like flexible options, making sure the employee has the appropriate schedule when they return back to work, not feeling overwhelmed,” she says.
Morea says this benefit not only helps employees and their families, but also gives them an edge in an increasingly competitive market.
“Part of that, when you're in the Bay Area, is competing with the technology companies,” Morea says. “We felt like it was really important to have not just a maternity leave, but … a parental leave policy that gives our employees flexibility to go spend time they need with new children, to bond—and at the same time, not be sacrificing other income.”
Velvet also grants new fathers up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave. “… We do grant them the same amount of time off and help them identify any potential resources that exist in California to recover their missed earnings,” Morea says.
During the next two to three years, Velvet hopes to expand from one location to up to a dozen stores across California.
In the nearer term, Velvet has plans for a second location in Los Angeles’ Eagle Rock neighborhood—which it tentatively expects to open in summer 2021. It would double the company’s retail space from about 2,400 to 4,800 square feet. That location would first bring in about 30 new hires, then, Morea expects, Velvet would increase that team to about 45.
Just as this expanding business strives to treat its employees well, those employees exude positivity in the store. “From the time you pull in our parking lot to the time you walk out the door, every single person is going to greet you with a smile on their face,” Morea says. “They’re going to say ‘Hello,’ they’re going to thank you for coming in, they’re obviously going to help identify the products that might fit whatever it is you’re looking for.” And they may have recently tried those product themselves.