“I am so far outside of my comfort zone right now…”
That was my thought as I froze in the middle of the room: I had made it 10 or 11 steps inside West Coast Kids before coming to the heavy realization that I might be in over my head. My then seven-month pregnant wife continued striding confidently into the stroller section of the store while I took a moment to gather myself. This was set to be our first kid and this was my first time in a baby/toddler store—it was very clear to me, and likely all those working that day, that I had not yet crossed into dad mode. I had to be careful because everyone knows strollers are a gateway: one minute you lean into the stroller buying experience, then you inevitably become opinionated about baby sleep schedules, and it doesn’t take long before you’re in a dad group text (likely called “The Rad Dads”) discussing park dates—LIFE COMES AT YOU FAST!
This particular first-time shopping experience stands out in my mind as the most uncomfortable of my life. The store team was awesome and helped me through my questions and, a couple kids later, I feel quite confident rocking into the store. The store team likely is fully aware when I walk in that I have multiple active dad’s group chats on my phone—the “swagger” emanates. The timing of the experience also stands out to me: the described shopping endeavour occurred in early November 2018, just weeks after the first federally legal recreational cannabis retail stores opened in some provinces. In hindsight, I believe my realization of being outside of my comfort zone was akin to a number of folks I watched walk through cannabis stores in Winnipeg on October 17th. And to this day, we consistently have folks who are new to the industry walk into cannabis stores looking to learn, who haven’t quite come to terms with cannabis.
Make a Great First Impression
In any retail environment, the team member greeting a guest as they enter the store is immediately tasked with attempting to understand the guest’s wants, needs, and comfort level. This involves considerable reading of body language and navigating quick, high-level questions to uncover the requirements of said guest. We’ve all had experiences as shoppers in a store where we look back and know that because of some other turbulence on our minds, we weren’t the nicest of guests with a particular team member. That team member likely worked hard to serve our needs and didn’t get the best responses in return. Then they needed to shake off the bad experience we gave them and put their best foot forward for the next guest… a couple hundred more times that day. There is no better feeling as a team member when you’re able to brighten someone’s day with the service provided, but considerable effort goes into making this a possibility.
Help Normalize Cannabis
Since the recreational cannabis market opened up, we’ve been fortunate to interact with all types of people. One of the things that I love most about cannabis becoming more normalized is the recognition that a person who consumes cannabis carries more titles than “stoner”.
In fact, they almost certainly consider themselves to be dozens of other things before “stoner”: parent, athlete, employee, manager, brother/sister, son/daughter, volunteer, entrepreneur, coach… the list goes on. Cannabis is a part of their lives, not the defining factor. In the same way a morning coffee or tea might be a part of your life, it’s likely not the only thing you’d use to describe yourself when being introduced to someone.
Qualify Your Customers
Anyone who’s had the pleasure of working the cash or on the floor of a cannabis store knows there isn’t a “typical guest”: guests range from “I’m new to this” to “I don’t want people to think I’m a stoner” to “What’s the most THC I can get for $25?” to “I’ve been consuming cannabis for longer than you’ve been alive.”—and everything in between. Figuring out who each guest is when interacting with them for the first time takes patience and well adjusted questions. And being wrong in the assessment every now and then comes with the territory.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
One store lead and I were laughing about this very fact when she asked me to guess what a pair of ~75-year-old friends that had just walked into the store would be purchasing. From a distance, I categorized them into some form of CBD bucket—not having had the opportunity to converse with them to find out their wants and needs, it seemed like a safe bet. They didn’t just buy multi-packs of pre-rolls, they bought multi-packs of infused pre-rolls. As they have been doing for months upon each visit. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Educate Customers on Options
There’s one guest in our store that we’ll call Bob. Bob falls into the category of late middle-aged and looking for an alternative to alcohol. As Bob didn’t have any prior cannabis experience, he was somewhat timid in his first visit to Northern Helm—a lovely person, but certainly as intimidated as he was curious. Through his initial visit, a low-THC cannabis beverage was the right path. Bob’s second visit included more detailed questions around the beverages. He continued to build confidence at the beverage fridge for a number of visits in a row, proud of his decrease in alcohol consumption. After a few more visits, Bob built up the courage to chat about products outside of the beverage fridge to edibles. That curiosity has grown into all product offerings in the store. He’s become a bit of an ambassador when in the store and even brought his daughter in to meet the team and shop. Bob’s quiet confidence, and the path he took to gain that confidence, helps others feel more at ease.
For team members to be at their best, they need to make quick assessments and judgements of guests walking into the store. The versions of me walking into West Coast Kids for the first time versus the most recent time are two very different people: one was a lost puppy; one is a man who wants to talk about alternative sleep sack designs. I’m the same physical person (more grey hair now), but with a totally different aura. The team members make this judgement fast and effectively to best serve my needs—this same process is occurring thousands of times right now at retailers across the country. All of us, as shoppers, benefit from the efforts put forward by these team members on a daily basis.
David Cote is CEO at Northern Helm Cannabis.