For a moment, try to imagine yourself walking into a fine dining restaurant. The walls, decadent with brilliant art; the ceiling, intricately laced with gold leaf. The first drink of the night starts off at the front bar as you wait for your table to be prepared. From the greeter, to the bartender, the staff is absolutely lovely, friendly, and enthusiastic. As you’re guided to your seat, you notice a crystal chandelier delicately dangling in the center of the room. You are being sat at the V.I.P. table. The greeter sits you down, places menus gently before you and tells you that your server will be with you shortly. Skimming over the menu with your eyes, your mouth waters from the savory smells invading the air around you. Moments later, the door to the kitchen swings open and a dude in dirty jeans and a band T-shirt, rockin’ a sideways ballcap, bursts out and swaggers his way over to your table. Obviously hungover, he smells like a half-drunk anti-deodorant activist. He stops at your table and, through slimy teeth, slurs out “Hey yo – Hey yo. You thinkin’ food dude or are you just gonna cruze on some booze?”
The question here is, do you walk out before or after you finish your drink? There’s no question that we will not be dining here tonight, nor will we ever bring a client here for a business anything. The deeper question is, how often do we allow our staff to do this to our establishments?
Impressions and the Cannabis Culture War
Especially in the world of cannabis, we are having to fight a culture war to foster a responsible use culture and make a professional industry from something that, for over 80 years, has been a hobby for some and an outlaw lifestyle for others. When patients walk into your establishment (which you’ve taken the time to build out, decorate, choose and stock display cases for, & pour your blood sweat and tears into crafting), do your staff match the decor? Do they carry themselves professionally or are they “bro-dude-ing” the professionalism right out of your patient’s experience?
Some business owners feel uncomfortable setting harsh boundaries and expectations with employees and making high demands of detailed elements like “how one speaks”, as it definitely feels like micromanaging. Yet, in states where THC products are still under prohibition, employees at smoke shops still have to swear on their jobs that everything in the store is for tobacco use or incense burning only. They don't have a single “bong” for sale, but have quite the selection of “water pipes”. If you go into a fine dining restaurant, everyone’s shirt is freshly laundered and pressed, there is no leaning on the counters or bar, service is friendly and efficient, and no one is being even remotely crass when dealing with a guest. Everyone's language is kept clean, and professional.
Why is it, that people will conform to those standards when working at a restaurant, but when you ask your employees to make sure their pants are clean before they come in or to stop using slang terms with the patients, they seem so resistant? Is it your expectations and consequences? Bad training? Maybe you don’t yell at them loud enough… I would argue that it’s the culture of our industry as a whole. This is both bad and good news. It’s bad news when looking at the typical person who’s dream life is to move to a legal state and work as a budtender and trimmer. They’re usually not as excited about a career in retail as they thought they would be, and their bright, over-the-top, enthusiasm quickly dissolves into lethargy.
Enforcing Employee Codes
For a lot of us who grew up in restrictive cultures and harshly anti-cannabis states, legal states make dispensaries sound like Willie Wonka factories for weed heads. When people get in and learn that it’s just another retail job, it can rot a good apple quickly. It’s also a bad idea to have alcoholics as bartenders, foxes as chicken coop guards, and people who obsess about your product directly over with it. True, at a wine bar you will have staff tastings where staff are asked to taste the products so they can speak about the products from experience, they are also asked to spit the wine out as the go through the tasting so the intoxication doesn’t dull their training experience. Yes, you want your employees to be able to speak in an educated way about the products. You also want your employees to speak in an educated and professional way in general.
It is okay to set boundaries and expectations for conduct and appearance at your dispensary, in fact, as the owner, it is your job to craft the corporate culture of your business. Cannabis branding is not just about a logo. The logo’s job is to give the consumers something to associate with their experience of your product and service. Brands such as McDonalds and Nordstroms denote a specific level of both quality and service in our minds. Ever wonder what “successful branding” really means? Just this… Over the past several decades, the businesses that maintained consistency in the quality of their products and services, are now commonly known for them. It’s really just that simple.
Your Brand is Your Personality
No one goes to Taco Bell because they’re looking for an organic vegan meal. No one goes to IHOP for a great steak. So where does your business fall into the spectrum of the businesses around you? Would people say that your cannabis retail location is the corner store dispensary or do they call you the fine dining of local cannabis goods? Further, if you do find yourself on the lower end, what is one simple solution to increase brand recognition, create more staff compliance, and increase the professionalism of each patient’s experience? Uniforms and Code of Conduct agreements.
Having your brand literally in front of the patient the whole time of purchase will certainly help associate your brand with their experience more than, let’s say, doing nothing. It also allows you, as the one who chooses the branded uniforms, what level of professionalism your employees will come dressed in every day. Instead of doing T-shirts with wacky graphics and bright colors, consider embroidered dress shirts. Instead of telling your employees to wear whatever pants are comfortable, or just setting limits like “no yoga pants” and “pants must be worn at the waist”, consider setting the expectation of “Pants must be black, properly fitted, dress slacks, worn at the waist and held up by either a belt or suspenders”.
Resistance From Employees
You will always face resistance from employees when changing policies like this, though if given a 60 day compliance period, most employees will either comply, or sort themselves out of the mix. After 6 months, the change will be the new norm. As your business grows its reputation for being more reputable, higher level employees will seek you. Just as the quality of your light attracts bigger bugs in the night, the quality of your cannabis branding can attract new partners, investors, and employees who are looking for others who “take it seriously”.
This is where we leave you with this choice. What will you do with your business and brand? Tomorrow when you go into your shop, check their pants and shoes, then ask yourself if they would be allowed to serve a sandwich and bowl of soup at a restaurant dressed the way they are. Ask: if my waiter was dressed like this, what would I assume of the quality of my upcoming meal? Remember, that it’s never too late to rebrand, until it’s too late to rebrand. If you’re noticing that your profits have hit a plateau, it’s time to choose; grow or die. Sometimes upgrading your business starts with upgrading your staff.