Once you’ve successfully secured a location and hired budtenders, you’re on your way to running a successful cannabis dispensary. It won’t go far if you’re unable to secure customers, though. Bringing paying customers in and keeping them coming back is key to successfully running a dispensary and crucial for staying afloat longterm.

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This can mean a variety of things across different dispensary models, and the most effective way to get customers for one dispensary may be completely different than others. We asked dispensary owners to share their insight for gaining and retaining customers. Here’s what they had to say:

How to Bring in New Customers

The ways dispensaries bring in new first-time customers varies widely. For some, they’re the only dispensary in the vicinity so they’ve got the location on their side. Others have to make themselves stand out among other nearby dispensaries competing for the same crowd.

Word of Mouth

One of the most effective ways to get new customers is through word of mouth. People tend to trust the opinions of their friends and family more than advertisements with no personal connection. This is especially true when it comes to cannabis, where advertising is an extremely limited option. Jeremy Hall, store manager for La Mota in Beaverton, Oregon says they rely solely on word of mouth to bring first-time customers in.

“Advertising is difficult in the industry, you know, we don’t get commercials or anything,” said Hall. Providing a personal experience to customers means they’ll feel taken care of and might share their experience with others. “We try to provide a good customer experience in hopes that they’ll tell friends and family and let them know about us. We hope they’ll tell people we spent the extra time helping them find exactly what they were looking for,” said Hall. Hall said this method has been extremely effective for La Mota.

With customers from so many diverse backgrounds, financial situations, and life experiences, giving each customer the attention and understanding they need to find the right product leaves a good impression and keeps customers coming back to their store. Without social media, rewards programs, or text messages alerting customers of discounts, word of mouth has proven a fruitful way to bring in customers for La Mota.

“They come in and we treat them like they’re awesome because they are. It’s easy for them to come in and ask questions without feeling uncomfortable,” Hall added. “We have a large group of regular customers often bringing in friends and new people with them, like, ‘Hey, check out this place.’”

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Online Presence

On the other hand, an online presence can be a huge way to bring in new customers. While advertising on social media can be a pain or outright banned, there are other ways to get customers coming in through the internet. For Sally Vander Veer, President of Colorado’s Medicine Man, a solid online presence is crucial to getting new customers.

“We regularly ask our customers [how they found us], and about 70% of the time they find us online,” said Vander Veer. This includes positive reviews, their dispensary website, optimized SEO, and keeping up-to-date menus. People often search for a dispensary near them, so it’s important to have yours show up in results alongside positive language.

How to Get Customers to Come Back

The best way to get customers to come back is to offer a great and memorable customer experience.

Provide Excellent Service

“Every detail matters,” said Vander Veer. “Having an accessible, clean, well-lit parking lot, noticeable signage, a friendly greeting, a welcoming ambiance, excellent selection of quality products, and most importantly, educated and friendly staff,” is crucial. This echoes La Mota’s method of providing an excellent experience to bring in customers. “Taking the moment they come in and not just trying to put weed in their hands is the best way to go,” said Hall.

“That’s what always separates my experience from other dispensaries.” If the customer has a positive experience in your store, it’s more likely they’ll choose to come back because they felt welcome. It’s extremely offputting to be a new customer at a store and be met with hostility or attitude.

This is especially important to keep in mind for running a dispensary because you will have people of all backgrounds coming in, from seasoned stoners to first-time users who may feel hesitant to be seen in a “weed store” because they may still feel there is a stigma. Treat them like garbage and you’ve got a surefire way to make sure they won’t be coming back. “Customers will return if they received excellent customer service, found the products they needed, and learned something along the way,” said Vander Veer. “It is a highly congested market so competitive pricing and loyalty programs play a big part in this equation.”

Loyalty Programs

Another driving force to keep customers back is to reward their loyalty to your brand. Not every dispensary offers rewards, but those that do are giving customers another incentive to return by offering discounts or other rewards for their repeated customership. Vander Veer says customers have learned to expect rewards for their loyalty with airlines, hotels, and grocery stores, and cannabis is no exception.

“We offer exclusive discounts to our loyalty members and see a direct correlation between sales and our loyalty offerings,” said Vander Veer. “The rewards program allows us to drill-down into buying patterns and preferences based on a number of segments such as gender, age, location, spend, interests, etc. and this information allows us to better provide deals based on what our customers want.”

Having patrons enter their phone number or email on a tablet in-store is a simple and effective way to implement a rewards program. It’s quick and easy and doesn’t require the customer to put in a lot of effort and also encourages them to continue making purchases at your store to build points and reap the rewards.

Final Thoughts

If you want people to come inside, stick around long enough to make a purchase, and return again in the future, you have to treat them right. It’s all about providing excellent service and being accommodating to their needs while also offering quality products. Customers talk and you want them to be sharing positive stories with others.

A genuinely good experience for customers is going to increase your chances of gaining repeat customers much more than good advertising paired with a subpar experience. “You can’t be all things to all customers, so create an experience that is authentic to your brand. Your online presence and advertising should reflect your in-store experience,” said Vander Veer.

“No matter how thoughtful your plan for gaining and retaining customers, be ready to pivot. Listen and make changes based on what your customers are telling you they want and need.”