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Becoming a Great Employer

Here’s what you need to know about hiring and retaining top talent for your cannabis retail store…

Provincial Licensing | CannDelta

ABOUT THIS SERIES

CannDelta, in partnership with the Business of Cannabis, has produced a 10-article series entitled “So, you want to open a cannabis retail store?” which is aimed at preparing prospective cannabis retailers with the tools and resources needed to open their own cannabis retail store. This series covers everything from initial planning, estimated start-up costs, the licensing process, location selection, staff hiring, inventory management, and much more. The goal of the series is to empower prospective cannabis retailers with the knowledge and resources needed to change their mindset from “one day” to “day one”.

Interested in accessing all 10 articles in one place? Download the CannDelta E-Book now using the sign up link at the top of this page.

OVERVIEW

Among the decisions a new cannabis retailer has to make in establishing their business, hiring employees is arguably the most important of them all. Not only will your first wave of employees set the tone for your brand, but they will also establish the work culture of your retail store – for good or bad – that will be difficult to change over time. It is therefore essential that you carefully select the best candidates that match your target brand and culture, especially at the outset of your initial hiring wave.

In this article, we will teach you about Ontario provincial hiring guidelines, how to attract and retain the best people, and how to build a culture that maximizes productivity and employee wellness. You will hear from the experts at the Vetrina Group, who specialize in helping make cannabis retail businesses as profitable as possible by working with retailers to improve all facets of the business.

HIRING ELIGIBILITY

Background Checks

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) has established the Registrar’s Standards for Cannabis Retail Stores, which outlines what prospective and current Ontario licensees need to comply with when opening and operating a retail store. In relation to hiring and training practices, the Registrar’s Standards state that licensees must obtain criminal background checks from all employees as part of the hiring process.

While you can interview and even hire candidates who have yet to undergo background checks, they cannot begin their first shift until this has been completed. As the Registrar’s Standards are generally non-prescriptive by design, there is no clear guidance as to what could disqualify a candidate from earning a position based on the results background check.

Based on conversations with the AGCO and private retailers, it appears that any serious conviction that falls under the Cannabis Control Act, 2017 (CCA), or the Cannabis Licence Act, 2018 (CLA) could be grounds for employee disqualification. As an example, a candidate who was charged and convicted for running an illicit dispensary may not be eligible for hire with a licensed cannabis retailer, however, there is an encouraging number of instances where those individuals are being given an opportunity. Make sure you highlight the need for employees to undergo background checks before being hired as part of your job advertisements.

CannSell Training

In addition to background checks, the Registrar’s Standards state that all employees must have completed any required training prior to the first scheduled shift, including the AGCO Board-approved CannSell training program. CannSell was developed by Lift & Co. in partnership with MADD Canada and was approved by the Board of the AGCO as the mandatory cannabis retail employee training program in Ontario.

The CannSell provides an overview of cannabis and its history, federal and provincial regulations, general compliance obligations and sale guidelines for employees and retail stores, and the risks and harms of cannabis and responsible use. All employees, including holders of a Retail Store Authorization (RSA) and Retail Manager Licence (RML), must successfully complete the CannSell Standard Certification.

Ongoing Training

Keeping your staff on top of their game is essential to competing in the cannabis retail space. This means staying on top of product developments, staying abreast of new regulations, and news from licensed producers. Training updates can come in the form of new modules to the CannSell program, in which the AGCO allows 60 days for employees of retail stores to complete. Licensed producer provided training can also be a rich source of budtender education, for example, The Green Organic Dutchman provides an in-person organic cannabis certification course at stores carrying their products. Third-party educational platforms like Spiffy also play an important role in budtender education as well. Spiffy provides a platform where employers can curate bite-sized information courses for their employees based on duties. These courses can be built by the employer, licensed producers or Spiffy and require employees to demonstrate understanding through quizzes. Chris Snoyer, Spiffy’s creator, notes “on the back of education and knowledge consumption… retailers have the ability to motivate and incentivize staff.”

STAFFING POSITIONS

While employees of a retail store often wear many hats, there are distinct positions that come with different responsibilities, training, and background requirements.

Budtenders

Your budtenders are your brand ambassadors, and the first point of contact with your customers. They are responsible for guiding your customers through your product selection, educating them on different product classes and responsible use practices, and helping them make informed purchasing decisions. Top candidates for budtending positions are those who are passionate and personable, eager to learn and stay abreast of your store’s offerings – including different strains and their associated effects – and have a knack for cultivating a sale.

Inventory Staff

Effective management of your inventory is not only critical for running a successful retail operation but is also massively important in remaining on the right side of compliance with respect to federal and provincial regulations. It is therefore strongly recommended that you employ dedicated inventory staff that are responsible for all aspects of inventory management, including record keeping, receipt and transport of product, stocking shelves, product recalls, audits, and regulatory reporting.

Security

Hiring designated security staff is a great way to add a layer of protection for your retail store and will go a long way in making your customers, employees, and local community feel at ease. Your security staff should be familiar with the entire retail store operation and have an appreciation for any vulnerabilities in your security system that may exist. Notably, any security staff to be hired for your retail store will also need to complete CannSell training and undergo security background checks prior to their first shift, and records of such employees must be retained for a minimum of three (3) years.   

While retail store managers often take on the responsibility of ensuring that the store’s security systems are operating as intended, it is not uncommon to hire a Head of Security, or Security Director, who oversees all security-related operations. They would also be responsible for devising and implementing security based standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the store, including employee training.

Managers

The retail store manager is the public interface between the retail store, customers, regulators, law enforcement, and the general public. You should, therefore, spend considerable time looking for the right candidates to assume the role of retail store manager.

The manager is responsible for a variety of important operations, including:

• Ensuring smooth day-to-day operation of the retail store;

• Hiring, managing and training employees;

• Ensuring that the chain of custody is followed;

• Entering into contracts for the store;

Ensuring inventory management is executed properly;

• Ensuring compliance for all aspects of the retail operation is continuously achieved;

• Monitoring and analyzing sales data to drive future business decisions;

Any employee who intends to function in a managerial capacity will need to obtain an official Retail Manager Licence (RML) from the AGCO. The application for the RML can be completed through the iAGCO portal at the same time or after the RSA application process. The RML application fee is $750 which is non-taxed and non-refundable.

HIRING AND RETAINING TOP TALENT

Finding the right people to help run your retail store is a top priority in starting your business. Attracting and retaining top-quality candidates isn’t easy, but can be accomplished by offering the following to prospective and current employees:

• Create a Great Culture: the first thing potential applicants will do when seeing your job posting is going on your website to see what your store brand and message is all about. By establishing a great brand and culture, and ultimately showcasing it, you will attract and retain the right candidates for your retail store.

• Educate Your Staff: teaching your staff about your products, their intended uses, and how to educate customers on them, will go a long way to improving your sales and will endear you with your employees by showing them your commitment to their growth.

• Offer Competitive Compensation: as the number of retail stores grows, so too do the opportunities for those looking for employment. You should, therefore, offer a competitive compensation package, including salary, benefits, and profit-sharing considerations.

• Advancement Opportunities: in order to retain top talent, you will need to show commitment to their long-term success with your company by providing them with a clear path forward for advancing into more senior positions.

• Always Strive to be a Better Leader: always be humble and appreciate that you can always make improvements to your leadership and mentorship style. Make a habit of routinely speaking with your employees to ensure that they are happy with their role and how the retail store is being run.

WHAT THE EXPERTS HAVE TO SAY

We caught up with Leandra Reid and Krista Raymer from the Vetrina Group to teach you what you need to know to become a great employer and make your business as profitable as possible.  The Vetrina Group specializes in supporting cannabis retail stores with inventory management, forecasting and loss prevention, operations infrastructure development, and digital integration.

How important a role do employees play in establishing the target brand and identity of a retail store?

“People are what makes your brand and experience come to life.

Having the right people directly influences how your brand is perceived. Employees humanize your brand by communicating it in an aspiring way your customers can relate to and want to be a part of.”

What tips do you have for retailers looking to hire for the first time?

1. “Start by creating a mission for the roles you are hiring for. Your mission should reflect your company mission, include the role requirements and expected outcomes. By doing this you can interview and assess candidates with focus.

2. Interviewing is a skill! While meeting candidates focus on their emotional intelligence, body language and facial cues. Prepare your questions and what key takeaways you’re looking for ahead of time.

3. Do not rush the processes! A hiring mistake is a costly one. If you are unsure of a candidate or tight for time, bring in some help to ensure you are building a team that can support your mission.”

What are some of your favourite recruiting tactics?

“Where possible, see them in action! While we highly recommend clients post positions online, our most effective tactic is to see candidates while acting as service leaders in their current position.

Retail requires attention to detail, multi-tasking, and someone who can work in a fast-paced environment. Someone at a hotel front desk or busy restaurant may be the perfect fit, as they are service-oriented and have the ability to solve problems on the fly.”

What is one question every retail store owner should ask a prospective employee during an interview?

“Every cannabis retail interview should include culture and character-based questions.

One of our favourites; what gets you most excited to go to work every day?

Traditionally, interviewing has been in Q + A format. What are your strengths? Weaknesses? Why do you want to work here? What do you know about the company?  This does not bring out the best of the candidate or the interviewer.

When an interviewer can engage a candidate in a dialogue offering key information without question style prompting it is an indication that:

A. The interview is going well.

B. The interviewer has mastered the art of interviewing.

C. The interviewer will get an accurate indication of how the candidate will integrate into the company and perform in their role.”

How important is it for retailers to establish robust training programs for their employees?

“Your business valuation and revenue potential depend on it. Training needs to extend far beyond a singular focus on product knowledge.

Revenue:

It directly affects your top line, and ultimately your bottom line. In a company with revenues of $2.5M, it‘s the difference between one untrained employee selling $400k a year and a trained one selling $500k.  Depending on how many sales employees a retailer has, that $100k difference adds up quickly.

Customer Experience:

It’s the difference between a 3-star review and a 5-star review.

It’s more impactful than you would think. People consider customer reviews before trying new places and products.

Customer Loyalty/ Retention:

It’s the difference between a customer visiting 3x a year and one that visits monthly or more. For example, 1000 existing customers who usually spend $40 3x per year versus  $40 monthly is $36,000 in additional annual revenue.”

Can you talk to us about the importance of the retail store manager role? What are some of the added challenges of being a manager of a retail store in the heavily regulated cannabis industry?

“The retail manager is so important.  They have your Retail Operating License, customer retention, and profitability in their hands.

We have worked with multiple clients who experienced management turnover because the employee was not prepared for the multifaceted responsibility.

Passion about the product is important, but it’s not enough to lead the store to be successful.  You need to hire someone that will support a team, drive the business and effectively communicate the mission with ownership.”

In your experience, what are successful retail stores doing differently than others to attract and retain top talent?

“Skilled and talented people are invaluable.  As cliché as it may be it’s true- Employees are assets, not liabilities.

Successful stores show appreciation by investing in their people and the employees feel it. The ROI is a group of dedicated and loyal employees that share that appreciation with your customers and business.  A well-trained team attracts additional applicants, decreases turnover and possesses an engaging energy customers are drawn to.

It is difficult to identify actual annual opportunity costs to retailers who do not leverage training because the sector is so new. However, our work with retailers in other sectors in Canada, the US, and Europe usually see a 15%-30% increase in retention.”

Do you think CannSell training adequately prepares employees to work in a cannabis retail store?

“Cansell training provides the foundation to sell cannabis safely. The program is not designed to address customer service, sales, brand or operational training.”

A number of cannabis retailers are first-time business owners who may not have ever held a managerial type role; are there particular things new retailers might struggle with respect to the management of employees?

“Consistency. This starts with a clear mutual acknowledgment of expectations from the day they are hired.

• Setting the expectations in writing, with a well-written employee contract and employee handbook

• Coaching

• Feedback

• Gratitude

To be fair, retailers with little to no retail experience work with the knowledge/experience they have from being a customer or employee. They default to the same HR, marketing, customer experience, and operations they have seen before.

Hiring an employee is an investment of resources. They are also a direct link between store revenue and customer relationships. Regardless of cannabis experience,  poorly evaluated hires can make or break your store and be why your customer picks your competitor.

Ultimately, you don’t know what you don’t know. By investing in some retail consulting with us, retailers will have the ability to make a lasting decision such as hiring with greater confidence and be more equipped to manage a diverse retail team.”

What type of training does the Vetrina group offer to cannabis retail stores?

“Vetrina Group equips front line retail teams with the skills to:

• Attract new customers

• Maintain high customer retention

• Build customer spend

This requires elevating existing soft skills to enable employees to connect authentically with the customer and sell the products they want and need.

A critical topic being ignored or avoided in store-level training programs is Accountability.

A team trained together in accountability has a dramatic effect on improving sales and decreasing costs that impact the bottom line.

Vetrina Group specializes in creating custom-tailored learning experiences that use small group exercises, situational training and other interactive segments to drive change in sales behaviour and customer experience.”

Have you done any training with retailers related to new COVID-based operations?

“Vetrina Group has been very active in supporting retailers with COVID response.

Our response programs and webinars focus on building trust and maintaining customer relationships.

We don’t foresee COVID adaptations being removed in the near future. As a retailer, we encourage you to create a response program that focuses on the customer experience and how this relates to comfort, safety, and security.”

What challenges has COVID imposed on cannabis retail stores in terms of how they hire and train employees?

“Candidates and owners have varying comfort levels. While hiring during COVID it is important to take this into account and communicate early in the process what the retailer’s and potential employees’ expectations can be.

As we move through the opening Stages of 1, 2, and 3 it is imperative to be adaptable. Public Health requirements should be reviewed regularly, along with an audit of current practices. Vetrina Group equips retailers to be better planned and more organized during COVID.”

What is your favourite part about working with cannabis retail store employees?

“When else have we seen such a diverse group of people united by a shared culture? For us, this is exciting.

Anyone who enters a new industry has a couple of common characteristics; passion, yearning for learning and tenacity. We like to be surrounded by those types of people.”

BOTTOM LINE

Everyone wants to become a great employer, but actually becoming one is difficult, especially as you grapple with the myriad of things needed to get your retail store up and running. In this article, we provided you with a blueprint for becoming a great leader for your business and establishing your target culture. You are now equipped with the information needed to attract, hire, and retain top talent on route to becoming a successful retail operation.

CANNDELTA IS HERE TO HELP

Prospective and current cannabis retailers needing support should reach out to CannDelta for a free consultation. CannDelta is a Toronto-based regulatory and scientific cannabis consulting firm that can be reached at info@canndeltav2:8890 or toll-free at 1 (877) 274-6777.

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