Hospitality In Cannabis: Helping New Dispensary Customers

by Adam Pallay

There are many reasons why a person walks through the doors of a cannabis shop. Some people are regulars and know exactly what they want, and others are coming in for the first time and have no idea what they are looking at. Being able to identify and meet the needs of the different people who walk through the door is vital for the success of any retail establishment.

My favorite customer to help in a cannabis shop was the person who was new to cannabis. This is someone who is coming to a cannabis store for the first time and, generally, has a lot of questions. In other words, this is a customer who will require more of your time to help them. This situation can be difficult for many cannabis shops, as they are designed to get people in and out as quickly as possible. Getting a customer who needs to take their time can really slow down operations if you are not prepared for them. 

Being able to meet a customer’s needs has to be a priority; however, you are also working in retail, and you need to make sure that a long interaction with one customer does not come at the expense of the other customers in the store or the store’s ability to do sales. I like to view this tension through the lens of hospitality. Hospitality is felt through personal interaction; however, it is also felt through the planning that goes into constructing the store’s operational flow. You need to create an environment where everyone feels welcome, feels seen, and feels like the store is running smoothly. 

Below, you will find how I set up a sales floor for success when engaging with new customers. Every store and building is different, so it is intended to be more of a guide than a step-by-step tutorial. You will find that, with a little planning, you can create an environment where new customers feel welcomed and regular customers do not feel like they are being ignored. Eventually, you will get to a place where having a new customer walk through the door will become a joy instead of a headache, as you know it won’t create more issues for daily operations. 

  1. The first thing I did was make sure that new customers are welcomed and directed to the correct staff member. The correct staff member is someone who is very knowledgeable about cannabis and is not tied to a till. This is usually a Floor Lead, Medical Consultant, or Assistant Manager. When I was working at a shop, if a staff member noticed that someone needed some extra help, they were instructed to reach out to me on the radio. I would come out, introduce myself to the customer, and take them to a quiet corner of the shop (away from the line) to talk. This accomplishes a few things. First, it helps people who are new to cannabis feel comfortable. The internet is a great resource for cannabis education; however, it can often be overwhelming if you do not already know what you are looking for. Sometimes you just feel more comfortable talking to a knowledgeable professional who can guide you through this new experience. This guide provides a space to ask questions and not feel rushed in purchasing. Second, it keeps all the budtenders available to help the customers who already know what they want. In other words, it keeps the line moving. 
  2. Now that the new customer is comfortable at the shop, you can begin getting them comfortable with cannabis. After getting a feel for what brought them in and what they already know about cannabis, I found it was best to start their cannabis education with consumption methods. Not only do consumption methods help people identify how they want to consume, it also invites a conversation around how cannabis works. Cannabis has different effects based on how it is consumed; therefore, it makes sense to talk about how cannabis works as you explain a customer’s options around consumption. Also, for many people, this is the first time they have ever held a cannabis product in their hands. Up until that point, it had been a mystery shrouded in decades of propaganda. Letting them hold a cannabis product while you educate them on the truth about cannabis is very effective at breaking through the negative images associated with cannabis. I won’t go into detail about my curriculum for cannabis education, as that is an entire article in and of itself; however, if you are interested in gaining a solid understanding of cannabis, check out this cannabis fundamentals certificate program
  3. At this point in the conversation, I always expected to field a few questions from the customer. In my opinion, if I didn’t explain things in a way that prompted questions, I hadn’t done a good job of explaining cannabis. These questions usually revolved around things like dosage and quality. It was also at this point that I would start to bring out products in which they are most interested. As we looked through their options, I would not only educate the customer on cannabis, I would educate them on how to shop for cannabis. I would walk them through what is on the label and what the terms mean. The goal of these interactions was to get someone confident enough in their cannabis knowledge that they knew exactly what they wanted and how to talk about it with their budtender the next time they came into the shop. 
  4. Once a customer felt comfortable with their product selection, I would give them a business card that had my name and company email. I would tell them that if they had more questions, they could call the store or send me an email. I also let them know that if they have friends or family who would like a little cannabis education, they could set up an appointment with me through email. This was not only a way to provide great customer service, it also gave me a way to schedule these interactions instead of having to handle them on the fly. 
  5. Lastly, I would find a budtender and escort the customer and their cannabis products to the register. Yes, this is technically cutting the line, but, remember, we have planned for this situation. If a different customer walked up to the budtender while we were heading over, I had already instructed the budtenders how to handle it. They would politely ask them for just a little patience, and, after I hand-off my customer to the budtender, I would thank the customer who was waiting for their patience. If they knew what they wanted, I would go and grab it so the budtender could get them checked out quickly. Sometimes I threw on a 10% discount to help smooth things over. 

As you can see, other than cannabis knowledge, none of what I did required any special knowledge or talent. It just requires a willingness to do a little preparation to make sure that a guest will have a positive experience. Taking the time to help new customers produces regular customers and a positive reputation that can create more business for your shop. In short, attention to hospitality and customer service is great for business. Put in the work and enjoy the results!

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The Sell-SMaRT™ Certificate Program provides budtenders, owners, retail managers, frontline dispensary staff, regulators, and people looking to enter the cannabis industry with the training necessary to remain in compliance with the rules and regulations that govern commercial cannabis sales.

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