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Building a Great Team

As Canada’s recreational cannabis market goes live, a key part of its success will be the employees that power the industry.

Retail employees have a unique role. They are responsible for the in-store customer experience and for upholding regulations for safe selling. They are the glue between the consumer and the regulatory framework.

This is not your average retail operation and employees, often called budtenders, have a multifaceted role. It’s important that business owners train staff to align their vision for customer service and the customer experience. Let’s break down the role and look at the various components:


Staff must be trained in safe and responsible cannabis sales. Upholding these regulations involves checking identification to verify legal age, prohibiting dispensary access to minors, selling in line with possession limits, and not selling cannabis to people with obvious signs of impairment.

Product Knowledge

In order to be effective, store employees must have knowledge on the wide variety of products available in the store. This will include cannabis products, like flower and oils as well as accessories like vaporizers, rolling papers, and grinders.

Previous cannabis experience can also be a disadvantage.

However, retail staff will have to go beyond basic product knowledge. The types of cannabis products vary greatly based on their strain and potency. Each strain has different characteristics like smell, colour, and THC:CBD ratio. Strains affect each customer differently, and the method of consumption can vary from inhalation, ingestion, and topical application.  Employees will have to educate customers on the potential effects of each product.

Customer Service

Front-line employees will be responsible for upholding the customer service standards of the store. Budtenders will be responsible for greeting customers and ensuring an authentic experience. The need for strong communication skills will be heightened in the retail environment, as customers will have varying levels of experience with cannabis. The budtender will need to use terminology that the customer can understand and use questions effectively to tailor the customer’s experience.

Hiring Plays a Role

An important part of building the right team is to hire the right person from the start. Here are a few questions a retail cannabis store manager may want to add into an interview guide:

·        Have you ever worked in a regulated environment? Explain.

·        What are your interests and/or experiences with cannabis?

·        Describe your philosophy towards customer service.

·        Tell me about a time you managed a tense customer situation.

Previous Cannabis Experience

Some employees will come to the table with cannabis experience. This may have been gained through previous recreational or medical consumption, or they may have been employed in the industry.

Previous experience may be beneficial. It may decrease the learning curve for the trainee and offer a base of knowledge to build off. However, previous cannabis experience can also be a disadvantage if the trainee is very set in their opinions of cannabis and those opinions don’t align with the messaging of the retailer.

Training New Employees

In order to ensure the budtender can meet all of these requirements, it is important for the business owner to establish a training plan. It can consist of online training, classroom programs, or custom training programs. The business owner will want to choose programs that are both cost effective and deliver the skills needed by retail cannabis employees.

Any employee entering the industry should have completed “Sell Safe” or equivalent training from their provincial regulator. This will be the cost of admission and ensures employees enter the retail sector with an understanding of the regulatory requirements.

New employees should also receive training on the cannabis plant, cannabis products, and accessories.

In addition to this, trainees need knowledge on advanced techniques to interact with customers. This involves greeting customers, identify if they’re interacting with a new or experienced customer, using questions to make product recommendations, describing strains, and closing the sale.

Providing a new employee with a strong knowledge base will be important to the overall success of the store. However, keeping existing employees up to date with product knowledge will be equally important.

Ongoing Product Knowledge

As new strains enter the market, staff will need to learn about the unique traits of each strain. Other new products will also be introduced to the store, so training will be needed for those as well. Developing a product catalogue online can provide an easy way for new employees to reference product information.

Training is a Cost of Entry

Cannabis legalization has high stakes and negative customer experiences can impact whether a customer returns to a store or moves on to a competitor. Training is a cost of entry for retailers; ill equipped staff can quickly tarnish a retailer’s reputation, or worse— put them at risk for a regulatory infraction. The best retailers will use training as a competitive advantage to set themselves apart from the competition.

Providing a new employee with a strong knowledge base will be important to the overall success of the store.

While retail cannabis jobs are often entry-level in nature, front-line staff have a multi-faceted role and are going to be a crucial part of the Canadian cannabis market. Retailers need to have effective hiring and training practices to make sure they are capturing and maintaining market share.


Alison McMahon is CEO of Cannabis at Work, a leading source in Canada for cannabis jobs, recruitment services, online industry training, and workplace impairment training. The company also writes about industry trends, offers cannabis policy conferences, and speaks at other events.