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5 Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring a Budtender

Hiring staff for your marijuana company can be tricky. There are many factors at play here – knowledgeability, experience, and training are all crucial details, but there is more to consider than just the obvious. In order to find the best employees, reduce your turnover rate, and protect your livelihood, consider the following before hiring a new staff member.

1. Hiring Too Quickly

In a booming industry, cannabis shops often need to move fast when it comes to supply and demand, and when there is an influx of customers or patients, employers recognize the need to have as many qualified staffers on hand as possible.

The key there is “qualified.” Having customer service experience is important, but if you operate a medical marijuana dispensary, you need to ensure that your staff is capable of guiding patients towards the right strains and the right products that meets their needs. Even in a recreational setting, steering a customer towards the wrong product could result in a patron having an unpleasant experience, which could ultimately result in a lost customer.

If you hire too quickly, you’re more likely to have a high turnover rate, and you’ll be hiring again within months, likely for a better, more qualified candidate.

During interviews, a great way to test knowledge and personability is to role-play. Act the role of both a customer and a patient with specific needs. A knowledgeable budtender can recognize those needs and gear the customer towards the right cannabis products.

To Summarize: Conduct more than one interview.

2. Not Thoroughly Checking Your Candidate’s History

We are by no means advocating that you discriminate against a potential employee based on their past, particularly for something as generally insignificant as a nonviolent drug-related charge. You should, however, check references for employees, and it’s definitely worthwhile to do a criminal background check.

Case in point: Have a Heart, a fairly prominent cannabis company in Seattle, hired a budtender based on a false name, Nyhier Manning. Not just a false name, but a very unusual false name. Within a month after being hired, the shop was robbed at gunpoint in which several employees (including “Nyhier”) were tied up and held hostage.

Luckily, the location’s security protocols and a diligent manager foiled the plan, but when Have a Heart owner Ryan Kunkel investigated further, he discovered his employee was not who he said he was. “Nyhier Manning” was actually Sean Sylve, who was personal friends with the would-be robbers and was already high-tailing his way out of the state. This story has a happy ending – the robbers and their accomplice were all arrested, but take heed of this cautionary tale.

To Summarize: Always conduct a background check.

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3. Hiring Someone With No Customer or Retail Service Experience

Many people who want to work in the cannabis industry mistakenly believe that being interested in cannabis is experience enough. Not so, say dispensary owners and managers. While it’s important to have an interest in cannabis, a lot of budtending comes down to the very basic skill of customer service.

Budtenders meet with patients and customers and must help them find the right product for the right price to ensure customer satisfaction. Happy customers make repeat customers, and loyal customers leave rave reviews for your cannabis shop and encourage their friends to visit it as well.

A budtender can have all the growing, trimming, and cannabis expertise in the world, but if they don’t know how to positively interact with a prospective customer, it can change the entire experience for your clientele.

To Summarize: Customer service/retail experience is key.

4. Not Properly Training Employees (or Offering Opportunities to Learn)

If you find a great employee who doesn’t have quite the cannabis expertise that you’d prefer, make sure to include learning opportunities as a regular part of the employee experience. This could be something company-wide, like weekend seminars or regular access to learning materials, or it can be as simple as having an expert on staff around to answer questions and train the newbies.

If you want to have success in this industry, heed the advice of former budtender and dispensary manager Maria Sharp: “Avoid opting for a slew of short shift employees instead of a strong core staff with a couple of part-timers to help fill gaps.”

James Scott, a former budtender with Seattle Cannabis Company, agrees, adding, “It helps to invest in budtenders who expand their knowledge base over a long period of employment, rather than trying to nickel and dime employees, which results in high turnover and tons of new hires with very little knowledge.”

To Summarize: Properly train employees for long-term success.

5. Never Ignore Red Flags

A red flag can be something as simple as a gut feeling that something is not quite right. You received a glowing reference about this new budtender from a good friend, but you can’t shake that nagging feeling that something is a bit off. None of their previous employers have called you back, but you’re short-handed and need staffers as soon as possible, so you decide to ignore your instincts and take a chance.

This industry is already a risky one to enter. In order to run a successful cannabis business, there are tight security measures that you must undertake to protect yourself and your business. Anyone that you employ should be absolutely trustworthy – they’re going to be handling your cash, your product, and your livelihood. There are very few legal protections available for marijuana companies, so when in doubt, be patient, double-check their references, and trust your instinct if you don’t think the candidate will be a good fit.

To Summarize: If something seems off, trust your gut.

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Lead image: David Zalubowski/AP
Lisa Rough's Bio Image
Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

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