Cannabis retailers play an important role in Canada’s emerging cannabis industry. Beyond being the primary means by which Canadians get cannabis, retailers must educate customers on how to consume cannabis in a safe and enjoyable way, all while battling the stigma the plant and its users still face.
It is no surprise then that leading retailers are putting social responsibility and staff and consumer education at the forefront of their operations.
The Importance of Customer Education
Since cannabis has only been legal for less than a year, it can still be difficult for consumers to find credible, trustworthy resources and make informed purchasing decisions. Natalie Wood, HR Director of Meta Cannabis Supply Co. and NewLeaf Canada notes, “The long prohibition on cannabis has led to a lot of misinformation.”
It is largely up to retailers to fill that gap. “As retailers, we really need to educate. It’s on us, first and foremost,” says Andrew Gordon, Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships & Community at Kiaro. He emphasizes the need to create a “positive, purposeful, and meaningful exchange” with customers, not just a transaction.
Besides guiding the customer, accurate and accessible information supports the industry as a whole. “Education provides confidence and clarity in the market,” explains Gordon. “When you engage, inform, and empower customers and the community you can really change minds and hearts to end that stigma.”
Education serves as the foundation for these retailers’ operations and is a value integral to their success. “As a neighbourhood store, we’re in a great position to help correct the record and support people who are navigating through a new world of brands and choices,” says Wood. “We meet customers where they are—whether they are seasoned consumers or brand new to cannabis. Education is what ultimately helps consumers feel comfortable, confident, and informed with their choices.”
It’s also what keeps customers coming back and brings new ones in. Gordon believes that customer education and engagement are the hub of the retail experience and set retailers apart from the competition. Don’t forget that customers serve as your store’s advocate. Add value to the customer experience and you’ll not only ensure they return, you’ll see them positively represent your store, helping grow your customer base.
Building a Retail Education and Social Responsibility Program
Gordon shares the four pillars Kiaro is using to build their retail education and social responsibility program:
1. Train and Develop Staff
A positive customer experience and a solid retail education program starts from within by training your staff and investing in their professional development.
Wood agrees, “Responsibility and education are woven through every step of our onboarding, from recruitment through to our online and in-store training. Our training grounds our staff in the responsibilities and the boundaries of providing support and education to cannabis consumers.”
First, retailers should be aware of any mandatory training programs specific to the province they operate in. For example, Alberta has SellSafe, a mandatory social responsibility training program designed to help retail cannabis staff understand what their responsibilities are to their customers.
Many retailers go above and beyond mandatory programs, seeking out third-party training and industry experts. “We invest in the best-in-class training for our team,” says Gordon. “We make sure our consultants are really well educated to guide people though that cannabis journey.” This includes working with CannaReps, an education company that offers a cannabis sommelier course, a dispensary entrepreneur course, and other related workshops.
At FOUR20 Premium Market, they have their own in-house trainer. Amber Craig, Vice President Marketing, says, “To ensure our retail staff have the highest level of knowledge to help educate consumers, we developed our own unique learning management system utilizing the expertise of our in-house cannabis expert, Dr. Ife Abiola.”
Quality education won’t just benefit your staff and customers, it may also help secure your retail location. Notably, Westcoast Adventure College and GrowX Global’s recent partnership on an educational program for cannabis retailers that prioritizes health and safety, helped change the minds of Sooke City Council and allow an increase in the number of cannabis retail outlets in the municipality.
2. Exchange Information with Your Supply Chain
Gordon suggests establishing strong relationships with your suppliers, in compliance with provincial and federal regulations. Not only can they provide useful information for your education program, they can help customers fully understand how the product goes from seed to store and the parties involved in the process.
3. Engage and Invest in Your Community
Gordon believes that part of social responsibility is actively listening to and participating in your community. Speak on panels and webinars and work with other businesses. Attend a town hall or city council meeting and hear the community’s concerns. Get involved in local events and establish yourself as a trusted contact and resource.
Retailers also have an important opportunity to involve First Nations communities when opening and establishing their stores. Recognize you are operating in their territories and make an effort to understand the First Nations’ perspective.
4. Educate Consumers
Each of these steps contributes toward a solid customer education program. Put your customer first, design content with different market segments in mind, and make resources available online and in-person.
“Customers don’t follow a script, so we don’t either,” says Wood. “Everyone is different. We adapt to the needs of the person in front of us. Some prefer to subscribe to our newsletter and explore our blog as ways to get more information discreetly, but most prefer to come in and talk to a person. Cannabis is social culture, and with so many locations and a well-trained staff, most prefer to come in and talk with one of our retail experts.”
Build trust with your community, prioritize your customer’s health and safety, and support them with quality education, and you’ll establish yourself as a socially responsible and successful retailer.