HempStaff How To: Retain Dispensary Employees in an Increasingly Competitive Market

HempStaff How To: Retain Dispensary Employees in an Increasingly Competitive Market

The co-founder of HempStaff discusses how certain hiring trends are shaping the industry.

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January 29, 2018
Eric Sandy

Formal training sessions can be an invaluable adjunct to any company’s growth, and their value is exponentially greater in an industry that evolves as quickly as cannabis. This is HempStaff’s sweet spot: the budding nexus of cannabis regulations and best practices. The recruitment and training outfit has become a go-to source for knowledge on dispensary management and hiring.

James Yagielo founded the company with his wife in early 2014. At the time, they were eyeing what they thought would be a legal medical marijuana market. Florida voters balked that year, but the Yagielos continued developing their recruiting and staffing outfit, knowing that the national cannabis industry had nowhere to go but up.

But even before Florida’s Amendment 2 failed in 2014, Yagielo had heard about a lack of experience and knowledge among the state’s cannabis stakeholders. HempStaff created a subsidiary for dispensary employee training later that year, which has blossomed as state markets get up and running around the U.S. Yagielo and his wife deployed their sessions on the Florida market, and industry insiders in other states enticed them into a more national model.

Now, HempStaff has recruited and placed employees in 12 states and trained more than 3,600 dispensary agents in 18 states.

Cannabis Dispensary talked with Yagielo about the moving targets he must consider when HempStaff arranges training sessions—how geography and the differences in state law affect the trajectory of his advice. These training sessions take place regularly in states with legal marijuana markets (medical and recreational). There, HempStaff’s “students” get a crash course in the nuances of their state’s market regulations and the idiosyncratic pointers that will give them an advantage over the competition. See a full schedule of events here.

In this first installment of our three-part series, we discussed hiring tips for dispensaries in states that have had a regulated market for several years. In the next two weeks, we’ll look at dispensaries in newly legal markets and the challenges of prospective dispensary owners who are preparing to file an application in their state.

A core concern for dispensary owners in states like Colorado or Washington is employee retention. As the national market continues to shift eastward, with state-sponsored legislation moving quickly in New England and elsewhere, higher salaries and a new wave of customers are drawing experienced managers across the country. To keep that competitive edge, dispensaries with more established footprints can’t take their tenure for granted; the key in those foundational states is to stay ahead of the industry curve.

“What we advise is to make sure that you are paying a competitive wage,” Yagielo says. “A lot of people think [budtenders are] just $10/hour [employees] because they’re just working behind the counter, which isn’t really true. We tell them to think of [an employee] more as a pharmacist, rather than a retail employee, because they are giving proper medical advice and cannabis products.”

This follows the industry’s trend toward more refined and elegant dispensary environments. Whereas Yagielo saw a lot of nepotism and head-shop aesthetics in the past, he says there’s a significant move toward a more delicate customer experience.

“There was resistance for quite a few years, but I think now we’re starting to see a shift toward more of that medical-office-style feeling,” Yagielo says. “The newer [companies] starting up … they’re really stepping up the notch of professionalism. Once people go into those dispensaries–when they go back to a regular dispensary, they’re like, ‘Oh, this place is a dump.’ People are going to start losing customers, and I think they realize that—unless they make their places look a little better, put some new-age stuff in there, make it cleaner, put the products a certain way so people can actually see what they available instead of having everything behind the counter.”

Customers take notice of welcoming environments, and Yagielo says he’s seen these trends play out in online customer reviews of dispensaries—which, can be valuable guides for the discerning customer base.

With that in mind, communication is key. Dispensary owners should be in regular contact with managers and budtenders, ensuring that the latest industry compliance changes are well known and integrated into the business. This includes annual performance reviews, and regular training. HempStaff rewrites its whole training session regularly, to keep up with the shifting sands of industry regulations and political will.

“Every year, so much stuff changes,” Yagielo says. “We advise students of our class [to] come back to any future class of ours at no charge. We recommend people come back to our class at least once a year to get the newest updates. People out there may not be aware that the Cole Memo was just retracted. That’s a pretty important update to know if you work in a dispensary.”

On a more local level, dispensary owners must ensure that their employees know the ins and outs of their state’s regulatory structure. Chief among those concerns is the point-of-sale system, which more often than not will differ across state lines. It’s critical for dispensary staffers to know the ins and outs of their state’s POS system, so that simple mistakes are easy to avoid.

This is where it helps to retain experienced local employees, rather than go through the process of integrating a new budtender or manager from across the country into your state’s own idiosyncrasies.

“You’ve got to have a manager who knows how to use the system,” Yagielo says. “While they’re all similar, that’s where a lot of mistakes are made. Just a simple typo: Especially in states like Colorado, where [the flower] is not prepackaged. Illinois is prepackaged; if you give out a quarter, you know it’s going to be a quarter and you’re going to scan the barcode. In Colorado, they’re still entering in [quantities]. If they accidentally hit .7 grams instead of 7 grams, then their numbers are off at the end of the day.

“I don’t think anyone east of the Mississippi will have jars behind the counter anymore, where they’re handing out marijuana. It’s going to be in a prepackaged eighth, quarter, half-ounce, ounce kind of deal.”

HempStaff’s next training sessions will be held in Orlando (Feb. 10); Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Feb. 11) and Detroit (Feb. 24). See a full list of training sessions and all registration information at hempstaff.com.

Next week, we’ll look at how HempStaff approaches newer dispensaries and how its team of recruiters connects dispensary owners with its database of 32,000 potential employees.

Read Part 2 here

Read Part 3 here

Top image courtesy of HempStaff