In case you haven’t heard, licensed cannabis businesses in 29 states have been allowed to remain open, many even earning the designation of “essential businesses.” This means that your local pot shop hopefully won’t be shutting its doors and laying off its staff anytime soon as the world deals with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and as dispensaries across the country continue gearing up for their annual “4/20” promotions and events – an already busy time for dispensaries and cannabis brands.
Aside from the irony that cannabis has been deemed necessary in more than half of the states, but could land you in federal prison in others, this rightfully earned recognition of “essential” has already introduced some new challenges and opportunities for dispensary operators and staff. For the health and safety of staff and customers, dispensaries, like other essential business retailers, have made drastic changes to their retail operations to accommodate social distancing, heightened sanitary practices and continued product demand.
For those curious as to what “retail in action” looks like for cannabis retailers navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, here are two case studies that offer a glimpse of the new normal for dispensary operations while communities adhere to #safeathome mandates.
The Healing Center - San Diego (THCSD)
A recreational dispensary
Ray Taylor and Jim Dickinson, co-owners and operators of THCSD, are no strangers to operating a high-volume store with limited square footage. Their High Road-designed dispensary is a mere 350-sq.ft, but manages to handle 350-650 customers a day during non-pandemic times.
THCSD’s lobby check-in window (left) is adjacent to the entrance of the retail showroom (right).
Bullet-resistant glass walls provide the code-required separation while helping the 350-sq.ft. store feel more spacious.
The closet-sized San Diego recreational dispensary is divided by city-required bullet-resistant glass walls into a lobby, a small receptionist office, and a modest retail showroom. These partitions have come in handy these days as social distancing measures and have enabled them to keep the retail experience familiar and comfortable for the customers and staff.
Things that THCSD has had to change in recent weeks due to COVID-19 include:
- They are now offering curbside pick-up for online orders. Customers place orders online and call or text the store once they’ve parked in a designated curbside pick-up location. The staff comes to the customers to collect the payment and deliver the order. The customer never has to leave their car.
- For customers who do still wish to come into the store, THCSD now limits the number of customers allowed in the lobby and showroom at a time.
- Customers waiting in line to come into the store abide by six-foot social distancing practices. The line commonly stretches out their second-story location, down the exterior staircase and into the parking lot below.
- All retail spaces as well as their back offices and break room are being professionally steam cleaned every 24 hours, seven nights a week.
- All heavy touch spots such as light switches, keyboards, doorknobs and handles, refrigerators, and ATMs are cleaned and sanitized by the staff every 15 minutes throughout the day.
- Follow the links above to check out the informative videos they produced to inform their customers of these new cleaning processes. The videos also play on loop on the TVs in their lobby, helping to reassure customers while they wait.
Customers at TCHSD stand six feet apart as they wait in line.
TruMed Dispensary - Phoenix
A medical dispensary
At TruMed Dispensary in Phoenix, staff and customers are adapting to cannabis retail without most of the retail part. Lauren Gooding, RN, is in charge of retail operations and has had to make some big changes to the day-to-day experience for her staff and medical patients in recent weeks. So far, things have gone pretty smoothly for the dispensary – which sees an average of 500 patients during normal weekdays – and she reports that people are staying positive.
They are understanding of TruMed’s new procedures, such as:
- All orders must now be placed online for pick-up at the store. BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick up in Store) is now in full effect, which is quite different than the typical day-to-day operations. While many dispensaries, including TruMed, are not new to online ordering and express order pick-up, converting an entire retail operation to BOPIS-only is a major adjustment for both customers and staff. However, for dispensaries like TruMed that are not able to deliver to their customers, this practice is the best way to limit physical interactions and still accommodate the large numbers of customers they see.
- To make sure customers are aware of the BOPIS-only policy before arriving at the store, TruMed has updated its website to explain how online ordering works. They have also updated voicemail to help educate those who call in. And, text blasts containing links to the online ordering website were sent to customers.
- Since customers are no longer being served inside of TruMed’s showroom, all orders are packaged and staged across long budtending counters, aiding in efficient order fulfillment.
Orders placed online are staged for pick-up on TruMed’s showroom counters.
- To assist customers who may not be familiar or comfortable with online ordering, TruMed moved their lobby’s order kiosk outside and have an employee ready to assist patients. Gooding says this has been particularly helpful for the dozens of new patients TruMed continues to service each day.
A TruMed patient advisor assists a customer at the online order kiosk that has been set up outside of the lobby.
- Customers come into the lobby to check-in at the bullet-resistant glass window (social distancing, check). Most then proceed outside to wait in their main parking lot, which is no longer being used for parking. Fortunately, it is prime season right now in Arizona. With near-perfect weather over the plast few weeks, the outdoor wait hasn’t disappointed any customers. However, tents have been put upare available to provide shade, and as temperatures rise in the desert throughout April, they plan to assemble their a large event structure to provide full shade over the lot. They will use outdoor cooling systems to keep patients comfortable. TruMed’s lobby is open for waiting as well, although many customers are choosing to wait outside.
- When an order is ready, a TruMed employee walks out and collects payment first. Then the employee returns with the order. The transaction always takes place in the presence of their security guard and within a few feet of the main entrance – a safety precaution for both patients and employees.
Lauren Gooding, RN, delivers an order to a waiting customer.
Like many retailers, the cannabis industry is adapting day by day to COVID-19 circumstances. But unlike many retailers, the cannabis industry is also preparing for its busiest revenue generating day of the year—4/20, April 20. April will prove to be an interesting month for these retailers and a must-watch case study on how to navigate the “Black Friday” of cannabis amidst an unprecedented consumer landscape and economy.