PART II: What are dispensaries doing to adjust daily operations during COVID-19? Two dispensaries share insights

April 3, 2020

This is the second installment of our three-part blog series on COVID-19 for cannabis retailers. 

Aside from the irony that cannabis has been deemed necessary to society 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. From social distancing, ordering online and express order pick-up to sanitation practices and customer flow modifications, there are many new practices to get comfortable with if you want to keep your customers happy, your staff healthy, and your business afloat. We hope these tips and resources help keep your store running smoothly and your patrons smiling during this unique time in our lives and during this year’s 4/20 events.

Fortunately, licensed cannabis businesses in 29 states are still open and serving medical patients and adult-use customers. However, it is not exactly business as usual. For the health and safety of staff and customers, dispensaries have made drastic changes to their retail operations to accommodate social distancing, heightened sanitary practices, and continued demand for cannabis products. 

We reached out to two dispensaries to find out what changes they’ve made and how it’s going for their customers and employees so far. 

The Healing Center - San Diego, CA (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 typically during non-pandemic times. 

THCSD’s lobby check-in window (left image) is adjacent to the entrance of their retail showroom (right image). Bullet resistant glass walls provide the code-required separation while helping the 350-sq.ft. store feel more spacious.

Their 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 are coming in handy these days with social distancing measures and have enabled them to keep their customer 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 arrived and parked in one of their designated curbside pick-up locations. The staff comes to the customers to pick up 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 6-foot social distancing practices. Their 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 their 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 play on loop on the TVs in their lobby, helping to reassure customers while they wait.

PART II: What are dispensaries doing to adjust daily operations during COVID-19? Two dispensaries share insights
Customers at TCHSD stand 6-feet apart as they wait in line.

TruMed Dispensary - Phoenix, AZ | 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 order pick-up at the store. In the retail world, we call this practice BOPIS—Buy Online Pick-up In Store. While many dispensaries, including TruMed, are not new to online ordering and express order pick-up, converting your entire retail operation to BOPIS-only is a major adjustment for both customers and staff. However, for dispensaries like TruMed who 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 the homepage of their website to explain how online ordering works. They have also updated their voicemail to help educate those who call in. And, they sent out text blasts containing links to the online ordering website to their audience of loyal followers.
  • Since customers are no longer being served inside of TruMed’s showroom, all orders are packaged and staged across their long budtending counters, aiding in their efficient order fulfillment.

PART II: What are dispensaries doing to adjust daily operations during COVID-19? Two dispensaries share insights
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. Lauren says this has been particularly helpful for the dozens of new patients TruMed continues to service each day.

PART II: What are dispensaries doing to adjust daily operations during COVID-19? Two dispensaries share insights
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 ✅). 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 last few weeks, the outdoor wait hasn’t disappointed any customers. However, tents have been put up to provide shade, and as temperatures rise in the desert throughout April, they plan to assemble their 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. 

PART II: What are dispensaries doing to adjust daily operations during COVID-19? Two dispensaries share insights
Lauren Gooding, RN, delivers an order to a waiting customer.

One of the downfalls of the expedited measures that so many retailers like THCSD and TruMed are having to implement are no samples, displays or upselling opportunities. While these are additional challenges of the new COVID-19 shopping conditions, we are always up for a good challenge. Coming up in Part III of our three part series, we will be sharing advice from our network of industry experts on how to maintain the shopping experience with creative visual merchandising solutions. More great dispensary design tips can be found on our blog, Dope Design Diaries and on our Instagram page, @highroadstudio_.

High Road is always here to support our cannabis community, and we are ready to help you through these unique circumstances too. Whether for COVID-19 or for FOUR-20, our team of dope designers and retail gurus can provide you with clever ways to keep your customers happy and your brand top of mind. We are ready and able to provide the retail design support you need during these hectic and ever-changing times. Contact us today to learn more about our design and consultation services to help you implement helpful practices today and every day.

Take care of yourselves and keep taking the High Road!