Contributions by Samantha Harrington, Managing Partner, Recruiting Operations at FlowerHire
Retail is an incredibly important part of the cannabis industry. Consumers interact with retail – the customer-facing staff – all the time. Budtenders and assistant managers are the faces of the industry.
As many brick-and-mortar store locations of non-cannabis companies continue to shut down and let go of staff, cannabis retail is rapidly opening new stores and adding staff. We expect that to continue over the next several years as more states expand their medical programs and/or transition to adult use – like New York.
Retail employees in New York are about to be in high-demand. If you’re hiring in New York, make sure that you’re compensating competitively so ensure you’re connecting with top talent.
The challenges of finding retail employees in cannabis
There are aspects of cannabis retail that resemble the non-cannabis retail and hospitality sectors. But while retail and hospitality experience is certainly helpful, working in cannabis retail is different. For example, cannabis retail includes aspects of experiential retail, hospitality, fast-casual dining, quality requirements, and following SOPs. There’s truly nothing else like cannabis retail and it’s hard to provide competitive compensation based solely on single comparisons of cannabis to any similar non-cannabis sector.
Varying customer base. The customer base in cannabis drastically varies. It takes skill to adjust the approach to service and know the best product recommendations based on the demographic being served. In one day, a retail associate may interact with:
- Baby boomers trying to fight pain and inflammation
- The after-work crowd looking for an alternative to alcohol
- A nurse who’s getting medication for a patient coping with end-of-life
- A heavy, long-time recreational consumer with a high tolerance
Strict regulations. There are very strict compliance and inventory management requirements in every state. Not only do cannabis retail operations have a diverse customer base in the front-of-house, but the back-of-house is very complex. Compliance, inventory manager, reporting to the state, and taxation.
With the unique challenges that cannabis retail employees face and the high-turn over rate, cannabis retail compensation is crucial in determining the success of a cannabis retail location.
Cannabis Retail Salary Guide
After 5 years of supporting retail growth in the cannabis industry, here is FlowerHire’s assessment of the hierarchy of cannabis retail employees and how to compensate them.
Related titles: Patient care advocate, retail associate, brand ambassador, dispensary associate, dispensary agent, retail specialist
Salary: Budtenders typically get paid a few dollars above the minimum wage in the local area.
Local minimum wage + $3 to $8 = budtenders hourly wage
What is a budtender?
Retail frontline staff is one of the leading contributors to cannabis job growth. Budtenders help people discover how they can best use cannabis. Some cannabis retail locations see hundreds of customers per day. Although it’s not an “easy” job, it can be fulfilling and rewarding. Budtenders typically have previous experience interfacing with customers or experience that centers around customer service. Budtenders will get many questions, so it’s important to have curiosity, the desire to be educated, and the desire to learn. Budtenders should be independently motivated to want to learn more.
Compensating cannabis assistant manager
Related titles: Assistant store manager, retail supervisor, assistant dispensary manager, and assistant general manager.
Salary: $50,000-$60,000 per year or $22-$30 per hour
Bonus for assistant managers:
If it’s an hourly role, then there are typically no benefits or bonuses.
If the role is salaried, there are sometimes bonuses.
What is a cannabis retail assistant manager?
Cannabis retail assistant managers are the next level up from a budtender and are most often hired from within (but not always). A person in this role typically starts as a budtender who has shown leadership traits, is a reliable worker and is good with customers. Unless the position is salaried, it’s often a challenge to find someone from outside the industry. They’re responsible for following the dispensary playbook, including:
- Implementing SOPs and processes
- Training new employees
- Handling customer complaints
- Managing employee relations
- Keeping track of inventory
- Speaking with customers when need
Compensating cannabis general manager
Related titles: Retail general manager, store manager, sometimes called ‘pharmacists’ in medical markets
Base salary: $55,000-$100,000k
The salary range for a general manager varies significantly and is based on the size and volume of the store.
Bonuses: 10% bonus target
A retail general manager is a highly poached position and tends to have a high turnover rate. Cannabis companies are starting to offer bonuses at this level to retain high-performing GMs and continue reaching growth goals. Bonus eligibility typically depends on whether the GM hits goals and is often quarterly or yearly. Some stores (very few) have started to offer equity as a bonus.
What is a cannabis general manager?
General Manager (GM) is responsible for running the store and making sure it hits its goals. They have an influence on how policies and operating procedures are implemented to most efficiently reach goals. The general manager is in charge of execution. There’s a wide variety of types of stores and goals that a GM might be expected to work with. For example, a dispensary could:
- Be a high-performing dispensary that needs to bring in more customers
- Have a small footprint and news to optimize a small space
- Cater to either a more medical or recreation customer base
- Cater to a more blue-collar or white-collar customer base
GMs should be able to speak to average customers per day, average ticket price, how they’ve improved numbers in the past, staff retention, and sales per square feet.
Compensating cannabis regional manager
Related titles: District manager, retail district manager, retail area manager
Base salary: $110,000 and $150,000
Bonuses for regional managers: 20% bonus target
Regional managers often receive a quarterly or yearly bonus. Sometimes regional managers have equity option-based incentive plans.
What is a cannabis regional manager?
This is a multi-store retail leader who typically manages about 5 stores. They’re responsible for staff retention and people management, as well as hiring, supervising, training, and mentoring the general managers.
Cannabis regional managers drive their region to meet the regional retail goals. Cannabis companies typically want – or require – prior cannabis retail experience and someone that has experience in a multi-store leadership role. Experience opening a new store is highly valued. Cannabis companies are open to candidates without prior cannabis experience, but non-cannabis candidates are often from stores like Victoria’s Secret, Ulta Beauty, or Starbucks. Candidates from a mainstream industry tend to have more business acumen and can speak to numbers well. Sometimes the regional manager is someone who’s hired from within, even without multi-store experience.
Compensating cannabis vice president of retail
Related titles: Vice president (VP) of retail, senior vice president (SVP) of retail, VP or SVP of retail operations, national head of retail
Base salary: $180,000 to $250,000
Top-performing VPs of retail at leading companies in the industry make about $350,000.
Bonuses: 30% bonus target
What is a cannabis VP of retail?
VP of retail sets the overall strategy for a network of stores. The role could be running over 100 stores for a multi-state operator. Or it could be anyone running over 10 stores in one single state. They develop store-based SOPs, merchandising and e-commerce strategies, retail marketing, and promotional strategy.
Retail leaders with experience reinventing an unregulated, legacy operation to be relevant to the current, regulated industry are highly valued. They need to be able to turn around underperforming stores. A background in consumer packaged goods (CPG) or experience with fast-growing companies.
VPs of cannabis retail need to be comfortable in a boardroom talking with executives. They develop presentations to provide information about numbers, forecasts, and revenue-based goals to executive leaders.