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Making Sense of Hiring: A Guide to Onboarding & Training

Strategies in Onboarding and Training for Cannabis Retail Stores

cannabis retail people Feb 26, 2024


The success of a dispensary hinges not just on the quality of its products but on the calibre of its budtenders. Crafting an effective hiring, onboarding, and training strategy is crucial for ensuring long-term profitability in this industry.

There is a growing problem. Retail leadership is on one path, budtenders are on another, and the roads are getting further apart.

After reviewing hundreds of onboarding and training curriculums at Vetrina, we know why. 

Largely, cannabis budtender retail training is missing the 'why'...
1. Why does average per customer matter
2. How do you define a loyal customer
3. How do we measure success 

Let’s dig into hiring with a plan, setting expectations, onboarding vs training, and how to measure the effectiveness of these initiatives. 


Hiring without a plan is expensive.

Great budtenders drive successful dispensaries. Hiring the wrong budtender costs a business time and money. Today, the cannabis industry sees some of the highest employee turnover rates of any industry. Hiring needs both a strategy and a plan to ensure the investment into the new team members has ROI. 


What's the difference between hiring strategies and a plan

Strategy and planning are often conflated under the umbrella term "strategic planning." 

But, strategy and planning are distinct concepts that are interrelated. When it comes to hiring, there is an opportunity to have a strategy and a plan to execute it. 


Hiring Strategy:

A hiring strategy is a set of choices that positions a retailer on a playing field. When done well, it sets you up to win. The strategy includes making assumptions and decisions about why you pick what field. Then, it lays out why or how you are capable of outperforming your competition in that field. 

A great hiring strategy is clear and actionable. It will translate the practical actions the team needs to take to find and hire great talent.  

An example of a hiring strategy for a dispensary?
Choosing to recruit bartenders at a local restaurant or beauty advisors from Sephora.
Knowing you can win because the working conditions at your dispensary are more favourable than the long hours of working in a bar or the attraction of working with different types of customers that typically shop cosmetics. 

Hiring Planning:

Planning, on the other hand, doesn't require the same level of coherence. It often involves a list of tactics that must be built or executed. 

Planning is often more comfortable for leaders to focus on because it identifies resource allocation. When it comes to budtender hiring, planning pay scales, and the actual steps that need to be completed and by whom all become part of the plan.

But you won’t be successful if you and your team are just focused on the tactics.

Challenges of Strategy:

The thing about budtender hiring strategy is it poses challenges that aren’t easy to control or measure. It necessitates making choices that can't be proven in advance, relying on a belief in what will happen rather than a guarantee. 

It requires stepping into uncertainty and stating, "Here's what we believe will happen, and here's what we want to achieve." This makes strategy inherently more difficult and anxiety-inducing for managers who are often accustomed to proven controllable actions.

The discomfort associated with a hiring strategy arises from the inability to prove its success in advance. Unlike planning, where each step is within your control, the strategy involves making assumptions about preferences and market dynamics. This uncertainty can be nerve-wracking for managers conditioned to execute proven, calculable actions.

Understanding the nuanced difference between strategy and planning allows you to approach the hiring process with a clear perspective. Crafting a strategy that aligns with the dispensary's goals and aspirations while also identifying how resources will be spent to complete the hire and onboarding is essential. 

Too often, cannabis brands and retailers hire for talent, not character. 

Character-focused hiring is how cannabis retailers win.

Setting expectations goes beyond skills; it involves finding individuals whose character aligns with the dispensary's values.


Setting momentum when Budtenders are being Onboarded

The onboarding process is a pivotal moment for setting the tone for a Budtender's hiring experience. 

It's not just about imparting information; it's about instilling the culture within the team members. The initial momentum developed in the onboarding process determines the trajectory of a budtender's success.

Are cannabis customers price-sensitive, or is budtender bias influencing sell-through? 

As yourself that question during the onboarding process.

The unconscious experiences and thoughts of new hires can project preferences onto customers. Effective onboarding does more than just go over SOPs but puts a budtender on a path to sell to customers effectively. 

Does budtender pay influence sales, or are we neglecting essential tools in the onboarding process? 

Often overlooked are the tools and training required to get past personal bias and connect with customers. Budtender bias is always a keen topic of interest for our industry. If you’d like to learn more about budtender bias, check our blog from earlier this month, Onboarding a team to sell (is hard).

Setting Expectations

 One of the biggest challenges facing retailers in the cannabis industry is setting clear expectations during the hiring and onboarding process. 

Your budtender’s performance and your profitability heavily rely on these expectations. 

Avoid being vague or inconsistent during onboarding with your various new hires. This uncertainty of what’s expected of them hinders their ability to engage with customers and represent your dispensary effectively. 

Instead, following a comprehensive hiring cadence with clear expectations both in-person and online. Creating a learning environment that switches between theory and in-store coaching and application allows for all types of adult learners to be up for success. 

When everyone is aligned and working towards the same objectives, productivity improves, customer experience is enhanced, and your staff becomes more confident and satisfied. And the best part? It has a significant impact on your profitability.

Did you have a chance to catch the webinar last week? Lucrative Strategies for Cannabis Retail Training and Onboarding, held by SeedTalent’s Kurt Kaufmann and Vetrina’s CEO and Founder Krista Raymer, goes into detail about this topic and more. If you’re interested, feel free to check out the recording here. 


Onboarding vs Training


Understanding the distinction

Onboarding is about assimilating someone into the company culture while training equips them with tools for their job. The onboarding window is a unique opportunity, and it's crucial to make the most of it.

Creating opportunities for continuous training

Continuous training goes beyond onboarding, offering ongoing development. Integrating selling techniques into onboarding and providing practical tools ensures that budtenders evolve in their roles effectively.

If your teams are asking for 'more support'... they are often asking for context. 

When compiling your training program, double down on providing context wherever possible. Continuous training isn't just about skills; it's about understanding the 'why' behind the business. 

How to measure Training Success

Two buckets of KPIs to track onboarding and training success. 

Budtender Performance:

  • Average Basket Size: An indicator of Budtender selling skills.
  • Sell-through of business initiatives: Tracking conversions in loyalty programs and promotions. 

Business Performance:

  • Percentage of in-house vs. 3rd party products: A measure of budtender support for house brand products.
  • Percentage of customers with more than 3 or 4 transactions: Reflecting customer trust.

If this topic interests you, check out our blog from earlier this month, where we talk about The Real Cost of Hiring and Onboarding Budtenders


Crafting effective onboarding and training programs in the cannabis industry is more than just imparting information. It involves creating a learning culture, setting clear expectations, and continuously evolving. 

The secret to success in cannabis retail lies in a combination of strategic hiring, comprehensive onboarding, and continuous training. 

Cannabis retail leaders need to focus on building a strong team as it is the foundation of the dispensary's success. We offer tools to support this process, such as Vetrina's Train-the-Trainer course, which is available HERE

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