Marijuana retailers prep for shoppers by hiring staff, keeping COVID safeguards

marijuana covid-19, Marijuana retailers prep for shoppers by hiring staff, keeping COVID safeguards

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, Planet 13 in Las Vegas set sales records on 4/20 this year. (Photo courtesy of Planet 13)

With more than 100 million Americans now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, marijuana retailers are adding employees and overhauling their operations in anticipation of more foot traffic inside their stores.

They also are reassigning existing staffers to new jobs as well as rolling out technology to accommodate an increase in customers walking in their stores – though they remain mindful of the potential health risks tied to the pandemic.

Las Vegas-based Planet 13, for example, has seen a boom in sales after the reopening of casinos and entertainment in the city and surrounding areas.

The retailer announced Wednesday morning its April sales totaled $10.7 million, virtually matching the $10.8 million recorded for its second quarter of 2020.

Planet 13 linked the sales spurt to increased tourist activity and disclosed it wants to hire 140 employees for its Las Vegas operations, up from initial plans last month to add 80.

Bob Groesbeck, co-CEO of Planet 13, said in a news release Wednesday “we were absolutely blown away by the rebound in tourist activity and Planet 13 sales this month.”

But even as people are vaccinated and become more comfortable about shopping in stores, many cannabis retailers say the protocols they put in place during the pandemic will endure, including:

  • Curbside pickup and delivery where regulations allow it.
  • Social distancing and mask wearing.
  • Online ordering.
  • Shifts in staffing.

Green Thumb gears up

Jen Dooley, chief strategy officer for Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries, said she anticipates increased traffic at the company’s 50-plus retail stores across the country as more people are vaccinated and consumers spend their stimulus checks and tax refunds.

The company is adding staff to keep up with increasing in-store visits, Dooley said.

“Most consumers love coming into the store,” she said. “Consuming cannabis and finding the right product, especially for medical patients, is a pretty intimate experience, so that face-to-face interaction is really important to us.”

Green Thumb will continue to follow the safety practices it put in place after the pandemic’s outbreak last year, including:

  • Repeated cleaning and sanitation of its facilities and stores.
  • Requiring employees and customers to wear masks.
  • Leaving protection barriers that separate staff and customers from one another.

The company will continue to stock up on products such as Cann, a leading THC-infused beverage, to meet increased demand.

Green Thumb also is accelerating the rollout of in-store kiosks it was adding before COVID-19 so customers can place orders that will be fulfilled while they wait.

“It’s basically a digital shopping experience where you can explore the products on your own time,” Dooley said. “We rolled the kiosks out faster because of COVID, and they are here to stay.”

Nevada an example?

 Nevada could serve as a bellwether of what cannabis retailers can expect.

Planet 13 announced on April 8, for example, that it was “quickly adapting to the steady uptick in Las Vegas tourist traffic by expanding its dispensary floor, adding 40 cash registers, and hiring 80 additional employees.” That number was later increased to 100 and now 140.

“We’re very pleased that Vegas is coming back to life and feeling like Vegas again, and we’re happy that as tourists return, we’re able to hire for multiple positions immediately,” co-CEO Larry Scheffler said in a news release last month.

Soon after that announcement, Planet 13 trumpeted a single-day sales record on 4/20, the unofficial cannabis holiday.

The retailer said it generated $543,000 in single-day sales, with gross margins during the month topping 50%.

A spokesperson said the bulk of 4/20 sales happened on the dispensary floor rather than online sales and deliveries.

Prepping for 4/20

Other retailers also geared  up for more foot traffic ahead of this year’s 4/20-associated activities, which typically generate an increase in sales ahead of and on April 20.

Kevin Hogan, co-founder and president of Oregrown, a vertically integrated cannabis operator based in Bend, Oregon, said his business had been anticipating an increase in foot traffic because of 4/20 as well as an easing in pandemic restrictions and warmer temperatures.

“All three of those things are going to converge at the same time,” Hogan said shortly before April 20.

To prepare for a return to in-person shopping, Oregrown began stocking up on inventory such as its Oregrown Caviar concentrate as well as Pax pods and single-use cartridges.

The company also has dedicated staff members to serve as a curbside liaisons to handle order fulfillment outside the store.

Those staffers are equipped with point-of-sale iPads so they can take orders from customers who already have a good idea of what they want and can order from their cars.

The company has added two dedicated delivery vehicles with their own point-of-sale systems to handle an increase in deliveries.

During the pandemic, the company reduced its points of sale inside the stores from six to five, so curbside ordering is a way to make up for that, Hogan said.

The company plans to reactivate the in-store point-of-sale systems that were shuttered to accommodate social distancing as soon as those restrictions are lifted.

It also will hire more employees to be prepared for increased foot traffic.

“We’re hoping … that the stores go back to being the touristy hubs that they were,” Hogan said.

More e-commerce and foot traffic

U.S. and Canadian marijuana operator TerrAscend has added to its technology and e-commerce staff as it invests in more streamlined ways for consumers to shop online, said Chantelle Elsner, senior vice president of retail at TerrAscend’s Ilera Healthcare subsidiary in Pennsylvania.

Elsner recently estimated that TerrAscend has as many as 30 positions it’s looking to fill as it gears up for more foot traffic as well as the stores it will be opening in New Jersey, which recently approved cannabis for recreational use.

“We’re still seeing substantial growth in e-commerce, and I don’t know that it’s going to stop,” Elsner said. “We are adjusting each week, each month as things are changing.”

While TerrAscend still has in-store staff, it’s adjusted its retail model to handle more curbside sales and is focusing more on its supply-chain operations to ensure products move swiftly through the system.

“It’s finding the right balance of running lean and being smart with how you’re operating,” Elsner said.

“We have a solid leadership group that’s working together to solve the challenges of doing business in the pandemic but also in this industry.”

At its 6,500-square-foot store in Maplewood, New Jersey, the company has capacity for 15 registers, including five dedicated to express pickup for an easy and efficient checkout process.

The size of the store ensures there is ample space to shop and explore while maintaining social distance.

“We have duplicate displays throughout the store to eliminate crowding around one area,” said Kimberley Owies, senior director of retail marketing for Ilera Healthcare, TerrAscend NJ and The Apothecarium.

Like many cannabis retailers across the country, Denver-based Green Dragon experienced its best year ever in 2020 thanks to pandemic-induced purchases, though in-store visits by older consumers and other at-risk customers declined, said Alex Levine, the company’s co-founder and chief development officer.

Those customers have been returning to in-store shopping as vaccinations have been administered, and Green Dragon is on track to have its busiest year ever.

Green Dragon is going after that older population with the opening of as many as 25 dispensaries in Florida by the end of the year.

“For the uninitiated, there’s a perception that cannabis is just for young people and that people grow out if it, but that’s really not true,” Levine said.

“There are lots of folks 65 and up who use cannabis. Creams, pills and tinctures cater to an older demographic.”