A View From the Front Lines: A Budtender's Take on Cannabis Retail and COVID-19
In our latest Vangst Summit Series, Vangst Founder and CEO Karson Humiston spoke with cannabis retail leaders across the country to understand what they’re seeing from the frontlines as they lead our essential industry through the aftermath of COVID-19. The common theme? The landscape of cannabis retail is forever changed, and leaders are ready to do what it takes to adapt. Below, check out the top takeaways from our cannabis retail leadership panel on what COVID-19 means for our industry’s future.
CANNABIS RETAIL IS CHANGING…FAST.
“EVERY DAY IS COMPLETELY NEW. YOU CAN’T ASSUME IT’S GONNA BE THE SAME AS YESTERDAY.” – PAUL HARTJE, SEED & SMITH RETAIL DIRECTOR
With no roadmap for this completely unprecedented cannabis landscape, cannabis retail leaders and learning – and growing – as they go.
One of the biggest changes, according to from the Earth budtender Victoria Jackson, was her team’s shift to a curbside delivery model. Change was “massive, and also very fast. We didn’t have delivery or curbside, [and our entire team] had to implement it very quickly.”
Within a few days, Jackson’s entire team rallied to build the blueprint for a completely transformed delivery mode. They reinforced their strategy with strict new safety procedures and revamped awareness efforts to educate incoming customers on the new model.
Across the board, cannabis retail leaders note that they’ve seen wild variation in consumer purchases, more consumer questions than ever, and an urgent need to keep customers, communities, and employees updated to-the-minute on the changing impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing on the business.
EMPLOYEE WELLNESS IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS CUSTOMER WELLNESS
“IT’S IMPORTANT THAT THEY ARE CALM, THAT THEY ARE COOL, THAT THEY FEEL SUPPORTED BY THE COMMUNITY THEY SERVE.” – MEGAN BAKER, PURE XTRACTS ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE
Cannabis retailers are taking measures to care for their own staff like they would their customers. Beyond standard protective procedures like ensuring that staff have access to gloves, masks, and all the sanitizing equipment they need, staffers’ mental health is a top priority.
In a time of social distancing, “micro-interactions with staff are more important than ever,” says Megan Baker, Account Executive at Pure Xtracts. Baker is continually evolving the way she checks in with and educates her own staff. She now offers 1:1 education check-ins vs group training, video product education modules for virtual learning and Q&A, and increased staff communication overall.
Casey Palionis, store manager at Native Roots’ Littleton location, echoes Baker, saying over-communication has never been more critical. “You have to provide for your employees and they have to provide for you. Open dialogue about expectations, how things are going to go – or not going to go – is absolutely key.”
CANNABIS DELIVERY MODELS ARE CHANGING, AND THEY ARE CHANGING FAST
“THE BEST PART OF BEING HUMAN, IS THAT WE’RE ADAPTABLE.” CASEY PALIONIS, NATIVE ROOTS STORE MANAGER
From cannabis delivery to carhop services, the landscape of retail already looks dramatically different than it did even three months ago.
Palionus, whose Boulder County retail location obtained Colorado’s first-ever delivery license, says the ability to meet customers where they are has been a definitive game changer. Mobile delivery “allows [Native Roots] to provide cannabis for people who are homebound or unable to make it to the shop.” Palionis says makes an especially huge impact when it comes to medical and non-able-bodied patients.
Baker notes many retail storefronts in L.A. are showing wild creativity, with some even providing cross-town kiosks in hard-to-reach neighborhoods. According to Baker, these pop-up style hubs make it fast and easy for distributed curbside delivery drivers to deliver product to remote customers in need.
CANNABIS MARKETING WILL CHANGE FOREVER
“IN [CANNABIS] MARKETING, A LOT OF PEOPLE STILL STRUGGLE: ‘CAN I POST THIS? SHOULD I POST THIS? WILL I GET IN TROUBLE FOR POSTING IT?” – VICTORIA JACKSON, FROM THE EARTH BUDTENDER
For the foreseeable future, standard customer practices like seeing, smelling, and even handling flower before purchasing are nowhere in sight. Retail leaders agreed that virtual education is the direction in which marketing is moving, and the change will be lasting.
Virtual store tours, real-time updates to digital menus, heavy website reinvestment, and interactive consultation innovation topped the charts with our panelists. According to Baker, digital assets have never been more important, and they’re here to stay.
Another key marketing element primed for evolution is social media. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook face more pressure to create new guidelines that empower cannabis retailers to more effectively function in a digital-first environment. For example, allowing enterprise social media accounts to post pictures of flower will greatly improve retailers’ ability to educate customers without close contact, says Jackson.
EDUCATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER, AND IT’S CHANGING
“[CONSUMERS] NOW HAVE THE CHANCE TO TALK AND LEARN AND UNDERSTAND THE POSITIVE FRONT OF CANNABIS. PEOPLE ARE MORE EXCITED, MORE INTERESTED.” – PAUL HARTJE, SEED & SMITH RETAIL DIRECTOR
Cannabis retail includes education on factors like terpenes, flavor profiles, and more When changes to cannabis’ essential status came under fire by Denver County on March 23rd, “the phone just started ringing off the hook,” says Paul Hertje, retail Director at Denver-based Seed & Smith. And since then, it hasn’t really stopped. As more Americans show interest in understanding the benefits of cannabis during lockdown, retailers are dedicating more and more time to basic education.
“We get all the questions – the difference between indica and sativa, how to consume, even ‘what will just get me high?’” says Hertje. “And it creates an opportunity for us to really educate on things like flavor profiles – it’s not just about THC it’s about flavor, flavor profiles, terpenes, and different ways to consume -we’re not just smoking it anymore.”
As a direct result of the customer education needs born from the COVID-19 situation, Victoria Jackson says she expects virtual, 1:1 consultative services to become the norm in the industry. Baker says, “The educational aspect of getting up to speed on brand, how products work in the body, how cannabis can interact with physiological system.. it’s important to have assets prepared.” Baker actually supplies her own staff with video and digital trainings to help educate curious customers.
BUDTENDER PASSION REMAINS THE SAME
“WORKING IN THE CANNABIS INDUSTRY RIGHT NOW MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A NINJA. I HAVE TO PROTECT MYSELF, PROTECT MY COMMUNITY, AND REALLY SHOW UP FOR THE TEAM.” – MEGAN BAKER, PURE XTRACTS ACCOUNT DIRECTOR
Despite the many uncertainties discussed, budtenders and store leaders all agreed on one thing. Budtenders love their industry and love their customers as much as ever.
“We all got into this industry to help people, to make people smile. The opportunity to do so is bigger now than ever.” – Paul Hertje
“It makes me happy to be so nimble, and to make people so happy. We’re in this because we’re all like-minded individuals.” – Casey Palionis
“I’ve met some of the best people in my life through cannabis. The community has always been there for me, so now I need to return the favor.” – Megan Baker
“We were deemed essential, we are glad to be open, we are glad to be some of these people who still have a job. Our regulars still depend on us. It feels good to know that we’re being there for them.” – Victoria Jackson
Whether you’re interested in joining the cannabis front lines or you manage a retail team of your own, Vangst is here to help when times get tough. From our free job-posting and talent matching platform, to our temporary GIGS and direct hire talent sourcing services, we make it easy to connect top talent with leading cannabis companies.
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