Creating Chemistry With Customers

Marajuana retailer focuses on rebranding cannabis, consistency and compassion to create loyalty

by Joseph Peña

Good Chemistry’s executives like to say that all cannabis is not created equal.

They feel the same way about customer service.

The Colorado-based company has discovered that building a successful marijuana retail business in a highly competitive market requires a dynamic and diverse approach to creating bonds with patients and consumers. That, in turn, has helped the company win new customers and strengthen loyalty among existing ones.

Good Chemistry’s strategy includes:

  • Bringing on top-notch employees and investing in training to decrease turnover and deliver consistent service across locations
  • Elevating the company’s brand to attract new customers
  • Building connections with the community and educating new consumers about an oft-misunderstood product.

While many marijuana companies in Denver and other markets are trying to expand as fast as possible, gobbling up available retail and warehouse space isn’t a sure-fire route to success, said Stephen Spinosa, vice president of retail operations at Good Chemistry.

The key component is customer service.

“You can outpace your company culture very, very quickly,” said Spinosa, who trains and manages more than 100 employees at the company’s two retail stores in the Denver area, which serve both the recreational and medical markets.

“Then, ultimately, you’re just selling a product. But we provide a customer service experience … When it’s all said and done, customer service is a top priority.”

Indeed, Good Chemistry has won local recognition from Denver’s weekly alternative magazine Westword for its outreach to new consumers, while AdAge said the company is “among the most advanced of its peers when it comes to investment in overall brand strategy.”

Spinosa shared a few ways Good Chemistry has been successful in connecting with customers.

Create Consumer Education Material

Not every consumer is a cannabis aficionado, and even connoisseurs can learn a thing or two about marijuana strains and related products.

Hence Good Chemistry’s color-coded categories and its new consumer education guide.

The four categories – relax (green), relieve (orange), sleep (blue) and amplify (yellow) – separate strains by their intended effects. This is a simple and effective way to educate new cannabis consumers, as it reintroduces the plant in language a layperson can understand.

“When people come in for the first time, they’re walking out with new knowledge about what cannabis is and what it can do,” Spinosa said. “They have a better impression of the product and less apprehension.”

This strategy also is helpful for educating casual long-time users who don’t know much about the plant and are new to the state-legal realm of marijuana.

Good Chemistry also created its consumer education guide – called S.T.A.T.S. (Sight, Touch, Aroma, Taste, and Sensation) – to share tips for evaluating quality cannabis.

The pocket-sized print guide and its digital copy are light on branding. The last page credits Good Chemistry’s team and the back cover has the company’s logo, but that’s it. The move was intentional: Good Chemistry wants it to be a true guide that other retailers can use and share with their customers as well.

“We’d love to collaborate with others on educating consumers,” Spinosa said. “That is something we should do for the public, for the next states that come on the market, and for new consumers.”

Properly Vet & Train Your Employees

Employee training never ends at Good Chemistry’s stores. In a dynamic industry, there’s still a massive amount of change, and employees need to learn about new products and adapt to the needs of diverse consumers.

Spinosa said the turnover rate at Good Chemistry is in the single digits, which is rare in the retail world. In general, he hires from referrals, and potential employees must pass two interviews.

“New employees have a 45-day review on what they have learned, somewhat like a trial period,” Spinosa said. “Our training program covers everything from compliance to customer service.”

Employees get a deep dive into Good Chemistry’s culture and its products; they also learn more about developing relationships with customers, retail sales and the industry in general.

Training for new employees is done in phases, starting with reception and front-of-the-house positions. It then progresses to budtending, customer service and POS training; and it transitions to inventory. Training is done one-on-one with managers or exceptional employees, and about a week is spent on each training phase.

Employees are given 45 days to see how well they fit with the company’s culture and existing employees. All retail employees complete the training phases, and more time is spent with management candidates on details tied to the state’s seed-to-sale inventory tracking system.

Spinosa said the company has found that the keys to connecting with consumers involve making them feel comfortable and important, asking them questions, welcoming feedback, and educating them on the product. He looks for intuitive, versatile employees who can talk with a diverse population of consumers. He’s also looking to foster industry leaders.

It’s critical to train employees to ask about a customer’s needs, Spinosa said. Not every customer will know differences in strains, and not every customer will be looking for high-THC cannabis. Each customer is different, and employees must adapt.

“Our employees have to be something for everyone in the most positive way,” Spinosa said.

Keep a Customer Feedback Log

Spinosa also recommends creating a system for tracking customer feedback. At Good Chemistry’s stores, for example, the system is as simple as handwritten logs that budtenders keep at the registers.

Budtenders aren’t required to document every interaction with a customer, but they can spot trends and write notes to managers. Budtenders are encouraged to solicit feedback, though many customers often provide comments or suggestions without being asked. Good Chemistry also responds to every comment it receives on its social media channels.

Customer feedback helped Good Chemistry develop its categories and S.T.A.T.S. guide. It also influenced the company’s decision to open its second location in Aurora. Product feedback, Spinosa said, has also led to strain development and new product lines.

Grow Slowly and Recruit Experts

While some marijuana companies in Colorado have a dozen or more locations, Good Chemistry has just two. And that’s been intentional.

Its first location on Denver’s busy thoroughfare, East Colfax Avenue, is a little more than 1,000 square feet of retail space. Its second location in Aurora is nearly triple the size.

When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, Good Chemistry recruited heavy hitters to elevate the company’s brand and build its second location, with customer service experience top-of-mind.

The company worked with branding experts Michael Markowitz + Associates (whose clients include Anheuser-Busch, Microsoft and Universal Orlando Resort), Joseph Duffy (whose clients include Mall of America, Fisher-Price and Wolfgang Puck), and architect Tony Coleman (whose clients include Panera Bread, The Gap and Starbucks) to open the Aurora location. As part of that process, the team looked at every element of the design – including the height of the counters – from a customer’s perspective.

“We’re not afraid to admit what we don’t know,” Spinosa said. “For us it’s about learning and respecting the experience of others.”

In the Aurora store, the four color-coded categories are on display when customers pass reception. They also see photos of Good Chemistry’s nurseries and samples of dried cannabis flowers. There are iPad stations where customers can learn more about the four categories, Good Chemistry’s strains and S.T.A.T.S.

Give Back to the Community

Volunteer and sponsorship opportunities are ways cannabis retailers can build goodwill in their communities and be ambassadors for the industry. Being a good corporate citizen can also help create deeper customer loyalty.

Spinosa says charitable programs are a corporate social responsibility. Matt Huron, Good Chemistry’s CEO, founded the company on the four values of science, access, dignity and compassion. When Huron began to grow cannabis in the early 2000s, he supplied the product to hospices and assisted care facilities in California’s Bay Area for patients with terminal illnesses.

Now, Good Chemistry manages a “Compassion Program” that provides free or low-cost marijuana to 50 terminally ill, low-income, qualified patients each week.

Good Chemistry also sponsors local events, including AIDS Walk Denver and the One Colorado Education Fund’s Ally Awards.

“We’ve been given an opportunity. People are making money in this industry, and giving back to the community is necessary,” Spinosa said. “Volunteering or sponsorships – giving back is a part of the responsibility.”