The cannabis industry has experienced tremendous growth and transformation in recent years, with the legalization of cannabis in various regions. Behind the counters of dispensaries and cannabis retail stores, there are unsung heroes known as budtenders. These knowledgeable and passionate individuals play a vital role in guiding customers through their cannabis journey, offering personalized recommendations, and providing education about cannabis products. In this article, we will explore the importance of budtenders, why they are the unsung heroes of the cannabis industry.
Reason #1: Not many people know who they are and what they do
Budtenders are the customer-facing staff members at dispensaries or stores where medical or recreational cannabis is sold. Yes, their job title is a play on the word “bartender”, but their role encompasses so much more than taking cannabis orders and serving them up. The profession started out in an informal capacity, consisting of cannabis connoisseurs who were willing to share their knowledge with dispensary customers. Nowadays, budtender is a key role at any cannabis retailer, involving answering any questions the customers might have, offering product suggestions, the second channel to receive customer complaints, as well as handling products and ensuring customers know how to use them.
Reason #2: There is no clear or easy path to becoming a budtender
First of all, aspiring budtenders outside of North America and some European countries will find very limited opportunities, if any. In the United States, there is currently no certification required to become a budtender on a national level (though in Canada, budtenders and anyone working at a dispensary are required to have completed the CannSell course). While this seemingly makes entry into the position easier from a legal standpoint, the lack of certification actually makes it harder from a practical standpoint. There are no standardized courses to help someone become a budtender, so most budtenders are self-taught. Knowledge often can be inherited from past or existing budtenders, or based on their past experience, so budtenders have to know the right people in the industry to get started or make further improvements. Most cannabis retailers expect budtenders to have a high school diploma at least, and some states require them to pass a criminal background check.
Reason #3: It is a demanding job
Budtenders not only need to have customer service know-how, but also a broad range of cannabis knowledge. They have to be familiar with the product itself including different cannabis products, plants and strains, devices and accessories, and types of use (medical or recreational), to be able to direct customers to the right cannabis for their needs. They need to have deeper knowledge of cannabis plants, the entourage effect, and the endocannabinoid system. Since the cannabis industry is one of the most highly regulated in the world, budtenders also need to know the latest cannabis market rules and regulations, and abide by them at all time. One wrong decision can put their career, the dispensary, and even customers’ well-being at risk. They also need to be organized, to be good salespeople (helpful but not too overbearing), and to be discreet when required. Budtenders are also expected to be compassionate and provide emotional support for their customers, which can take a toll on them.
Reason #4: Budtenders are an invaluable resource for cannabis brands, manufacturers and cultivators
Budtenders are the first point of contact for the vast majority of cannabis end-consumers, so the industry has to rely on them for consumer education. Cannabis brands, manufacturers and cultivators spend a considerable chunk of their sales and marketing budget on sending representatives to stores to inform budtenders about their products (and if they do not, they should!). They provide samples to budtenders, hoping that a good personal experience will keep products on the forefront of budtenders’ minds, and hence at the tip of their tongues. On the flip side of the coin, budtenders can help inform cannabis brands on whether consumers like the products, how consumers are using the products, and even what consumers are looking for.
Reason #5: Budtenders’ profession is still stigmatized and, in many cases, not yet legitimized
While the stigma attached to the cannabis has decreased in the past decade, the repercussions on the legitimacy of the industry have lingered. There are still people who assume that budtenders are stoners who just get high on the job. In reality, most retailers and dispensaries today would not allow their budtenders to consume cannabis on the job, and smoking at the premises is illegal in some states. In addition, many budtenders and other employees in the cannabis industry are still paid in cash, and many jobs do not offer modern employee benefits like online pay stubs, healthcare, or 401(k) plans. For cannabis retailers and dispensaries, providing access to these things cost more than they would other traditional retail businesses.
Reason #6: Budtenders’ employee experience is often lacking, leading to a high turnover rate
Cannabis consultancy firms have also reported that there is often a lack of good leadership and organizational culture in cannabis companies. Many budtenders aren’t provided with a positive work environment, the tools to advance their competencies, or the reward for meeting or exceeding expectations. This results in a high turnover rate in the industry, which not only hurts customers, but also cannabis companies who have invested in relationships with budtenders only to have them leave. Some cannabis retailers actually plan for this high turnover, in a strategy called “come, contribute, leave.” But the hiring and training costs alone likely involves greater spending than just making creating a workplace that encourages budtenders to stay.
Reason #7: Budtenders are the face of cannabis retail businesses, and should be treated accordingly
Budtenders represent the cannabis retail business they work for and the industry at large. The industry counts on them to make every cannabis purchase experience as positive and memorable as possible. Customer experience is key to every business, especially now in the age of social media. Word-of-mouth spreads faster than ever and customers who have bad experience with budtenders can easily spread the word and discourage others from patronizing the business. As such, budtenders have to be treated the same way as representatives of any other retail business. Cannabis retailers can learn from mainstream industries, perhaps enticing budtenders through profit-sharing programs. They can provide training for budtenders to increase their skills and competence. The work of budtenders needs to be recognized, especially in relation to sales and customer service goals.
Reason #8: Demand for budtenders will continue to grow
The cannabis industry is growing at an incredible rate, especially with cannabis being legalized in an increasing number of states and countries. With this growth, we can expect the demand for good, qualified budtenders to be higher than ever in the future. As long as the industry provides a good working environment and fair compensation, budtending can be a highly rewarding job.