As an increasing number of cannabis dispensaries open, you will see the same differentiation you see among other retail businesses. Some will succeed because of the quality of their product and management. Some will fail from poor product and management. And, some will succeed beyond all common sense.
So many factors influence success and failure, including easy accessibility, safe neighborhood, and even exterior lighting. Where they can, people shop online and request delivery of advertised product and coupon deals. With all these floating factors, you must wonder about the real difference between good and bad dispensaries.
What to expect from a “good” dispensary
♦ Comfortable setting. Customers favor dispensaries in which they feel some comfort —physical and emotional comfort.
All things being equal, people will leave a store they find dirty, indifferent, and insecure. Of course, “all things being equal” means you have options and are not desperate for care.
Individual customers will prefer a place on the way to and from work where they can pop in and pop out. The dispensary drive-thru at NuWu in Las Vegas may offer a model for future consideration and regulation.
Because cannabis has a deserved and undeserved stigma attached, customers have a real and imagined fear of trafficking in the cannabis world. They worry about security in and around the location. They imagine dangers that good dispensaries relieve with good lighting, attractive storefronts, and a solicitous security personnel.
♦ Heads-up staff. Dispensaries must operate differently than usual retail environments. Regulations prohibit customers from touching and browsing through most products. You can’t scan a barcode to self-checkout at a dispensary.
Experienced customers will study product menus online or while awaiting their turn. Then they can point at the product they want. They do need the patience to process their cash and medical paperwork where required.
Inexperienced customers need more patient and informed personal attention to answer questions that sometimes lead to more questions.
Customers respond positively if consciously to happy employees. A visitor will notice from the front desk if employees are happy working there. Customers are more comfortable in a team and family atmosphere.
So, honest, informed, and amiable budtenders will improve the customer experience. Good budtenders will often work as a team handing off questions they may not be able to answer. Every customer needs a go-to person because the customer cannot taste test new strains or new derivatives.
Budtenders are in no position to diagnose medical problems or “prescribe” remedies. But, their experience facilitates advice on customer satisfaction and information on the linkage between strains and conditions.
Stereotypical potheads aren’t looking for an upscale customer experience, but even they have expectations on picking, weighing, and checking out. And, those steps require a budtender.
So, the budtender can make or break the event. Just like a good bartender, the budtender should be professional, solicitous, knowledgeable, and efficient.
♦ Good price. Until legalization has been around long enough to shake some of the business and regulatory glitches out and until the business across states is big enough, it will be a while before pricing finds a normal footing.
Price will drive experienced customers. They will choose one dispensary over another for the price of a given product. New customers may shop online for good deals at dispensaries convenient to them
In general, everyone wants a “good deal.” Prices vary, sometimes noticeably, from one dispensary to another. Some of that may reflect the store’s location, architecture, and décor. Some of it may reflect recent harvests. Some of it may reflect trends, and so on.
As with any retail situation, supply and demand regulate price. But, until dispensaries are as common as fast-food restaurants, you won’t see much consistency in price.
One of the issues with Big Cannabis is that it will dominate pricing in markets that have been determined by small farms. The big farms will produce more product and set price which may or may not drive customers away from family-owned and local farms.
The canna-economics of Long Beach, CA, for example, will differ significantly from Alaskan dispensaries.
In time, as new customers become regulars, they will learn to comparison shop, work the advertised deals, and anticipate product availability.
♦ Product quality. More cannabis product providers are processing and packaging edibles, topicals, oils, and other cannabis derivatives in handsome, celebrity-endorsed, and well-labeled containers. For some customers, those are signs of quality regardless of price.
But, as for cannabis flowers, only use will determine the quality. Given the subjectivity of experience, some quality is in the personal taste of the user. Experienced consumers can decide if the product is fresh and delivers psycho-active and/or medical benefits as expected. Inexperienced users have little to go by. They have little more assurance than they would get from a neighborhood dealer.
Good pharmacies go out of their way to provide quality product:
- They know and respect their supply chain.
- They have confidence in their processors’ quality controls.
- They label product extensively in terms of content, weight, composition, THC: CBD ratio, origin, pesticides, and dosage.
- They have best business and product handling practices and protocols in the dispensary.
The differences between good and bad dispensaries
If these checks identify a “good” dispensary, anything else is a “bad” one. They do exist. Dispensaries do flourish in seedy parts of town. Some are staffed by stoners and seek no better clientele.
Some dispensaries evolved out of headshops and have no higher aim. It remains to be seen how soon and how well regulatory managers level the playing field. In an economy like California’s, poor businesses will continue to thrive partly under the radar and partly the result of urban corruption.
But, the expense, élan, and expectation of consumers new to the burgeoning recreational and medical cannabis dispensary business should encourage the opening and support of good dispensaries.