As a cannabis retailer, your employees are the lifeblood of your business.  As the first people your customers interact with when they walk through your doors, having a properly trained and educated team is absolutely essential to any thriving business.

This is especially true In an industry that requires a unique combination of product knowledge, an understanding of biology and plant science, sales and customer service skills, and stringent regulatory compliance.

Unfortunately, education and training is sorely lacking in the cannabis industry.  A 2016 study found that just over 50% of dispensary staff in the US had received formal training, with just 13% receiving any training in cannabis science.

And while this has improved over the last six years, retailers still have a long way to go when it comes to arming their employees with the tools they need do their job’s effectively.

Here are a few reasons why your cannabis retail business should focus on education and training.

You’ll Have More Satisfied Customers

Staff that have received proper education and sales training have better interactions with customers. 

They have a sophisticated understanding of cannabis, and they know the products you carry inside out. 

They know how to interact and form relationships with people, understand exactly what it is they’re looking for, and recommend products that they love.

Cannabis buyers who have positive experiences with staff and know they can get their questions answered are far more likely to become repeat (and even lifetime) buyers.

You’ll See Higher Sales And Revenue

While it may be tempting to skimp on education (particularly if you’re a smaller business with limited resources), this is really not a strategy for longterm success.

Companies that invest in their employees earn more than those that don’t.  Having engaged employees isn’t just a nice bonus, it’s essential to running a business with the potential to grow and thrive.  According to one meta-analysis by Gallup, “work units in the top quartile in employee engagement outperformed bottom-quartile units by 10% on customer ratings, 22% in profitability, and 21% in productivity”. The fact that your workers will quit less often will also save you in the long run; one study found an average loss of $1500 for every hourly employee who leaves.

At the end of the day, this should be common sense; an educated, passionate and talented team will sell more product and create more loyal customers.

You’ll Retain Talented Employees

Staff retention is a problem that plagues the industry, and a big part of this is lack of training.  While this is true in most businesses, it’s a particularly common problem in cannabis, with a 40-60% employee turnover rate in the first two months of employment.

Employees who receive exceptional training that goes above and beyond industry standards are far more likely to stick around.  By providing them with the knowledge and skills they need, you’ll end up with happier, more confident employees and high company morale.

You’ll also build a reputation as a quality employer, making it far easier to attract new talent when the need arises.

You’ll Gain An Edge On The Competition

Insufficient training and education is one of the biggest complaints amongst cannabis retail staff.  In one particularly well-known case, Budtenders for Clarity Cannabis ratified the Canadian industry’s first collective agreement, citing this issue as one of the problems that their union was tackling.

The bottom line is that education is still very much ignored by the retail side of the business, even amongst big brands with large budgets.  This presents an enormous opportunity for retailers who take the initiative and make sure that their staff get the education and support they need.

You’ll Help Eliminate The Stigma

It isn’t just industry professionals who are lacking in quality information.  Much of the public remains ignorant on the topic of cannabis, and decades of prohibition have created myths and misconceptions that aren’t just going to disappear overnight.

Whether you realize it or not, as retailers, you’re on the “front lines” in this battle.  For many people, a conversation with a Budtender is the first opportunity they’ll ever have to really learn about this topic in an accurate way.

Ultimately, this is what our industry should be striving for; educated, well-informed customers armed with good information who make smart purchases that are right for them.  These people are not only loyal to your brand, they buy more product, more often, and are more likely to recommend you over your competitors.

The Five Keys To A Killer Cannabis Education And Training Program

There’s no getting around it; putting something like this together will require a lot of time and effort on your end.  But once you’ve established your program, not only will your business benefit tremendously in your day-to-day operations, you’ll find that it requires minimal tweaking and modifications…if you’ve set everything up correctly.

Here are the five keys you should focus on for an effective and efficient education and training program.

#1: Keep Cannabis Science Relevant

Plant science is a dense topic.  It’s also potentially a massive rabbit hole that can suck up hours of your time if you don’t know what to focus on.

It’s absolutely critical that your staff have a solid understanding of the scientific fundamentals.  There is, however, a point of diminishing returns.  Getting into the nuances of the cannabis genome may be interesting, but it won’t make your Budtenders any more effective in the role they’ve been hired for; explaining to customers how cannabis will affect them and how to select suitable products for their needs.

Instead of overloading your team with information, focus on the specific topics that are relevant.  This includes things like:

  • Plant anatomy, cultivation, cannabinoids, strains, the endocannabinoid system and terpenes
  • Cannabis and its interaction with the human body.  This includes factors like onset time, the differences between cannabinoids, and the short and longterm effects of THC on the body and brain
  • Safe and responsible consumption; impaired driving, cannabis use disorder (CUD) and potential side effects are all topics your staff should be well-versed in
  • Cannabis myths and misconceptions (critical for helping to eliminate the stigma)

#2: Focus On Products

While Budtenders can get away with having a more general understanding of plant science, when it comes to products, the fundamentals aren’t going to cut it.  Your staff should be experts in the products you carry and the value they provide. 

A good training program should provide in-depth education on:

  • Cannabis strains/cultivars.  Your staff should be able to explain the distinctions between each strain you carry, including CBD/THC content, terpenes and commonly reported effects
  • All of the different cannabis products on the market today (dried flower, tinctures, edibles, concentrates, etc).  Your staff should be able to explain how they’re made, how they’re consumed, and the benefits and drawbacks of each
  • Cannabis accessories (bongs, dab rigs, vapes, papers, etc).  Your staff should be able to explain how they work, all their individual component parts, and how to use, maintain and clean each accessory
  • Product labels.  Your staff should be able to explain how to read and interpret these labels for factors like THC/CBD content
  • New products and accessories.  Your staff should be kept up to date with the latest trends in the industry, and all the new products that end up on your shelves

#3: Get Crystal Clear On Compliance And Regulations

Cannabis is an extremely regulated industry.  The consequences for failing to comply with state/provincial/federal regulations can be devastating, and a mistake that most businesses can’t afford to make.

It’s absolutely critical that everyone on your team understands the regulations pertaining to your jurisdiction.  Most areas have government-mandated basic training.  In Ontario, for example, CannSell is required for all retailers and their staff.  While these programs will lay out the basic rules and requirements for your area, making strict compliance part of your corporate culture is a must. 

The reality is that, in many areas, the rules dictating what you can and cannot do can often be very unclear. For example, Health Canada has a number of advertising restrictions which include vague prohibitions on practices like “presenting cannabis as part of an appealing lifestyle”, as well as making claims for particular health benefits (even if there’s scientific research to back the claim up).

All of this needs to be communicated in detail to your staff.

#4: Teach Cannabis-Specific Sales And Customer Service Skills

A good Budtender isn’t just an expert in the art of cannabis, they’re also experts in the art of sales and customer service.  A team that can connect with customers, intelligently answer questions and concerns, and provide exceptional advice and product recommendation is one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal, and something you should cultivate in your training.

A few skills that are particularly relevant to cannabis retail include:

  • Building a strong rapport with customers (particularly important for inexperienced and first-time buyers who may find purchasing cannabis intimidating)
  • Active listening to provide better recommendations and create more opportunities for sales
  • Intelligently up-selling and cross-selling; understanding which products to recommend to which customers, and how to introduce relevant products that will enhance their experience
  • Knowing how to handle difficult questions beyond their current knowledge
  • Sharing their enthusiasm for your brand and the plant

#5: Keep On Top Of New Developments

Last but not least, it’s important that you and your team keep up with what’s happening in the world of cannabis, both from the perspective of industry trends and new products, but also with where the research is heading as well. 

Our current understanding of cannabis and the effects that it has on the human body is still in its infancy.  As our knowledge progresses, you need to make sure you’re communicating these updates to your customers.

An easy example of this is the distinction between indica and sativa strains.  It was long believed that indica plants produced feelings of relaxation and calm, while sativa plants promoted uplifting feelings of euphoria.  Marketing in the early days of legal recreational cannabis reflected this belief.

We now know that the reality is much more complicated.  Factors like cannabinoid content and terpene profiles play a far greater role in how a particular strain is going to make you feel than whether it’s an indica or sativa. 

Smart retailers have recognized this, and are able to confidently explain this new understanding to potential customers.  Many others, however, have not, and continue to use the indica/sativa angle as a way to hide their lack of understanding (to the detriment of their reputation).

The Next Step

The first step in your new training and education program should be a guide for your employees; a long-form document that contains everything they need to know before they hit the floor and start interacting with customers.  This should be an essential part of your onboarding process, and something that’s provided to each of your employees as soon as they’re hired.

If you’re interested in creating something like this and you don’t know where to start, I can help; as a professional writer with years of experience in the cannabis industry, I offer comprehensive and customizable training guides that educate and empower employees.