Cannabis businesses around the country are grappling with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Thankfully, most states are declaring that dispensaries are essential businesses, guaranteeing access for patients and consumers. However, dispensary leaders realize that they must rapidly adjust to the new paradigm.
How can a dispensary successfully operate during the COVID-19 pandemic?
To find out, we went to the experts — real dispensary owners and managers who are facing this challenge and learning every day. In this article, we dive into responses from California dispensaries and discover helpful tips that modern cannabis businesses can use today.
Daniel Yi from STIIIZY DTLA
How has the STIIZY staff been impacted by COVID-19?
We have not adjusted hours or level of staff, but all our staff had to be trained on wearing protective masks and gloves, CDC social distancing guidelines, and new protocols on disinfecting surfaces regularly.
Have you noticed an uptick in online ordering?
We were using order ahead and delivery service before the shelter-in-place orders, but it has of course accelerated since. Our customers can order by phone for in-store pick up or order through our Blaze delivery service.
Have consumers' purchase patterns changed due to the Coronavirus?
We had a big spike in customer traffic shortly after shelter-in-place was announced on March 19, but traffic has gone back to more typical levels prior to the pandemic. We noticed larger transactions as people sought to stock up on the essentials. We also noticed an uptick in edibles.
How does this crisis affect your outlook?
COVID-19 has impacted the entire world and the consequences will be felt for months, if not years. Our focus has been on serving our patrons safely and to ensure the safety of our employees. We are taking every precaution to ensure safe transactions. We want our customers to know that we are here to serve them.
Adrienne Airhart from The Higher Path
How have hours and staff responsibilities been affected by COVID-19?
Our hours of operation are the same, 9am-10pm daily, but we've changed roles and responsibilities significantly. Half of our staff is at home, while the other half is in charge of hourly cleaning, online order packing, and running orders to the back lot for curbside pickup. We even got a chat bubble installed on our website, which required some training, as well. The staff is absolutely killing it!
How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your social media strategy?
We use our social media to provide levity, and texts and emails to keep our loyal customers updated on the best deals. We've been injecting more humor, and focusing brand awareness on those products that will provide the most anxiety relief for those who've never tried them. It's a great time to dip your toe into new ways to consume, and we're here to make that as pleasant and seamless as possible.
And your texting strategy?
We've sent many texts explaining the new system with online ordering only, and how to pick up in the lobby or curbside (you just call a number and our budtenders run your order out to you). Some vendors are running deals, and we text bout those. Mostly, we use texts to remind our customers that we're still here, still the best shop around, and going to go to extreme lengths to keep you safe while you buy your favorite products to help you get through this difficult time.
How do you stay up-to-date on the latest Coronavirus news?
The BCC is always a great resource, but we have an incredible team of lawyers who keep us updated on all laws. Plus, our owner, Jerred Kiloh, is on the frontlines actually getting laws changed and helping to keep cannabis an essential business in California. We are very lucky our ship is helmed by Jerred.
What is your biggest challenge these days?
Planning ahead has become more difficult since COVID-19 entered our worlds. It's harder to predict trends, stock products, and maintain a delivery schedule with companies downsizing or closing completely. We are doing our best to navigate these choppy waters with grace. It's like Leonard Cohen said, "If you don't become the ocean, you'll be seasick every day."
Jay Handal from ERBA Markets
How has COVID-19 affected ERBA Markets at a high level?
We haven't changed our hours of operation or staff responsibilities. The main difference is that we are now totally compliant with social distancing. We have 6 foot distance guides, all staff members have masks and gloves, and a cleaning crew disinfects the entire store daily.
Are you seeing any differences in purchase behaviors?
Yes, we are noticing that edibles are now outselling vapes.
How has the crisis affected your marketing strategy?
We are making an effort to push delivery and express curbside pick-up. In terms of our texting communications, we are sending special offers to all customers as well as a thanks to all first responders and essential employees.
Sammi Green from Exhalence
How has daily life at Exhalence been impacted by COVID-19?
We have not adjusted hours of operation. We are still open our regular hours of 6am-10pm weekdays and 8am-10pm weekends.
Our staff's responsibilities have not changed, but we are taking extra steps to make sure we are staying as safe as possible like wiping down counter tops and door handles with Lysol at the end of every shift. Now we have them wiping down everything (from the ATM to the pens at each register) about every hour.
All of our team members are required to wear masks and gloves during their shifts, for their own safety. We have placed weed leaves with "6" on the floor indicating 6 feet distances and posted signs asking visitors to please respect social distancing with others. We also set up barricades around the counters so customers refrain from touching counter tops, and we are not allowing customers to smell or touch display samples.
Have you started any new online ordering techniques?
We are offering curbside pick up now. Customers are very happy with this option as it allows them the convenience and safety of staying in their cars. A staff member greets them at their car and completes their transaction. We have also definitely been promoting delivery more now so we can try to reduce the number of customers in store.
Are consumers buying different products or quantities recently?
Yes! We have noticed customers are buying larger quantities since they are stuck at home with nothing to do. We also noticed an increase of people buying sativa products, maybe they need that extra pick me up during these times? Although flower is consistently the top selling category, edible and cartridge sales have definitely increased.What message are you communicating to your consumers now?
We are doing everything in our power to keep our dispensary and everyone in it safe and healthy. We are so proud of our amazing team members for standing by us and supporting our community. In times like this, people really need us so we are pleased to serve.
Heather Rodman from The High Note
What steps are you taking to protect customers and staff members?
While we have not limited our hours, we have taken a lot of extra precautions to ensure our staff and customers are safe. This has affected the staff's responsibilities including a much stronger emphasis on cleaning and risk reduction. These steps include:
- Our staff disinfects all surfaces continually throughout the day.
- Our staff is trained to wash their hands frequently and regularly.
- We limit the number of customers in the store at any given time.
- We do not allow anyone but the budtenders to handle product.
- Our staff is trained to maintain social distancing at all times.
- We give our staff time off if they feel unwell.
- We keep all of our doors open to cut down the surfaces our customers need to touch when visiting the store.
How has COVID-19 affected your marketing efforts?
We're focusing on the basics and have moved away from tactics that rely on in-person touch points. We're focused more on digital, email, and texting. On social media pages we are seeing a big increase in questions from our customers on if we're open and how they can order online. Our communication strategy has changed to be centered around our dedication to keeping our clients and staff safe. We go above and beyond to ensure safe access to cannabis.
We send out a daily MMS text message with our deals of the day. We now include messaging around ordering online as well as links to our statement on COVID-19 which can be found on our website.
How do you stay up to date on the relevant laws and regulations?
We work closely with our internal legal team to stay up to date on the ever evolving regulations. We also listen to the daily updates from the White House, Governor Newsom, as well as Mayor Garcetti. We check daily for updates on the CDC coronavirus page, the California Department of Heath website, as well as the LA City Coronavirus page.
What information do you try to tell all of your customers?
We are taking the situation very seriously and are doing our best to keep our customers and our staff safe. We will continue to support our community and provide safe access to cannabis. While these are uncertain times, we’re all in this together and we’ll get through this together.
Dispensaries are vital businesses that deserve support during this unprecedented time. While the cannabis industry can be highly competitive, it is encouraging to reputable dispensaries like STIIZY, Exhalence, and The High Note giving helpful advice.
We will update this blog with more timely interviews as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve. If you have a unique perspective on the pandemic's effect on the cannabis industry, please contact us today!