How marijuana stores attract and keep senior shoppers – even during COVID-19

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Cannabis retailers are taking extra steps to attract and retain senior customers at a time when marijuana use is increasing among older Americans.

Senior-friendly dispensaries interviewed by Marijuana Business Daily said they have found success by:

  • Building enduring relationships with seniors’ communities.
  • Training employees to take their time with older shoppers when needed.
  • Offering special perks such as seniors’ hours and discounts.
  • And fine-tuning their approaches in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

New data on senior cannabis use shows why these strategies matter.

Past-month cannabis use for Americans 65-69 years old increased between 2016 and 2018, from 4.3% to 8.2% for men and from 2.1% to 3.8% among women, according to a new report published in the prestigious journal Annals of Internal Medicine,

The coronavirus appears to be changing the way those older consumers shop for cannabis.

From January to August, the raw transaction volume for baby boomers 56-74 years old at adult-use cannabis stores declined by 14%, according to Seattle-based Headset’s point-of-sales data from California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state.

However, those boomers offset that decline by spending more per trip to the cannabis store: Their average basket size increased by 14% over the same time period, from $56.18 to $65.27.

Reaching out to seniors where they live

Before the pandemic hit, Bud and Bloom in Santa Ana, California, earned media coverage for bussing older customers from their retirement home directly to the store.

Jen Barry, vice president of retail for Bud and Bloom operator Glass House Group, credited employee Kandice Hawes, the founder and executive director of Orange County NORML, with building a relationship with local seniors community Laguna Woods Village.

“When I say that we worked hard on our relationship, it’s over many years where we found these gaps in service, to be perfectly frank, and we knew that the seniors sometimes hesitated coming into an actual dispensary just because of the unknown,” Barry said.

Barry said roughly 30% of Bud and Bloom’s customers are 55 and older.

Even though COVID-19 has put a pause on Bud and Bloom’s senior bus service, Barry said Laguna Woods residents are still coming to shop of their own accord.

“I was there today. … Our first three customers, at 9 a.m., were seniors – actually, seniors from Laguna Woods,” she said.

“And they walked in, and everybody on the team knows their name – a little bit like ‘Cheers.'”

Chalice Farms dispensaries in Oregon also experienced pre-coronavirus success making education appointments at retirement homes, typically sponsored by a resident.

“For us, it’s gaining trust and creating some comfort for them and (answering) their questions,” said Jeff Yapp, CEO of Golden Leaf Holdings, which operates Chalice Farms.

“And when you do that, it converts to customers. There’s no question about it.”

Training staff to take the time to listen

Glass House Group partner dispensary Farmacy Berkeley benefits from the compelling story of co-founder Sue Taylor, a 73-year-old former Catholic school principal with her own line of products aimed at seniors.

Taylor’s daughter-in-law, Farmacy general manager and co-founder Kitshwa “Kiki” Genama, said Taylor’s personal story has helped draw older customers to the store.

Once they’re in the door, Genama said, staff are trained to take the time to help older customers explore product options at their own pace.

“Retail usually is numbers, pushing through customers to get the sales for the day,” she said.

“That’s a different thought process, because (we are) now saying, ‘No, we’re not just looking to make the sale – I’m looking to make sure that I took the time to inform, educate and support this customer in making an educated choice.'”

Still, Genama said Farmacy Berkeley wants to make senior shoppers “feel that they weren’t being treated as if, automatically, we assume that they were going to be moving slow, walking slow or didn’t have all their mental faculties about them.”

“We have seniors that are just as sharp, witty, knowledgeable, spry as a teenager, and we want to meet them with the energy in which they need it,” she said.

“I would say, don’t pigeonhole your seniors,” said Glass House Group’s Barry.

“Make sure that you’re listening to them, but don’t assume when they walk in the door that you’re going to lead them right to tinctures or lead them right to edibles.

“Let them tell you how they want to experience the plant.”

In terms of store design, Barry said senior shoppers appreciate “a set structure to the physicality of the brick-and-mortar (store), that they can go in and we’re not constantly moving categories around the store. … They can count on the stability of where their product will be.”

Golden Leaf Holdings’ Yapp said the company’s seven Chalice Farms locations in Oregon have found success by presenting product in horizontal display cases organized by category.

“If you walk into any of our competitors’ stores, if you see a sea of product that is displayed vertically, and it runs contiguously so it’s all connected, that’s an overwhelming impression, immediately,” he said.

At Farmacy Berkeley, Genama said senior-friendly features include accessible counters, a semiprivate consultation area and a community room that can be used for tea sessions and formal classes.

COVID-19 considerations for seniors

With older customers at increased risk from the coronavirus, retailers are adjusting their strategies.

Although Bud and Bloom has had to suspend its seniors’ bus service because of the pandemic, it has earmarked its opening hour for senior shoppers, who receive a 20% discount.

Farmacy Berkeley’s Kiki Genama said the pandemic isn’t stopping her staff from spending extra time consulting with senior customers, whether on the phone or at curbside-pickup windows.

“If we have to spend 20 minutes at the window making sure we’ve answered all their questions, but then the other window is turning over customers in three minutes because of people that preordered, or know what they want, that’s OK with us.”

At Silver State Relief’s location in Sparks, Nevada, General Manager Aron Swan said curbside pickup has proved particularly popular with older customers.

“It’s a nice option for people that aren’t comfortable coming into stores,” he said.

Even though COVID-19 has complicated face-to-face interactions with customers, Swan said it’s still important to find a way to take extra time with seniors when needed.

“If it becomes more in-depth, we absolutely take those consultations over the phone, then they can take all the time they need.”

Solomon Israel can be reached at