If you’re considering opening a retail cannabis store in Canada, it’s vital to understand how to remain compliant, while at the same time serving your financial interests and the interests and needs of your customers. The thin blue line between success and failure is retail cannabis sales training.
Front line staff (sometimes referred to as “budtenders” in the retail cannabis sales industry) are key to service delivery and ensuring your operation remains compliant. Ignorance of laws, rules and regulations are no defense if an infraction occurs. Training is a cost-effective way to protect your hard-earned retail cannabis license and provide a good customer experience that maximizes profitability!
1. Hire for experience and provide in-house training
While it may seem obvious, hires with prior retail cannabis sales experience give you a head start. For example, if hires come from the medical cannabis industry, they’ll already have some product knowledge and cannabis sales experience. While the needs of medical cannabis users and recreational cannabis users differ, general product knowledge and sales experience is invaluable.
Because the industry is relatively new, it’s not always possible to find job candidates with experience. Therefore, retail cannabis store training is important and should be implemented and mandatory for all staff.
2. Establish a formal training program early
Most provinces that allow retail cannabis sales will require mandatory safe-service training. A few provincial programs exist while others are in development. For example, in BC, a mandatory responsible service training program is being developed, while Alberta has already implemented their mandatory retail cannabis training program “SellSafe”.
Mandatory government-run retail cannabis staff training can form the basis of in-house training programs but should also be augmented by product and sales training. Typically, a training program will include information on legal and social responsibilities, compliance checks, product knowledge, safety and security, and cannabis store policies.
3. Create a training manual
In addition to government-run mandatory training and your own in-house training, a training manual should be written and made available to all staff.
Training manuals are living documents in that they will and should change as 1) you gain operational experience, and 2) rules and regulations change.
A training manual should be a go-to resource when staff have questions about what they can and can’t do in their role as a retail cannabis sales associate.
4. Ongoing training and training manual updates
Because retail cannabis store regulations are new, they will undoubtedly evolve. As rules are changed it’s important to hold periodic training meetings as needed to review changes that affect store procedures. Training should occur as soon as changes to laws, cannabis licensing rules and regulations are known, and your store training manual should be updated to reflect the changes.
5. Cannabis retailers sell products NOT product health benefits
Opinions and knowledge about cannabis consumption and health have changed and there is a lot of information and misinformation on the Internet. As the saying goes “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.
Retail cannabis sales staff should not give medical advice or make recommendations or claims regarding health benefits of cannabis products. Doing so could cause harm to a customer, cost you your license, or result in civil action. Hyping health benefits is rampant in the medical cannabis industry and should be avoided completely in the retail setting. Your staff do not have the requisite expertise to “recommend” certain products for certain ailments. It will be key to educate staff to stick with the facts when discussing products with customers, with respect to product descriptions and formulation, such as CBD and THC content percentages and not focus on the “benefits” of such products.
A recent American study Training and Practices of Cannabis Dispensary Staff findings indicated that although only 20% of staff had some sort of medical or science training, 90% of staff made specific recommendations to “treat” a certain condition with a specific product. Although your staff are selling recreational cannabis, there still may be a temptation to “sell” supposed benefits.
Whether you are a retail cannabis store start-up or established store, your business will benefit from an in-house training program and training manual development.
Contact Rebecca Hardin, President and lead consultant of Thrive Liquor & Cannabis Advisors about establishing a training program in your retail cannabis store.