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Becoming one of the many dispensary employees such as a budtender in the rapidly expanding cannabis industry continues to be a goal of many people looking to land their first cannabis job. Working as a budtender is a dream job for many, and for people who hold this title, it can be exactly that—if they enter into the role with the right expectations and work in a supportive team environment.

All too often, a person becomes one of the dispensary employees such as having a job as a budtender full of excitement and anticipation. For people who are passionate about cannabis, it’s wonderful to able to work around it all day. Because a budtender job is strictly retail sales that includes a great deal of customer service—even with rude or disgruntled customers—sometimes the initial allure and appeal of the job becomes less apparent in a short amount of time, and this is where some budtenders become disillusioned with their work and day-to-day responsibilities. Working long hours with little or no time off your feet or recognition for hard work can become a drain, and all too often the dream job can become a chore. Retail sales is known for a high turnover, and retail sales in the cannabis space is no exception. But with some strategic teamwork and leadership at the management level, this doesn’t have to be the case.

Maintaining good morale with dispensary employees requires a conscious effort in every tier of operations, from the receptionist and budtenders on up the ladder, including lead budtenders, assistant managers, and managers, as well as the business owner. While perks and incentives are part of this process, demeanor and daily interaction among all employees is what sets the tone for a positive work environment. Employee turnover takes a toll on company resources and capital. Placing advertising for new employees and then training them takes time and money—there’s no way around this reality. With good morale within the dispensary, there will be a reduction in turnover, budtenders will perform better, and customers will have a better shopping experience. Let’s examine some ways to improve morale with improved business practices and day-to-day performance. Employee burnout doesn’t have to be an eventuality in a cannabis business.

Training and Compensation

It goes without saying that business employees should receive training before they begin representing the company to the general public. Yet many cannabis retail outlets fall short in this area. There should be a process and procedure to employee interaction with customers. A professional demeanor, eye contact, and a thorough knowledge of inventory are just a few of the basics. A friendly, conversational style will put customers at ease—including those who have never set foot in a dispensary before—and some thoughtful questioning about customer needs or preference will go a long way to ensure sales.

On-the-job training and shadowing seasoned team members should always be part of the process of integrating new employees into the team mix. A supportive team atmosphere will put employees at ease and make the daily routine more pleasant. Nothing will make a new employee feel overwhelmed faster than a lack of instruction or education about company practices and expectations. Educating the employee about retail basics like conflict resolution prior to their starting work as well as during the early stages of employment will result in a happier dispensary staff and higher level of satisfaction among the customer base.

Budtender and other staff compensation should be competitive and aligned with—or exceed—industry standards. Employees deserve to be paid adequately for their hard work. If company owners expect their dispensary employees to invest time and energy into building their companies and being brand ambassadors who build brand loyalty, they must be willing to invest in the employees in turn and provide them with a career path.

Employee Discounts

Every good dispensary should not only have a customer loyalty program, but also a discount program for employee recognition. Receiving an employee discount is a common perk in the retail work environment, and a regular reminder to employees that their contributions to the company are recognized and appreciated. In most retail establishments, sales associates enjoy the products they sell and appreciate the opportunity to own this merchandise at lower cost than regular customers. Being able to purchase products at a lower rate also allows the staff the opportunity to own and use what they sell. This provides them with the benefit of having first-hand experience with products and a more thorough knowledge about store inventory. They can then speak more intelligently about various products and know from experience about what to recommend to customers.

Providing these discounts at wholesale-range rates will ensure that the discount program has minimal financial impact on the business owner. The discount percentage retail employees receive can vary by location. A typical discount structure would be 20-30 percent for new employees, 30-40 percent for tenured staff members, and 45-55 percent for management. These discount rates are not cannabis industry standards, but they do represent a ballpark range typical for cannabis business and other retail sectors.

Performance-Based Recognition

Nothing communicates a job well done more than recognition and rewards for it. This is easily done in the cannabis retail environment with minimal financial expenditure form the company. Working for a commission is not typical for the cannabis space, but there are other ways to reward employees.

Many businesses have an employee-of-the-month program, with a reward provided in one or more ways. Rewards can range from a simple gesture like a preferred parking space for the employee, a plaque with an interchangeable photo identifying the employee, or a piece of merchandise presented as a reward. A nice piece of glass, whether it’s a bong, dab rig, or pipe presented at a team meeting prior to the morning opening can raise morale by expressing management appreciation for exemplary employee performance.

There are a number of ways to gauge budtender performance. Most point-of-sale software programs track each budtender’s sales metrics. Dispensary management observation of employee customer interaction is another a way to measure success. Providing customer suggestion boxes or tracking feedback on Yelp or other online sites that rate business performance are two other options. Any of these methods (or a combination of them) can provide the dispensary manager with trackable, measurable performance evaluations.

If a company has more than one dispensary, rewarding the best team performance is a great way to build morale and promote teamwork. The dispensary with the most significant sales for the month wins, which makes the recognition process simple. Rewarding the individual dispensary staff with a small gift like a pre-roll or gram of flower will be a pleasant surprise that employees remember and value. A small gesture like this can go a long way to build employee loyalty and morale.

Encouragement from Management and Peers

There’s a popular theory that “employees do not leave jobs, they leave managers.” There is a great deal of truth to this statement. Managers and their methods of daily interaction with retail staff members can make or break the budtenders’ overall experience and level of satisfaction with their jobs. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to point out the things going wrong in the retail environment than it is to recognize and reward the good things. There must be a balance. No one is motivated or inspired by an overly negative boss. Fear does not equate respect. A boss who’s a bully or who constantly points out employee shortcomings is not a true leader who can hope to get the best performance from their team members.

Positive reinforcement comes at every level of the dispensary chain of command. Just like on a sports team, praise and correction from the coach (aka manager) is important, but recognition from peers is equally important. A high-five for a few kind words about performance recognition builds both teamwork and staff morale. An encouraging team member who inspires his or her peers is an employee who may eventually be management material.

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Hard work and high performance deserve recognition. The astute business owner or manager should rely on personal observation as well as key performance indicators (KPI) to recognize talented team members who are assets to their company. Losing high performers who feel they’ve hit a ceiling as far as a career growth is unnecessary and unfortunate.

Sometimes the best person to fill a personnel void is already a part of the retail team. Instead of looking outside the company for a strategic leader, business owners should thoroughly evaluate current staff to determine if any of the team members is a good fit for the position. After all, these are the people who know the company the best and, often, have helped build it. The best choice might already be on the payroll. Before seeking an outsider, look within.

With proper motivation and professionalism, there’s no reason why a cannabis dispensary has to sink into a rut with low employee morale. Some simple steps and thoughtful management practices will prevent this all-too-common retail scenario from impacting company stability and growth.

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