Whether you call them Budtenders, Educators, Sales Associates, or any of the other creative titles we’ve seen affixed to this essential role, the people staffing your retail frontlines will determine whether your business succeeds in this increasingly competitive market. To grow along with it, you need to both attract and retain the right team for your business’ needs. To get a pulse on this talent pool, we checked in with Budtenders Association to understand what retail owners should consider when looking at best practices for hiring and training cannabis retail staff.
The job market in cannabis retail right now contains both a huge number of vacancies and a wide variety of qualified applicants with transferable skills and backgrounds. For smaller or independent shops, hiring and onboarding Budtenders can be an overwhelming process and for aspiring Budtenders, it can make the job application process feel a bit like a hamster wheel, void of the passion we know drives most folks to the role. To make the process not only easier but more fruitful for everyone, we’ve put together a list of tips we think all cannabis retailers should practice.
Hiring & Attracting Talent
Identify Your Voice & Your Audience
It all starts with what you’re communicating in your job postings. Imagine your ideal staff – what are they motivated by? How would you engage them through your unique leadership style or brand lens? Write your job posting in clear, concise language that speaks to them. Are you mass hiring, or looking to fill a specific position or two within your team? If it’s the latter, find the right person by offering more than just the generic job description you’ve used in the past. Looking to fill a void in accessories knowledge, merchandising, or inventory? Offer this in your job posting, and you may be surprised to see how potential candidates are able to make themselves shine.
Don’t just copy and paste what you’ve seen others in the industry do. Your job posting is also your time to shine. Ask yourself, what about your business makes you a standout employer? Then, tailor your job posting with specific instructions to showcase that particular value or skill. Looking for staff who are animated story-tellers? Ask for a video cover letter. Looking for a particular level of knowledge amidst your staff? Ask for a response to a specific question to be included in their application. These kinds of tweaks to the traditional “job application” not only help you filter out serious candidates from the masses but also ensure that the time you do spend reviewing applications is worthwhile.
Have we mentioned the competitive nature of the job market right now? If there’s one thing that can calm that flurry, it’s transparency. If you want a team that commits to you deeply and for the long-term, offer them full transparency to see what they’re signing up for. That means, at a minimum, disclosing wage or salary ranges, access to health benefits, and any other relevant job perks or discounts. Pay transparency has been proven to be the most effective tool employers can enact to help close the gender pay gap. The cannabis industry has been built off both hard work and injustice, so it’s never been more important for the players within it post-legalization to incorporate ethical best practices from the start.
But transparency is more than just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do to both attract top talent and best utilize your resources and hiring manager’s time. Do you have a robust training program or a clear path for career advancement? We know that many get their start in this industry as a Budtender and those who are most successful enter with their sights already on ways to grow. Education and growth opportunities are valuable, especially in the cannabis space, so sharing these kinds of insights in your job postings will appeal greatly to those looking to establish themselves in this industry. Do you have a shift pattern or standard hours staff can expect? Especially amidst the long and varying hours of retail, stating your expectations outright can only offer clarity.
Ask the Right Questions
Once you’ve narrowed your candidate pool to those you want to interview, give some deeper thought to the kinds of things you want to learn from these people. Think beyond questions related to strengths and skills, and utilize this meeting as an opportunity to ask open-ended questions that will give you relevant insight into the candidate’s fit within your company culture and structure. Some of our favourite insights have come from asking questions like:
- Can you tell me about a time when you encountered rules or policies that you didn’t agree with? What did you do, and why?
- How would you describe your learning style?
- What do you need from your store leadership to show up to work feeling both enthusiastic and supported?
- If our staff team were a group of superheroes, what would be your nickname and special skill?
- What’s your favourite cannabis product? Sell it to me.
Onboarding & Training
Hire the Right People
Building a dynamic team means finding individuals with a variety of skills, backgrounds, and strengths. Rather than looking for one Budtender to check all the boxes, consider structuring your frontlines in a way that balances the core strengths of your team with your immediate needs or challenges. A strong staff has easily identifiable team leaders who master a variety of both hard and soft skills, like customer de-escalation, visual merchandising, inventory and stock, home cultivation, and category-specific product knowledge.
Taking a strengths-based approach not only aids in general employee satisfaction, but it also validates and encourages Budtenders to continue to grow with your company. When someone feels seen, they’re more likely to find opportunities to shine.
Lay the Groundwork for Growth
Now that you’ve landed yourself a phenomenal team to work with, it’s time to engage and retain them. Budtenders are highly motivated by opportunities for career advancement, but all too often we’ve seen empty promises offered with no follow-through. We suggest incorporating the first stages of performance evaluations in retailers’ onboarding processes. What a better time to sit down with a new employee and check in with their personal and professional goals? Be intentional and ask them what they hope to gain from their roles in their first 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, and beyond of employment with your store. What goals can they set for themselves, and what do they need from your leadership team to get there? How will you both know they’ve been successful, and what red-flag indicators should you both keep your eyes open to in the process? The retail landscape is action-packed, as both retailers and Budtenders rise to meet the challenges of this industry each day. Including groundwork for future evaluations can help you all stay on track and engaged in moving your business forward.
Develop a Robust Training Plan
We’ve heard it loud and clear from Budtenders: standardized, provincial training programs just don’t cut it. With too much focus on what they can’t do in their roles, as opposed to the how-tos, many Budtenders feel undersupported in their learning and education needs. Opening a new cannabis store comes with a plethora of challenges and requirements, so developing, facilitating, and maintaining a robust staff training program is often beyond the scope and capacity of each store’s manager.
Ongoing staff training needs to be built into your operations and business plans, right from the start. While so much great learning happens conversationally with consumers or brand reps, it’s both an unfair and ineffective way to expect Budtenders to learn. As curators of a store’s menu and offerings, retail leaders are responsible for the education of their staff. How does your team learn best? Have you asked them? Plan, schedule, and pay your staff to participate in ongoing training, and offer those opportunities for learning in a variety of ways, so you’re able to meet the diverse learning needs and styles amongst your team. If you don’t have an in-house learning and development expert, don’t worry, you’re not alone! BTA works closely with retailers to deliver responsive, customized training on everything from compliance on the sales floor to product knowledge, menu curation, and even soft-skills building.
There is no “I” in Team
Cannabis knowledge alone is not enough to be successful in the retail world! Soft skills are perhaps the most overlooked skill in cannabis retail training. Aside from communication, the ability to work collaboratively is the most important soft skill for a Budtender to hold. More than just “getting along” with their colleagues, a strong sense of team dynamic is at the crux of staff retention. In fact, Budtenders rank workplace culture as the top reason they decide to stay with employers. If your team had to describe the culture of their workplace in one word, what do you hope they’d say? And what are you doing to build it?
While there are internal programs you can put in place to highlight these (like Employee of the Month), it’s also important to remember that the culture of your store is often created by the leadership style you enact. How do you highlight your team’s successes and strengths? How do you incentivize them to collaborate and lift each other up? Take time for team-building in your staff meetings. Find creative ways to acknowledge the great work your staff are doing-especially those whose work often goes unnoticed “behind the scenes.” Whether setting goals for sales or process improvements, consider doing this alongside your team. Pull them into your processes so they feel a shared sense of responsibility and buy-in to your business goals. When we shift ownership from mine to ours, we also shift workplace culture from holding-power-over to empowerment.
About Budtenders Association
Budtenders Association is an inclusive network working towards cannabis de-stigmatization and positive change through education, professional development, data and research.
Their platform connects Budtenders nationally while giving them a voice, recognition, and opportunity to improve the globally emerging cannabis industry.
Written by Kate MacLaggan – Programs Manager, Budtenders Association
Canadian Cannabis Retail Marketing Guide
Over the next few months, when it comes to creating original content, we’ll be focusing on the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian cannabis industry, retailers.
This series of articles is dedicated to informing and educating Canadian cannabis retail store operators about marketing, promotions, branding, partnerships, and product selection.
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Last Updated on March 30, 2021 by ADCANN