What to Look for When Hiring a Budtender

Budtenders are vital to a successful dispensary.

budtender iStock / rgbspace

If you’re opening a cannabis dispensary, you’ll need to hire budtenders to help customers find their ideal products. Budtenders are vital to any medical or recreational cannabis dispensary because they are knowledgeable about the products and can assist customers from all sorts of backgrounds to pick out the right thing.

Extensive knowledge in cannabis is a must for any budtender, but it doesn’t have to be at the forefront of their application. If you’re hiring the right person, they should be able to learn quickly and apply themselves to learn as much as they can about cannabis to better help their customers.

Retail Before Recreation

Having a quality budtender who is also a cannabis-enthusiast is an obvious perk, but their enthusiasm for the plant should not come before their ability to work well in retail. After all, it is a retail position. If your budtender is incapable of being friendly to the public, using store equipment, or not sneaking into the back room to toke up, then you’re going to run into some problems.

“Some looking to get into the cannabis industry have a misunderstanding of what it’s like to work with live product,” said Dee Braack, General Manager at The Smokin Gun Apothecary, a recreational dispensary in Colorado. “Yes, it’s legal, but it’s also the most highly regulated industry in the world right now. Those looking to get into the industry have to keep up with the constant changing state laws as well as in-store compliance. Many applicants enter into this line of work unprepared and with the wrong expectations.”

If you’re screening a potential employee and their biggest selling point is that they are passionate about weed, it’s important to judge whether they’ll be able to handle the other demands of the job.

David Sloan, the owner of Herbs House in Seattle, Washington, said it begins with the actual application. As with any job, if the applicants fill out an application haphazardly or don’t fill out all of the required fields, it’s a pretty big red flag.

“We run them through till tests to see they can count money and interact well and if they don’t, that’s a red flag,” said Sloan on their hiring process. “It’s all relative, though. We give allowances because some people get flustered in that setting so we take that into consideration.”

Excellent Customer Service is a Must

The landscape of who uses cannabis and who doesn’t is changing. Budtenders must be able to help people from all walks of life get the help they’re looking for in a friendly, non-judgmental way.

Your dispensary is not going to be filled with stoner customers all day. They’ll be there, but so will other demographics. Older people who haven’t used cannabis in 30+ years (or ever) may come in looking for something to aid with various ailments and they’re going to want to speak with a budtender who is kind, understanding, and seems to actually care about finding the right product for them.

“We look for positivity, passion and a commitment to customer service in all of our team,” said Erik Williams, COO and co-founder of Canna Provisions, a recreational dispensary in Massachusetts. “We also pride ourselves in meeting the customer wherever they are on their cannabis journey, requiring guides to be strong and fast learners and have a desire to educate with empathy.”

There is still a lot of stigma around cannabis for some people. Knowing when to tell a customer something is going to get them stoned out of their mind versus letting them know the effects of a strain in an educational way will make all the difference.

As the interviewer, you can get a good idea of whether your future budtender will be skilled at helping the general public or not. Test your future employee’s skills by asking scenario-based questions.

An elderly woman walks into the shop, saying she’s never used pot before. Her grandson suggested she give it a shot to help with her chronic pain. She tells you she is scared of getting high and being paranoid. What would you suggest to her?

An open mind and willingness to learn is essential

Maybe your candidate has checked off all of the boxes, appearing to be the perfect match for your dispensary. They are great at customer service, have extensive knowledge about your products, and are reliable.

The industry is ever-changing, which means you’re bound to run into standard procedures that need changing or new rules for compliance that can be difficult to keep up with. You want someone willing to train on new items whenever necessary and open to making changes to operations without being inconsistent. If your budtender is stubborn and likes to stick with what they’ve always known, this can be a real problem.

“Each and every person in our shop is consistently trained on compliance laws and how to offer a better guest experience,” said Braack. “Training is continuous during their time at Smokin Gun Apothecary, it never really stops or comes to a point of completion.”

If your budtender is not willing to be trained, trained, and then trained again, they’re not going to last.

“Every one of our employees goes through an extensive two-week training program followed by at least another two weeks of job shadowing,” said Williams, of Canna Provisions. “Ironically, the hardest part of training a new guide can sometimes be un-training them from bad habits or outdated concepts that they picked up from other retail establishments, even other cannabis companies.”

And if you can’t see yourself getting along with the candidate, guiding them through weeks of learning, and supporting them along the way, it’s probably a good idea to seek other candidates.

Finding and Keeping a Budtender

There are plenty of ways to find a budtender. Whether it be word-of-mouth, hiring signs, or ads on the internet, you’re bound to find a number of people eager to work at your establishment.

Herbs House in Seattle primarily uses Craigslist to seek out new budtenders, whereas both Smokin Gun Apothecary in Colorado and Canna Provisions in Massachusetts have had good luck with Indeed and face-to-face applications.

Always Check References and Conduct a Background Check

Even if your prospective budtender has nailed the interview and appears to be the perfect match, don’t skip out on the important behind-the-scenes of hiring a new employee. Don’t hire on the spot, even if you’re desperate for someone to begin. Call those references, conduct that background check, and don’t ever consider skipping over those steps.

Once you’ve secured a budtender, you’re going to have to work to keep them if they’re good. There are tons of cannabis jobs available and if your budtenders aren’t happy, they can probably go elsewhere.

According to a 2018 report from Headset, 44% of Colorado’s budtenders were new and left in the same year. This means employers will have to work to keep their employees excited about coming in.

Reasonable pay and good benefits are crucial to keeping budtenders at your shop. Free samples and employee discounts are also big incentives. You’ll also need to cultivate a comfortable, supportive culture to keep employees excited about coming to work, not stressed about it.

“Nobody is under the gun so there is no pressure to make sales,” said Sloan. “We also talk about financial stuff with our budtenders to help them learn how to make their money work for them.”

However you go about making the job a positive space, it’s important you do. The longer you can retain budtenders, the more experts you’ll have on staff and the less training you’ll have to provide in the long run. Plus, customers love coming into a shop and seeing familiar faces each time.

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