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The Evolution of the Dispensary: Automate What You Can and Let the Budtenders Offer a Personal Touch

As our industry matures, dispensary owners and customers have come to expect more satisfaction from the cannabis shopping experience. Unlike other retail businesses that have succumbed to the virtual marketplace, regulations governing how cannabis is marketed and sold require that dispensaries follow a more traditional bricks and mortar model.

For proprietors like me, cannabis retail has its own specific set of challenges, such as handling hundreds of cash-only transactions every day, restricting minor access, attending to customer safety and privacy, new product introductions, quality control and inventory tracking, storage and reporting. Technology, personal attention and strategic facility design are key elements that provide safe, interesting and comfortable environments for customers and employees.

I believe cannabis retailers who offer premium products and correctly balance technology and personal service in a well-designed space will successfully compete in this increasingly crowded marketplace.

At Colorado Harvest Company’s three dispensaries, technology empowered my team to complete 200,000 sales transactions in 2017. Here are four examples of successful techniques you can employ in your own businesses:

1. The way we welcome our guests has changed.

We focus on meticulous maintenance to create a lasting first impression. So everything from the front door to the back office is sparkling clean. In 2014, we were wrong to assume the first human that a customer met in a dispensary should be an armed security guard. That didn’t set the right tone for a welcoming experience. Now, we’ve learned that monitored cameras and security alarms connected directly to nearby police stations and other changes are far more effective.

Today, a store manager opens the door and checks a customer’s identification. The receptionist greets and registers the customer as recreational or medical, but security cameras cover every aspect of the store, inside and out. The receptionist regulates customer traffic, so each guest can have a personal and unhurried private consultation with a budtender. Colorado law requires that medical and recreational cannabis retail areas remain separated, but we design the space so the flow is easy and unnoticeable.

2. We use design attributes to communicate our brand: Cannabis Grown with Integrity

Our Denver Green Mile dispensary’s steampunk theme represents a fusion of industrial, vintage and modern elements in metal and wood and fits well into a neighborhood that is transitioning into a popular tourist destination and entertainment district. We hired a professional design firm, D’Amore Interiors, to double the size and remodel this, our busiest, location. In September, 2017, our designer was recognized for excellence in industrial redesign of our cannabis center at the 20th Annual Colorado Awards for Remodeling Excellence (CARE) program presented by the Custom Builder & Remodeler Council (CBRC) of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Denver (HBA). This was the first dispensary to receive this mainstream award.

Colorado Harvest Company, Aurora, Colorado, has a glass blowing studio in full customer view with an artist in residence who makes custom pipes and bongs. This special attraction reinforces the public commitment we’ve made to support the arts in our community. For fun, we’ve added a completely restored 1967, 13 window VW microbus and converted it into a photo booth.

All shops have lighted display cases containing cannabis themed glassware and racks arranged with T-shirts near the entries. Computer monitors – the Aurora store has nine of them – are available to customers to research cannabis products, small batch harvests and company news.

3. We use technology throughout the shopping experience.

Our website is our virtual introductory storefront. We use it to tell our story, showcase our properties and help customers discover products before they enter the store. We installed a web portal so customers can anticipate new small batch harvests of their favorite strains. We also post the Colorado Department of Agriculture test results of our latest crops which are currently for sale.

We make online ordering easy. We’ve connected our inventory to a real-time management system so customers can know what is available at any time. Using the GreenBits POS system, we track inventory with each sale. Customers in a hurry or wishing to reserve an order can place their orders online and pick them up in the shop when convenient.

In store, our menus are electric. Electric signage communicates instantly in a cost efficient way that customers have come to expect. Electric signs can be changed easily to reflect menu additions and new products. Updates are streamed automatically. We display extracts and edibles in climate-controlled lighted baker’s cases.

We beta-tested CanPay in 2016. We were one of the first dispensaries to test and then implement the system that has now been mandated in Hawaii and is being used in other states. Similar to PayPal, CanPay must be set up in advance to directly withdraw payment from a customer’s checking account. The state of Hawaii has just elected to make payments for marijuana completely cashless, and announced that CanPay mobile payment is its system of choice.

4. Budtender training never ends.

Budtenders have to be gracious customer service experts. As our frontline communicators, they need to be trained and empowered to make decisions that will make lasting positive impressions. In addition, they must be aware of all compliance requirements as well as understand the limits to the advice they can offer.

They are responsible for collecting taxes and packaging purchases in child-resistant containers. We use a double check system for customers so budtenders check IDs again prior to completing a sales transaction. Security cameras focus on the cash register to gather details of a sale and to monitor compliance, which further protects the company.

In Colorado, where consumers can choose among 491 licensed dispensaries, competitive proprietors employ all of these tools to create memorable shopping experiences, and then fuel them with great customer service.

I think of dispensaries as the bricks-and-mortar anchors of a cultural revolution that must meet regulatory requirements. As cannabis legalization progresses throughout the world, Colorado dispensary owners are setting benchmarks for responsible operations.

I opened my first medical marijuana dispensary in 2009. I’ve worked through changes in regulations as well as public opinion. Sharing my experience and leading by example is my responsibility to promote universal acceptance of cannabis.

Tim CullenTim Cullen

Tim Cullen

Tim Cullen, CEO of Colorado Harvest Company, a vertically integrated enterprise that grows and sells its own natural cannabis, is also a member of the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s newly formed Private Advisory Committee to help cannabis producers gain insight into safe cultivation practices. The project taps into Cullen’s expertise as an educator and expert cannabis grower. Earlier in 2016, the Colorado Department of Agriculture returned a perfect score on all 80 tests of Colorado Harvest Company cannabis samples taken between August 2015 and January 2016.

Cullen, who took a sabbatical after 10 years of teaching high school biology to start a marijuana business, oversees the production of more than 700 pounds of high quality natural cannabis.

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