Five Insights from Cannabis Retailers Navigating COVID-19

Industry Trends
May 4, 2020
Zipline Staff Contribution

With non-essential businesses still mostly shuttered across the US and Canada, we are all left to wonder what operating a retail store is going to look like when the shelter-in-place orders lift widely. For those looking for clues, cannabis retailers provide some great insight.

Deemed essential businesses in 30 states, cannabis stores have been allowed to stay open during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place. Advice from cannabis leaders can help retailers from other industries prepare for store reopenings. Here are five tips we gleaned from a recent FlowerHire webinar and articles published over the last few weeks.

Think creatively about fulfillment

To ensure the safety of employees and customers during the pandemic, many cannabis retailers are focusing on online sales and finding new ways to fulfill orders, such as home delivery, curbside pickup and online express ordering, which enables customers to be in and out of the store in less than three minutes. In the webinar, Don Schaefer, VP Retail Operations at Ascend Wellness Holdings talked about an innovation he implemented in Illinois -- a reservation system that allows customers to reserve a time to come into the store, thus eliminating wait times and overcrowding in the stores, which protects both customers and employees.

Stay agile

Cannabis businesses are no stranger to tough regulations and constant policy changes. In fact, in San Francisco, cannabis retailers were only deemed essential the day after the city announced the closure of all non-essential business, leaving managers scrambling to staff up shops.

Constantly changing regulations means that businesses must be nimble and ready to pivot. During the webinar, Jen Barry of Glass House Group explained that during this time, “flexibility is essential.” As an example, she shared that masks weren’t required for store employees until later in April and when that change went into effect in San Francisco, they scrambled to provision them for staff and communicate the new rules.

Retailers with a single source of truth for communications and policies will be in the best position to quickly respond to market needs and ensure the fleet is aligned with direction from HQ.

Focus on employees

Retailers need to focus on the health and safety of their employees. Leading cannabis retailers were quick to provide their employees with masks and gloves and be more lenient about PTO, allowing employees to take it if they were feeling anxiety about working. In addition, to make his stores safer for employees, Don removed half of his POS systems to allow for social distancing, put up plexiglass barriers between employees and customers and marked six feet of space on the floor. Likewise, Glass House’s four retail stores limited the amount of people in the store at any time and implemented new cleaning guidelines, in addition to pushing delivery and online express ordering.

With lawsuits around employee safety now starting to hit retailers, brands need to put their wellbeing first. Brands should have solutions in place to track compliance around new safety regulations and a way to report that store associates read new safety guidelines every time they are sent out. 

Expect bigger basket sizes

One positive outcome of the pandemic is that basket sizes have increased for most cannabis retailers. Customers are buying more when they come into the stores, likely to limit their trips out of the house. This could also be the result of stimulus checks, which provide customers with more spending money. We hope this trend continues as stores begin to reopen across the country.

Focus on hiring and onboarding

In an article published in April in Green Entrepreneur, Devin Penhall, Director of Client Strategy at ForceBrands, a job recruiting company says, “While other consumer sectors are placing temporary hiring holds on certain positions during this time, cannabis continues to gain traction when it comes to hiring." 

Given the numbers of essential workers being hired during the pandemic, employers need to build effective onboarding strategies and ensure that new employees have the tools to know what’s expected of them and why their job is critical to the success of their company. Brands that give associates this feeling of purpose will build a fleet focused on store execution and sales.

One thing we know for sure, is that retail is going to look different in 2020, regardless of what you’re selling. Like the cannabis company, all retail brands need to be ready for anything, Devin sums it up nicely, saying, “We are seeing that the quicker you can realign as a company is indicative of how well we’re going to get through this.”

If you’re looking for ways to enable more agility in your business through better communication and task management, reach out. We would love to chat.