How to Prevent Budtender Turnover at Your Dispensary

Despite budtenders being hailed as the "heart and soul" of the cannabis industry, high turnover rates continue to plague retailers. This guide offers specific ways to reduce it in your dispensary.

How to Prevent Budtender Turnover at Your Dispensary
Guest contributor

Lindsay Crafford

Sr. Content Marketing Manager, Dutchie
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How to Prevent Budtender Turnover at Your Dispensary

Despite budtenders being hailed as the "heart and soul" of the cannabis industry, high turnover rates continue to plague retailers. This guide offers specific ways to reduce it in your dispensary.

Preview of what's inside

A lot’s changed in recent years in the cannabis industry. But if there’s one thing that’s remained the same, it’s the importance of cannabis retail sales employees—better known as budtenders.

In their latest report on turnover in cannabis retail, Headset calls budtenders the “heart and soul of the industry,” due to the “extreme importance, budtender hiring, onboarding, and management is one of the most crucial tasks in any cannabis retail operation.”

But high turnover rates among budtenders continue to plague dispensaries. According to Headset’s analysis, in both the US and Canada, 55% of budtenders who worked at any point over the previous 12 months “had departed by the end of that time period.”

If dispensary owners and managers can’t reduce staff turnover, it could cost them big bucks. So what are we going to do about it? In this how-to guide about reducing dispensary employee turnover, you’ll learn:

  • What budtender turnover is
  • How a high turnover rate affects your dispensary’s operations and culture
  • How to identify the root causes of budtender turnover in your dispensary
  • Specific ways to reduce turnover in your dispensary

First thing’s first…

What is budtender turnover?

What is budtender turnover?

The term “budtender turnover” refers to the situation when a budtender leaves their position at dispensary to seek employment elsewhere (usually at a competing dispensary). Turnover rate refers to how frequently employees leave their jobs. If you have an annual turnover rate of 50%, that means the number of staff you hired that year is equal to half your staff.

Imagine in 2022, you started with 20 budtenders. If your dispensary has an average turnover rate of 75%, that means approximately 15 of the original staff you started the year with left before the year’s end. With the cost of replacing an hourly employee averaging $6,000, that turnover could cost your dispensary $90,000. For operators with larger teams, you could be spending upwards of $100,000 every year—yikes!

How budtender turnover impacts dispensary culture

How budtender turnover impacts dispensary culture

When you lose a budtender, you’ll probably notice an immediate impact on the customer experience. With one fewer front-of-house staffer, lines become longer, a spare second to check inventory is harder to come by, and—depending on the payment technology you have—the checkout process might also slow down.

If the budtender who left was a longstanding and experienced member of your team, you’re also losing an invaluable knowledge base, a trainer for new employees, and a person with a high comfort level with their role, responsibilities, and your customers. Unless you’ve already established a clear budtender training and onboarding policy, getting other budtenders to operate at the level of your experienced staff is time consuming and shouldn’t be rushed. In the meantime, customers might notice the void—and your Google reviews could dip as a result.

Another likely repurcussion of turnover? Quitting is contagious. It’s not uncommon to see a spike in your turnover rate when one or more budtenders leave. One person taking the plunge can be convincing for others who were on the fence; those left behind often start to question their own future at the company and even feel a sense of loss. Plus, picking up additional responsibilities while an open spot is filled could mean those budtenders end up feeling stressed and resentful.

This all sounds pretty grim, right? Turnover really is one of the biggest challenges for the cannabis industry to overcome right now. We won’t sugar coat it, it’s rough out there—but there are ways you can reduce it.

How to reduce (and prevent) budtender turnover

How to reduce (and prevent) budtender turnover

Jim Finkelstein, CEO of California-based compensation advisory firm FutureSense, told MJBizDaily that retaining employees is more about good leadership, good pay and good benefits:

“The number one reason that people leave is because they don’t like their boss or they don’t feel that they’re getting the tools that they need in order to be able to advance their own personal competencies.” — Jim Finkelstein

Many dispensaries, especially those in legacy markets like California, anticipate and plan for high turnover, acknowledging that it simply comes with the territory. But according to Finkelstein, this approach hurts more than it helps.

“It’s not just the hiring costs. It’s the gap of not having somebody on the line, not having somebody at the front desk, the opportunity cost of needing to train people up again.” — Jim Finkelstein

Here are 6 ways you can reduce—and ultimately prevent—budtender turnover at your dispensary.

1. Offer competitive pay and other meaningful benefits

Feeling happy and supported in a budtender role is important, but so is paying the rent. One way to show your budtenders you care about their wellbeing, both inside and outside the dispensary, is to offer them competitive pay and benefits that improve the quality of their lives.

Health, dental, and vision insurance are the most common ways to enhance the employee experience. If your business budget doesn’t allow for this, consider offering employees Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs). The business owner can create a yearly budget cap rather than paying regular premiums.

More well-established dispensaries might be able to offer additional benefits, including AAA insurance for delivery drivers and Roth IRAs.

2. Create an incentive program with ongoing education and contests

Budtender education is vital to a dispensary’s success. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there, so make sure your budtenders have a deep understanding of the plant, as well as common misconceptions and stereotypes. The goal is for your customers to trust your budtenders on anything product-related. While it’s true that cannabis consumption varies by individual body chemistry, a true cannabis enthusiast can still teach your customer how to pick a product that agrees with them.

Resources for budtender education can include books, scientific research, brochures from brands you sell, email newsletters, and online courses. Utilize all the resources available to you to keep your budtenders feeling passionate about the product.

Contests within your dispensary can incentivize your staff to work faster and upsell more often. In most cases, your point of sale analytics should be able to help you track sales for these contests. Every contest should have a tangible reward; a gift card to a local glass shop, a vaping device or battery, etc. Make the prize the result of an attainable (but significant) sales goal. Your revenue will spike, and the commitment to that featured contest brand will follow naturally.

3. Clearly define your dispensary’s core values

Creating a healthy work environment in which budtenders can truly thrive is the mission. Besides a love of cannabis, budtenders want to know your dispensary has standards—and that they adhere to them.

Mr. Nice Guy, an MSO operating in both California and Oregon, has clearly defined their values and actively gives back to their community. Their mantra includes:

"DO THE RIGHT THING, ALWAYS. Create an environment of honesty and transparency. Act with integrity and never compromise. Make the world a better place. Show love to every Mr. Nice Guy customer. Enrich our communities. Give back. Advocate for the planet."

Each Mr. Nice Guy location demonstrates these values in different ways. Some branches are known to volunteer at local soup kitchens and organize food drives. They even highlight equal pay and social equity directly on their website.

If you’re looking for inspiration, Mr. Nice Guy is a company whose values are felt and appreciated within their community.

4. Prioritize professional development

Your main job as a dispensary owner or manager is to help your budtenders grow (no pun intended). If you can show them you care about their long-term career success, they’ll be more likely to stick with you; even if that success lies outside your dispensary or the cannabis industry as a whole.

Ask your budtenders where they hope to take their careers. If one wants to move into a manager role, have them shadow your best shift manager. If another wants to open up their own dispensary five years from now, show them the ropes and what it takes. In short, help your budtenders take on new responsibilities and roles that put them on a path that’s meaningful to them.

5. Take human resources seriously

Consider structuring your dispensary like a typical retail store. Every employee deserves a representative who advocates for their needs. Implementing a Human Resources (HR) department, even for small dispensaries, can go a long way in helping to establish autonomy among team members.

Since compliance is crucial when it comes to operating a cannabis business legally, owners should consider hiring someone in charge of interpersonal safety and employment law compliance. And don’t forget about setting clear boundaries—there should be zero tolerance for bias or harassment in the cannabis industry.

You want your budtenders feel as welcome, safe, supported, and appreciated as your customers do.

6. Invest in intuitive, easy-to-use technology

Your budtenders are your primary brand ambassadors, so give them tools they’ll look forward to using every day.

A user-friendly cannabis point of sale like Dutchie POS ensures your budtenders are spending their time helping customers—not learning the ins and outs of a complicated hardware and software bundle.

Beating budtender turnover, together

Employee turnover is a harsh reality for all retailers, not just those in the cannabis industry. But by hiring, onboarding, and rewarding your team budtenders effectively, you can reduce that turnover number for your dispensary.