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Indie Retailing 101: How to Keep Your Budtenders for the Long-Term


Employee turnover is an issue for all retailers, not just cannabis ones. You'd think people would love working in a weed shop, but there are plenty of reasons budtenders don't stick around for the long term.

Why? What makes a budtender lose interest in their job? And what can you do to ensure they remain happy and productive?

After all, a good budtender is the face of your store. They interact with customers, suggest products, and ensure customers have a positive experience.

So what can you do to ensure your budtenders have a positive work experience?


High Turnover Rate for Budtenders

According to the cannabis analytics firm, Headset, 55% of budtenders in either the US or Canada will quit by the end of their first year.

In Canada, nearly a third of cannabis retail employees will quit in their first year. A quarter of them didn't even survive the first month on the job.

The cannabis industry has an employee turnover problem. But what about jurisdictions without high turnover?

Illinois cannabis retailers are better at retaining their experienced budtenders, with over 50% hired more than a year ago. Compare this to Colorado or Oregon, which have lower rates of retention.

In Canada, employee turnover is a problem across the board but appears to be a more significant issue in Alberta. Although they are better at retaining new employees, they've lost more experienced budtenders than all other Canadian provinces.

So what's going on here? If your choice is between other retail work, like stocking shelves at a Canadian Tire – why wouldn't you want to work in a cannabis shop?


Training Programs for Budtenders

You'll likely get twelve different answers if you ask ten former budtenders why they quit. Instead of focusing on "why they quit," retailers should shift their thinking to "how can I get them to stay."

One way would be emphasizing training programs. A well-trained budtender is more likely to feel comfortable with their work. Cannabis is a vast topic, and you've got customers who are recreational users and medicinal.

A budtender can feel overwhelmed if they're not adequately trained. It's akin to working in an automotive parts store and not knowing the first thing about cars other than the basics.

An efficient training program also plays into the trend of high turnover. It's the adage: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

If you can't retain employees, at least make the training program efficient and easily replicable for every new batch of budtenders you hire.

But that's giving into the trend. What can you do as a business owner to keep your budtenders long-term?


Things You Can Do To Keep Budtenders for the Long-Term

Good budtenders stick it out since people who are good at their job tend to stay with it.

Budtenders also rely on tips. While it's not mandatory to tip your budtender, plenty of customers will do so if they find the employee's recommendations and knowledge helpful.

So when hiring, look for extroverted, more agreeable, and conscientious candidates. You can fill in any lack of knowledge about cannabis later. What's important is their attitude.

They have to love helping people make decisions. An introvert who is knowledgeable in cannabis won't last as a budtender.

Another issue with retail is wages. With rising living costs, many employees can't live on retail wages. Many of them may get second jobs or acquire a skill set that allows them to escape the retail salary.

We realize operators can't just magically raise wages, even if they really want to. But one workaround is employee downtime. Many retailers want their budtenders working the entire time they're on the clock.

So when the store is empty, they expect their employees to dust the counters, clean the glass, and count inventory. And while all those things are essential, it's crucial to distinguish between production and pointless busy work.

Pointless busy work will build resentment in your employees and eventually have them looking for better opportunities.

If you can only pay your budtender minimum wage, let them use their downtime to read cannabis-related articles and journals. Educating themselves will increase their knowledge of cannabis (which is ultimately good for the customer) while allowing them to sit and relax between customer rushes.

This slight change will be far more productive in the long run than having them perform make-work tasks to keep them busy. Especially if you have a budtender, who is friendly and helpful but needs to fill in the gaps in their cannabis knowledge.

A few other levers that you can tweak:

  • Hire local. Budtenders are less likely to quit if they can walk to work or take a short bus ride.

  • Balance work life and home life. Are you the type of boss that always wants their employees on-call? Be mindful of how often you call or text to ask them to come in.

  • Healthy work environment. You may have an excellent budtender who the customers love. But if they're rude or toxic to the other employees, you've got a problem.

  • Provide snacks or drinks. This simple but effective strategy can keep your budtenders for the long term. When it comes to weighing the pros and cons of the job, your budtender will certainly list "free coffee" as a pro.

  • Refine your message. Some retailers already do this. Others are just "selling weed." Ask us how we can help you find the core values of your business. A company's motto can make or break customers. But it can also influence the pride your employees feel working for you.

  • Perks incentive workers. Small gestures like employee raffles or employee of the month prizes can help motivate your workforce and keep them around for the long term.


How We Can Help

Keeping your budtenders for the long term isn't an easy task. The trend is working against you. But implementing some of our recommendations will undoubtedly be better than doing nothing.

If you're curious about how Burning Tree can help your retail business grow, don't hesitate to contact us today.


What's the Toke Away?

  • TRAINING - Product training instills knowledge and confidence in your employees which doesn't just feel good for them, but also will impact your bottom line.

  • SMART HIRING - Hire outgoing, charismatic personalities before knowledge or even industry experience. Knowledge can always be taught.

  • WORK ENVIRONMENT- Fill budtender downtime not with busy work that can feel demoralizing, but mix it up with cannabis education, knowledge testing or working on your social feeds.

  • PERKS - If you can't pay at or above market rates, add in coffee and snacks which are significantly lower in cost but are much appreciated by staff.

Interested to Learn More?

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