The Budtender Retention Struggle

As more and more states have decriminalized cannabis in recent years, the cannabis industry has enjoyed rapid growth, especially within the retail sector. Yet that doesn’t mean that success is guaranteed for all dispensaries. Many businesses place a high emphasis on customer retention, but fail to prioritize an equally important goal — budtender retention.

An experienced budtender possesses a wealth of knowledge about the products sold by a dispensary. Just as importantly, budtenders play a critical role in retaining customers. A good budtender doesn’t just sell cannabis, they also form the kinds of bonds that keep customers returning to your store again and again.

Unfortunately, many dispensaries have experienced significant difficulties in retaining their budtenders. This article takes a closer look at the data around budtender retention, and discusses the importance of budtender trainer and other strategies for keeping trusted employees around longer.

The Budtender Retention Struggle in Numbers

The extent of budtender turnover was made explicitly clear in an eye-opening report from Headset Cannabis Intelligence. This Seattle-based company offers data and analytics services for businesses in the cannabis industry. Their report, generated using data from retailers’ point-of-sale systems, provided a highly detailed picture of budtender turnover in Colorado and Washington State. Here are three key takeaways.

The Average Retailer Loses 30 Percent of its Workforce Each Year

Headset’s study found that the average cannabis retailer suffers a yearly turnover rate of about 30 percent. Meanwhile, 21 percent of Colorado stores and 19 percent of Washing State stores had turnover rates of between 40 and 50 percent. Interestingly, the two states showed some more significant differences in places as well.

For instance, a whopping 32 percent of Washington State retailers had turnovers of more than 50 percent. The corresponding number for Colorado retailers was a mere 16 percent. This difference would seem to reflect a greater degree of stability in the Colorado industry, despite the fact that Colorado dispensaries lose more total employees per year.

86 Percent of Employees Who Quit Lasted Less Than 3 Months

The study also profiled the tenure of employees who quit. The majority — 58 percent — failed to last two months. 40 percent of employees who quit didn’t even make it a single month. Meanwhile, among employees who had held their job for over three months, only 14 percent quit.

To a degree, these trends can be chalked up to the fact that not all hires will find themselves well-suited to a front-facing budtender position. Yet the numbers are too strong to write off with that explanation alone. A more important message is that many new employees fail to get the kinds of budtender training and support they need.

Turnover Patterns Show Seasonal Correlation

Budtender turnover rates show significant changes from month to month. For instance, turnover increases drastically in August for both Washington and Colorado businesses. Washington state dispensaries experience an even more drastic turnover rate in October, while Colorado faces its largest turnover spike in December.

These kinds of patterns are far from random. Demographically, budtenders tend to be younger, with many college students taking on summer positions. This would explain the increased turnover rates at the end of summer. Other turnover rate increases, by contrast, are more likely tied to seasonal downturns in the marijuana market. Budtenders who rely on tips simply may not make enough at such times.

How to Improve Budtender Retention

The data around budtender turnover provides some vital clues about what business owners can do to increase employee retention.

Offer Competitive Pay and Healthcare

As the legal marijuana industry continues to rapidly expand, competition for experienced workers is only growing more fierce. As a result, top-tier budtenders are more willing to exercise their newfound leverage if a better opportunity comes along. Smart dispensaries recognize the value of their employees, and retain them by offering competitive pay structures, insurance, and benefits.

Get Through Downturns with Incentives

As discussed above, data analytics allows dispensaries to identify times of the year when budtenders are more likely to leave. Although that turnover may have different causes, it is often correlated with downturns in sales. Savvy business owners predict slumps and offer employees incentives to stick around until the market picks up again.

Such incentives may take a variety of forms. You may offer bonuses to employees who can meet certain sales goals in dry months. Even better, you might choose to incentivize employees whose customer service skills result in repeat customer visits.

Downturns are also a great time to focus on non-remunerative incentives that foster bonds and build a stronger sense of employee loyalty. Make budtenders feel actively involved and valued by asking for their input on various aspects of your day-to-day operations. Increased education opportunities, employee dinners, and other forms of recognition and reward will also go a long way towards increasing retention.

Provide Ample Budtender Training Opportunities

If you feel confident that you have hired an individual who would make a good fit as a budtender, it is vital that you support them through adequate cannabis training from day one. The fact that most budtender turnover occurs within two months of hiring would indicate that this is an area where most businesses can improve.

There are various aspects of budtender training to consider. To begin with, there are the nuts and bolts operations of the store — how various products are organized and stored, how to make sales using the POS system, and other daily processes. Make sure your employees receive thorough dispensary training from day one.

Equally importantly, ensure that your employees have access to thorough training about the latest trends in the marijuana industry — for instance, the differences between different strains of marijuana, or the differences between CBD and THC. The most proactive dispensaries allow their employees to sign up for third-party industry courses, seminars, and conferences.

Encourage your budtenders to increase their professionalism wherever and whenever possible, while keeping in mind that not all of your budtenders will have identical career ambitions. Nonetheless, the more budtender sales training opportunities you make available to your employees, the more likely they are to stick with you for a longer span of time.

Ultimately, employee retention plays just as big a role in long-term success as customer retention. For more forward-thinking strategies about how to lower your rate of budtender turnover through cannabis education, contact the industry experts at MJ Hybrid Solutions.

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