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What is the key to successful hiring in smoke shops?

In the competitive retail landscape, finding and keeping dedicated employees can be a daunting task. A recent survey from the National Federation of Independent Business revealed that about half of small-business owners reported being unable to fill open jobs, marking a near-record high in the survey’s roughly five-decade history. This statistic highlights the magnitude of the challenges faced by small business owners as they strive to add headcount to their teams. The combination of factors working against them includes disruptions caused by the pandemic, as well as the broader labor market phenomenon known as The Great Resignation, among others.

In 2022 alone, over 50 million workers decided to leave their jobs in pursuit of various new opportunities, in which they hoped to find an improved work-life balance, flexibility, increased compensation, and a strong company culture. This seismic shift in the labor market has posed significant challenges for small business owners, who now face a highly competitive landscape as they seek to attract and retain talented individuals.

Ginny Saville, owner of The Botany Bay, with three retail locations throughout Kentucky, is no stranger to hiring hurdles. As she strives to find staff members for her smoke shops, she must navigate an environment in which attracting and keeping qualified candidates has become increasingly challenging.

Saville says the applicant pool is getting stronger, but especially during the pandemic, she encountered a trend of job hunters seeking solely to fulfill unemployment requirements. “I interviewed one girl who refused to give me her legal name. She had a broken horn tattooed on her forehead and had me refer to her as ‘Unicorn’.”

Reflecting on this, Saville learned that by prescreening candidates, she can avoid potential mismatches and focus on individuals who are a good match with her business’s core objectives. She draws inspiration from “Hiring for Attitude,” a book by Mark Murphy, the founder and CEO of Leadership IQ, which emphasizes the significance of hiring employees based on their mindset and alignment with company values, rather than focusing solely on experience and skills. This approach has been a game-changer for Saville, helping her realize the significance of cultural fit and finding individuals who truly embrace the smoke shop community.

To underscore the type of employee that Murphy refers to as a “talented terror,” Saville vividly recalls an applicant with an impressive background, including experience at Hot Topic. Despite appearing highly qualified on paper, it didn’t take long—just a few weeks on the job—for it to become apparent that her oversized ego was something she had left off her resume.

“She thought she knew everything and didn’t get along with co-workers,” Saville recalls. “I really try to draw out in my interview if they’re a good listener and whether they’re somebody who is willing to learn about the products, culture, and customers. I screwed up on that one. . . I should’ve seen it coming.”

Justin Wilson, the visionary behind Peace of Mind Cannabis, with smoke shops and dispensaries throughout Washington, Montana, and California, agrees that product knowledge can be taught and is secondary to a positive personal disposition. As part of a 90-day training and evaluation period, new hires are required to complete a customized online course, on a platform called Progress Retail, that covers product features and benefits, company information, and customer service philosophy.

“People who invest their time and effort to get to this point, typically have a love of cannabis and want to build a career around the industry,” Wilson says. He adds that ten years ago, the atmosphere was all about “come on, let’s have fun!” Now, with increased competition, that has shifted to more of a focus on business. When you come across that perfect person, it’s important to support them in any way possible to keep them around. That’s where sales incentives, in-store discounts, and team-building activities like BBQs, bowling, or get-togethers at the lake come in to keep your work family happy and content.

Historically, Saville has found that her stores typically require 8 to 10 employees for optimal operations. However, by redesigning store layouts, investing in secure displays, equipping staff with iPads for digital payments and inventory tracking, and updating the store’s website to enable online shopping with in-store pickups, she has improved efficiency which she believes can allow her to operate with a significantly smaller team.

“Needing fewer staff allows you to prioritize quality over quantity,” she points out. Plus, the cost savings achieved through a smaller workforce allows management to offer more competitive salaries.

For the right employee, the rewards are plenty. “If they’re doing a good job, I will shower them with weed, food and money,” Saville says. “I have gone to great lengths to support my employees, such as arranging car repairs, covering dental expenses, and even assisting with legal matters like getting them out of jail.”

When it comes to hiring employees for your smoke shop, Saville has one last important piece of advice: don’t settle. Trust your instincts and wait for the right person—and have faith that they’ll will come along. Even in desperate times, she emphasizes that “the wrong person is never better than having no person at all.” So, stay patient and hold out for the perfect fit—it’ll be worth it in the end!

A Growing Generation Gap?

In places where cannabis is now legal and its stigma is decreasing, one might assume that working in a smoke shop would be a dream job for younger members of Generation Z. But don’t be too quick to assume that youth has the upper hand in the retail industry. Recent findings from a survey of 1,300 managers reveal a different story. A staggering three out of four managers agree that working with Gen Z employees is more challenging compared to other generations. In fact, 65% of employers admitted that they have to let go of Gen Z employees more frequently.

Saville is one of those bosses, and that’s why she prefers to hire people aged 30 and above. In her experience, not only have they proven to be more responsible and dependable workers than their younger counterparts, but they also exhibit less of a sense of entitlement.

Hiring Hilarity

Think you’ve heard it all? Think again! Within the smoke shop community, the hiring process can unravel into mind-boggling encounters and consequences that blur the boundaries of reality—and possibly sanity.

¹To be clear, rape is never funny. The humor here is the tendency of people to overshare with complete strangers.

“As if being told a story about RAPE once in an interview wasn’t enough… it’s actually happened more than 3 times! The info people share in a 30 minute sit-down is wild AF!”¹

Shanna Wilkinson, Owner
Smoky Shay’s

“I asked the girl I was interviewing what she liked the most about her previous job and why. Her answer was fooling around with drivers in the back office.”

Joe Player
Boutique Woodstock

” I just had an employee ask for a day off because it was her cat’s birthday!”

Richard Delapaz
Owner & Founder
High Expectations & The Cozy Corner

“We once had a girl show up for a shift with her parakeet because it was having a bad day and she needed to keep an eye on it. We wanted to tell her to take the parakeet home because it was a super distraction for her, but it was a busy day and we couldn’t afford to lose the employee. We just ran with it for the day, and made a plan with her that if her bird had another bad day that she would have to make “other arrangements.”

Ayla Knapton
Former Manager
Aylakai & The Broom Closet

“During my recruiting process on Indeed, I encountered anger and even threats of violence when sending polite rejection letters to unsuitable candidates. Among the resumes I received, one stood out as the absolute worst – it was handwritten, devoid of dates, filled with multiple spelling mistakes, and presented sketchy work experience. To my surprise, the applicant responded with an exceptionally kind reply, expressing gratitude for reviewing their resume. Intrigued, I decided to invite them for an interview. As time went on, they proved themselves and steadily rose through the ranks within the company. Today, they are one of my most valuable employees, successfully handling a range of responsibilities including customer service, website updates, and order packaging with the ability to effectively manage the company for a day or two on their own.”

Greg Burbank
Sunshine Joy

Attitude is Everything

According to Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, the success or failure of new hires heavily depends on their attitude. In his experience, around 46% of hires fail within the first 18 months, not due to a lack of skills, but primarily a poor attitude. To enhance your hiring processes and ensure the recruitment of top performers, here are some key points from his book, Hiring for Attitude: A Revolutionary Approach to Recruiting Star Performers with Both Tremendous Skills and Superb Attitude:

Cut the Cliché; Banish the Banal

Common interview questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your weaknesses?” often fall short in assessing a candidate’s attitude. The problem is that candidates tend to give rehearsed or generic answers that don’t provide genuine insights into their mindset. Similarly, behavioral interview questions with leading phrases can limit responses and miss out on crucial information about a candidate’s problem-solving abilities.

Tap Into the Tenacious

For small businesses with limited resources, it’s important to evaluate a candidate’s potential and attitude for growth. Look for individuals who show a genuine eagerness to learn, adapt, and take on new challenges. Hiring candidates with the right attitude and a hunger for personal and professional development can help build a committed and skilled team over time.

Hire for Fire

When hiring, place emphasis on candidates’ passion for the industry and alignment with the business’s mission. Seek out individuals who truly believe in the company’s values and goals, as they are more likely to be motivated, dedicated, and actively contribute to the organization’s success.

Find the Utility in Agility

Since small businesses often require staff to juggle multiple responsibilities, it’s essential to emphasize an applicant’s ability to learn quickly, be flexible in their roles, and thrive in dynamic environments. These qualities can be invaluable for businesses that rely on employees who can handle diverse tasks and adapt to ever-changing circumstances.

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