Tag Archives: sales

Wellness Watch

Employee Training: Compassionate Customer Service

By Dr. Emily Earlenbaugh, PhD.
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Compassion is a frequent buzzword used in the cannabis space and many businesses start up with a mission surrounding compassion and strive to be compassionate towards their patients or consumers.

Research shows that profit-driven retail management and compassionate service can be accomplished in the same way. By turning to the industry mantra of compassion, companies can contribute to the well-being of patients or consumers served and employees, while also increasing sales, positive reviews and return visits.

One large aspect of dispensary management is setting up a corporate culture around employee-customer interactions. Some dispensaries have mastered this through employee training and thoughtful SOP’s, which help maintain a compassionate, positive environment for every person that walks through the door.

Research shows that when consumers have positive interactions in retail environments, they are more likely to make a purchase and to positively rate the products they select. When feeling these positive mental states, our perceptions of products become more positive as well, and our trust in those around us increases. Conversely, when we feel negative emotions like loneliness or exclusion, our perceptions of products also become more negative.

People experiencing positive mental states, like gratitude, joy or compassion also have better health and increased emotional well-being. For both compassionate and profit-driven reasons, getting people into a positive emotional state is extremely beneficial. Of course, creating a compassionate, mood-boosting environment is easier said than done. Thankfully, there is a lot of research on how to do this as well.

So how can we set up a corporate culture that fosters more positive states in others? It takes energy and intention, but it can be done. As a dispensary manager, one of the most important things you can do is ensure that your employees have what they need to function well. Research shows that when employees are working under stressful conditions their interactions with customers suffer. This could mean being underpaid, overworked, unsure of job security, rushed, or crowded; but whatever the reason, a stressed employee is less able to maintain positive interactions with customers. Once you have a happy and well-treated staff, you can start training them to cultivate positive states in your consumers.

Here are a few time-tested methods to teach to your dispensary staff and practice with your patients or recreational customers:

Positive Feedback Exercise

One of the simplest methods is giving positive feedback. It has been demonstrated over and over again that when you give someone positive feedback, his or her mood is instantly boosted. They become more grateful, creative and engaged.

Positive feedback can come in different forms. It might be a simple compliment like “Wow, I love your earrings.” or it might be a positive response to a question, such as “That’s a great question, not everyone thinks to ask about what these test results mean.”

To cultivate positive feedback, make a point of looking for things you can genuinely compliment about your customers or coworkers. Be careful not to fake your positivity. Most people can tell when positivity is faked; and it can actually have negative health risks for the person doing the faking.

Active Listening Practice

You can foster positive emotions in your customer base through active listening and compassion for the challenges they are going through. Research finds that active listening can improve communication dynamics and reduce stress.

For this practice, notice when your patients are complaining and pay careful attention to what they are saying. Try to really feel what it might be like to be in their situation and sympathize with them. You can show this sympathy by acknowledging what they are going through.

These practices may seem simple but they can yield big changes in a customer’s impression of your dispensary environment. By cultivating compassionate practices with your staff and customers, you can take care of your community while helping your business to thrive.

The Looming Impediment for Medical Sales Growth: Limited Physician Participation

By Matthew A. Karnes, CPA
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The overall growth in the United States legal marijuana industry is substantial and will be fueled by the implementation of additional legalized markets across the country as momentum continues in favor of changes to existing federal laws. However, based upon our analysis, we believe that investors may call attention to the inherent evolution of consumer spending preferences in a dual marketplace, as the easing of recreational use restrictions has disrupted the growth rate of the presently constituted medical marijuana market. That said, we believe that the medicinal use market will recalibrate when the pipeline of new, more targeted medications become available and as the medical profession gains more comfort in pushing a marijuana treatment rather than a patient having to pull a recommendation from a doctor. 

Until that time, the success of a state regulated marijuana program will be largely dependent upon the active participation of the medical community and there is a ways to go, even in those markets that do not coexist with recreational use. Why are doctors so resistant to recommend marijuana? For one reason, there has been no real incentive to participate in a state regulated marijuana program and secondly, the standard protocols for prescribing FDA approved medications have not been proven ineffective (which would lead to an alternative treatment). Also, most doctors are not comfortable recommending a schedule 1 substance (illegal at the federal level) for treatment.  Some states have been more proactive than others in establishing educational programs but as we note there is a long way to go in getting more active participation. 

In the 23 legal marijuana markets and DC there are about 453,000 licensed physicians. If we look at just those states where a doctor registration is required, the percentage to total state licensed physicians is a mere 2%, clearly a very low percentage relative to the full population of licensed practitioners. As more adult use markets are implemented, we would expect these numbers to decrease even further. greenwave_logo_small

Year in Review, What’s In Store for 2016: A Q&A with Nic Easley

By Aaron G. Biros
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With 2015 coming to a close, to understand and start strategizing for the next year, we must look back on the year and gauge the industry’s progress. A lot has happened this year and there is a lot to look forward to in 2016.

Nic Easley presenting at the 2015 High Times Business Summit in Washington, D.C.
Nic Easley presenting at the 2015 High Times Business Summit in Washington, D.C.

Nic Easley, founder and CEO of Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), gave a presentation at the High Times Business Summit last week, reviewing the cannabis industry’s progress in 2015, and providing some insights on what to look for in 2016. 3C is a national cannabis and hemp consulting firm dedicated to ensuring the highest standards in large-scale, sustainable organic production and product manufacturing. Over the past eight years in Colorado and nationwide, Easley has helped more than 60 clients design, build, start up, and optimize their operations. Easley is an active participant on multiple committees in various industries, non-profit groups, and rule making organizations that are setting the standards and regulations guiding this industry. Through his involvement he is able to promote sustainable, sensible practices and policies that drive cannabis cultivation and industry best practices into new realms of productivity, profitability, and professionalism.

We were able to sit down with Nic Easley after the conference to get some better insights for how the industry performed in 2015 and what is in store for 2016.


 

CannabisIndustryJournal: How do you think Colorado’s year of pesticide recalls will help shape the industry’s future?

Nic Easley: As a member of the Pesticide Advisory Committee with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, I think there is a tangible need for better, more comprehensive regulatory guidance. If we come out with strict pesticide regulations, it will be better for everyone in the industry and consumers, but more importantly it will benefit patients gaining access to safe, laboratory-tested medicine. The regulators will need our help to write the rules. Harder laws are good for us though, because the ethical businesses will always take the route of integrity, as opposed to the businesses that cut corners. Those companies not playing above board will be weeded out and reprimanded in due time. A lot of it comes with the responsibility as a grower and producer to facilitate medical needs, that is a responsibility that requires great integrity. As for the testing regulations, there are too many conflicts of interest and we need to look toward third party testing and accreditation to prevent laboratory shopping, skewed results and other inconsistencies. We need to not allow producers to provide their own samples, sampling and sample preparation needs to be controlled through third party laboratories working above board, as opposed to labs wanting to keep clients instead of providing accurate and consistent test results. Looking forward to 2016, we will continue to see the pesticide issue shape the industry, for better or worse, this is a problem we need to find the right solutions for and that comes through working with regulators, like the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, to write the required regulatory framework.

CIJ: Looking nationally, what major trends were highlighted in 2015 and what would you like to see change for 2016?

Nic: With Oregon going online October 1st, and Maryland’s license application process opening up, we are recognizing some diminishing barriers to entry in markets previously difficult to tap due to things like residency requirements and where the capital came from. Maryland’s infused product and processing licenses are much more readily available as opposed to the cultivation licenses due to stipulations. States like Oregon and Alaska that dragged their feet a little with regard to their regulatory model, are just releasing a lot of barriers to entry for licensing applications. Oregon may have missed some tax revenue in the initial launch of the program, but they are doing it right through diligent research instead of using their citizens as guinea pigs. For businesses looking to get started, you can avoid poor decision making by knowing the rules. New and established businesses alike need to take the responsibility to write the rules to be socially, environmentally and economically responsible. If we want to make money in this industry to help the government’s role in keeping us safe, then doing business in the most socially responsible way possible will lead to profitability. What I would like to see change for 2016 is the expanding list of qualifying conditions. As a military veteran, I would like to see Colorado stop looking at the tax revenue of adult use cannabis, and make PTSD a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The Bob Hoban lawsuit suggests that Colorado is marginalizing medicine because they will make more tax revenue by blurring the lines of adult use and medicine. All of the studies out there, including Dr. Sue Sisley’s work, suggests PTSD can be treated with medical marijuana. That highlights another trend I would like to see change in 2016: We need clinical research on these conditions, because observational research just is not credible enough. We [businesses in the industry] need to actively promote the need for clinical research to help propel social change and get the information and knowledge out there. With the right information, this industry can make informed decisions that will help all stakeholders.

CIJ: What advice can you offer to cannabis businesses for 2016?

Nic: I tell my clients that, because cannabis is still federally illegal, you must understand the present risk associated with the work you are doing. We need to ask questions like how can we do this responsibly and set a good example so when the time comes, the federal government will look to us as a legitimate industry, working with regulators to write the rules for safety. For new businesses, produce the safest, highest quality, and affordable medicine and work with other businesses and regulators to keep innovating in the area of safety. Focus on the structure of your business: build your foundations and using expert advice, you can avoid major pitfalls and become the leaders in this brand new industry. Look for environmentally sustainable solutions, climate change issues need to be addressed in this industry. Use appropriate technology instead of burning coal to grow marijuana, which increases our carbon footprint. This includes both environmentally sound standard operating procedures and the right technologies, but also social justice. We are presented with a terrific economic opportunity to work on climate change issues, so work to address inefficient practices and innovate to be as sustainable as possible.

CIJ: For the entire cannabis industry in 2016 , what kind of growth do you expect?

Nic: We have reached a point where I foresee a holding pattern beginning to take shape. In 2016, the industry will continue to grow and demand will not be satiated by supply. August of 2015 was the first month when Colorado saw over $100 million in sales. We will increasingly see more price fluctuations as bigger projects come online. Many states in 2016 will focus on problems with their regulatory models and devising solutions for them. Businesses will continue their strategic growth planning, with key states potentially coming online for adult use such as Nevada and California. Nevada is one of the most up and coming markets in America with a 68% approval rating, and they have the ability to grandfather in businesses and previous rules associated with their medical marijuana program. Knowing licensing applications can take eight to eighteen months before you can become operational, we have to place our bets wisely. There is a lot happening in all these states and from the big November votes on, chaos will ensue as regulators tackle big problems with the overhaul. In 2016, the cannabis industry will make a big impact on the United States, and the exciting part is that progress is made through business as usual for us.

puregreen lobby

Consumer Trends: Analyzing Oregon’s Dynamic Markets

By Aaron G. Biros
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puregreen lobby

Oregon was the second state to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 behind California that introduced legislation measures two years earlier in 1996. In the past two decades, Oregon has grown its medical market, treating more patients and producing exponentially more cannabis. Since October 1st of 2015, Oregon’s recreational sales have been made legal, creating potential opportunities for dispensaries to target this emerging market.

In that first week of recreational sales alone, dispensaries in Oregon made over $11 million in revenue. That figure is more than double what Colorado made in its first week and significantly larger than Washington’s figures posted.

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The exterior storefront of PureGreen in Northeast Portland, Oregon

Matt Walstatter, president and founder of PureGreen, a dispensary located in Northeast Portland, Oregon, says that while recreational customers are limited to seven grams of flower per day (no concentrates or edibles yet), they have noticed an uptick in sales of certain strains.

“Up until October 1st of this year, our sales percentages have been very consistent with about 66% to 72% flower sales since we opened and around 20% concentrates and 10% edibles, with the remainder consisting of topicals and non-medicated products,” says Walstatter. “Now we have an influx of a new type of customer so we do around 80% of sales in flower since the introduction of recreational sales on October 1st.”

When analyzing the top-selling strains, Walstatter’s figures show an inclination of customers and patients to prefer high-THC strains when buying flower. Girl Scout Cookies, a very high THC, low CBD strain, consistently sells the most at over 2000 grams per month. “People that smoke flower generally want high-THC strains, while people that seek CBD overwhelmingly do not smoke as much and prefer ingesting edibles, tinctures, capsules or other products with low THC content,” adds Walstatter.

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The lobby at PureGreen

PureGreen keeps a select few high-CBD strains on their shelves, including Cannatonic, which is known for its approximate 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD. “Out of twenty five strains on my shelves, I usually keep two or three high-CBD strains because they have their niche, even if they are less sought after, it is certainly worthwhile to carry them,” says Walstatter.

“Because Oregon has such a well established cannabis culture with less novice customers than other markets, our more popular strains are consistent over multiple months so we built a brand around knowledge and education,” Walstatter says. “Our budtenders usually come from a background involving the plant whether they were involved in cultivation, trimming or processing, and then they go through extensive training to be able to recommend certain strains for different ailments or preferences.”

Walstatter offered some tips for dispensary owners and employees at the Las Vegas Marijuana Business Conference in November where he sat on a panel with other industry experts called What Patients and Consumers Want: Strain Trends, Product Mix & CBD vs. THC. “Understanding your customer’s needs and their buying habits plus properly managing your inventory is the key to success,” says Walstatter. “We have a couple of exclusive growers that went through an extensive review process, they tend to rotate through different strains while we have some grower-specialists that grow only one strain very consistently.”

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Exterior view of PureGreen dispensary in Portland, Oregon

Walstatter prides himself in his team’s exceptional customer service. “People do business with people they know, like and trust, so authenticity is very important to us,” he adds. “Over delivering on value in the form of knowledge, expertise and service is crucial to growing your brand and business.” Having a high quality product mix, knowledgeable staff and inviting atmosphere are a few of the ingredients to running a successful dispensary.

“It can take up to six months or longer to bring a new strain from seed to sale, so if it is a popular strain, it is very important to have a backup grower,” Walstatter adds. He likens his dispensary to a farm-to-table restaurant where the menu is constantly changing: “This time of year, there are some greenhouse and outdoor crops that do well on the shelves but strains can go in and out of season.”

While edibles and concentrates are not yet available for recreational sales, state regulators are closely monitoring other state’s rules and progress to map out a timeline for their introduction. This would effectively create another new emerging market, opening up potential opportunities for dispensaries in Oregon to diversify.

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A Dispensary’s Road to Success

By Aaron G. Biros
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The Herbery, a dispensary with two locations in Vancouver, Washington, is currently awaiting medical endorsements from the state for both locations. The two co-founders, Jim Mullen and Rick Zahler, found a credit union to work with them, Salal Credit Union in Seattle. “There are five dispensaries in the Western part of Vancouver, so it is quite a saturated market,” says Jim Mullen. “But we have drawn considerable business and are very happy with the success of our two locations.”

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A view inside the The Herbery

It has not always been like that, says Mullen. There are several key ingredients that go into launching and operating a successful dispensary, all of which pose significant barriers to entry in an extremely competitive retail market. Rick Zahler won the second and third positions in Vancouver for the state i502 retail licensing lottery. Zahler has more than 40 years of experience in franchising restaurants, a background that gives him a competitive advantage in scaling up his business.

Mullen and Zahler formed a partnership in early 2014 and by that summer they had finalized their lease agreement, converting an old restaurant into their flagship store. They hired local architects, contractors, and CPA’s and began looking for staff. “We set out to find the best people who could provide a level of customer service that this industry needs to be recognized as a mainstream business,” adds Mullen.

“We are changing the perception that you have to go into some back alley store to buy your pot,” he says. “We have a very attractive, well-lit storefront; we get complimented on the look of our stores all the time, one woman called us the Nordstrom’s of dispensaries.”

Before the doors opened, Mullen and Zahler worked long and hard to find growers, manufacturers and processors that met their standards. “We wanted to fill our display cases and shelves with premium cannabis, so we found really high-quality indoor, outdoor and greenhouse grows across the state,” says Mullen. “We go out and do site visits to see firsthand what nutrients they use, along with their standards and practices, to really size up our suppliers and verify they are giving us safe and high-quality products.”

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A bud tender helping customers at the dispensary

The Herbery hit some early obstacles as the market in Vancouver became highly saturated with dispensaries like New Vansterdam and Main Street Marijuana grossing well over $1 million each in revenue in May 2015.

“Our competition received a lot of media coverage and brand recognition early on. We had to side-step that with heavy guerilla marketing including handing out cards and flyers on street corners,” says Mullen. “We continued to push our social media marketing campaigns, slowly building a clientele with quality products, affordable prices and good customer service.”

Of all the roadblocks they hit, Mullen said the toughest aspect of getting started has been simply “letting people know that we opened and where we are.”

“There are fairly strict marketing rules, and staying compliant is difficult when you are trying to get your name out there,” Mullen adds. “We have been doing what we can with billboards and ads in magazines, but really word of mouth has gotten us far.”

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A bud tender can give recommendations on different strains or advice on consuming edibles

Looking forward, Mullen wants the ability to market in a manner that is similar to other mainstream businesses. He is also excited to get endorsed to sell medical cannabis. “With so many people seeking high-CBD products for a variety of conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic pain, anxiety, and more, we want to help patients get access to the medicine they need.”

As cannabis continues to be studied for its true benefits, Mullen anticipates significant advances in knowledge to occur within a very short timeframe.