Behind the counter: my experience budtending on Vancouver Island
June 30, 2023 By Uhrius Hartwell
Most days were the same. Open up the doors to have three or four of the same regulars saunter in, casually browsing before making roughly the same purchase they had made the day before. At that hour, you’re guaranteed to have your chronic customers – the window shoppers and dabblers don’t show up until around 3pm.
Half of my job was getting people in and out the door as fast as we could, and the other half was education. It never occurred to me that when applying for this job, it would lead to feeling so fulfilled in a retail setting. The ability to educate about cannabis and its benefits for a wide variety of ailments, while being careful not to give any medical advice, took up most of my time with prospective users.
Rarely did a customer ever discuss trichomes or genetics unless they came in to show off their knowledge, of which I would cherry pick the gems and pass them onto other clientele.
Our elderly customers would come in for a sleep aid or for pain management, and a consistent story began appearing with these folks: “I’ve got this terrible pain and I’m on (two or three prescriptions). Do you have anything you can recommend that won’t make me high?”
I’ve got to say, compared to working at the liquor store when I was younger, it’s neat being a legal drug dealer and interacting with much happier customers. At a liquor store, pointing out who’s the alcoholic is pretty evident. As for the chronic weed smokers, they are much more upbeat, and their physicality appears to be in better shape.
As for the store I worked at, I will say it was certainly not an… inspired experience. But I loved my customers and co-workers. It was our job to sling bud and build an engaging atmosphere for people when they came in, which we were consistent with, seeing as how we needed to install a bench for our customers to sit down and chat (upon which many a chat was had!)
That being said, the management and corporate management of our company was run by people who you could tell didn’t have as much compassion for people. From a business perspective, I understand the need to be profit-oriented, but it should never come at the cost of the cool atmosphere created and maintained in the pot shop; that is why the people came.
Staff were pleasant, the layout was beautiful without being busy or overcrowded, and our prices were comparable if not better than our competition across the street.
If the opportunity arose to educate someone on the benefits of cannabis, it was almost always met with a “thank you” and subsequent purchase.
The cannabis industry is relatively simple on the retail side when it comes to customers. I mean if they are walking in the door, chances are the purchase has already been made in their head and you just have to close the deal. But be on the lookout for the not-so-confident person who wanders in out of curiosity. With kind words and earnest listening, as many are interested in being heard, they’re sure to become a repeat customer.
Honestly, it’s Vancouver Island, where everyone and their dog is selling weed. So, the best method I saw for capturing the sale, and future sales, is consistency. Consistency of product, but most importantly, I feel, is consistency from the budtenders in terms of knowledge and attitude towards the public.
Questions to consider:
Maybe as an industry we should be collectively asking ourselves this: Does securing this kind of talent require a raise in pay grade? Should more samples and perks be afforded to those behind the counter? Would better rapport between growers and retail be effective for the purposes of tackling the legacy market?
How many budtenders become brand ambassadors for the products they’re partial to? As an extension of that, how many producers are mining their pool of local tenders before posting ads directed at the marketing graduates? I think we can all agree that passion for cannabis isn’t taught, but is inherit in the personality of enthusiasts.
My takeaways from working in this industry have been positive. Establishing those relationships with growers and seeing their products flourish in retail is rewarding – you can tell whose heart and soul goes into what’s brought to market. I work in oil and gas now and I tell you: I miss the industry and the Island, and will likely return to both.
Canadian bud will always have high global status, from coast-to-coast, because the people here really know how to deliver on some of the finest smoke around – it’s just part of our culture.
Uhrius Hartwell hails from Calgary and intends on advancing his work in the Canadian cannabis industry.
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