How to hire – and train – the right receptionist for your retail store

by Bart Schaneman

A receptionist is often the first person a patient or consumer sets eyes on when they walk into a medical marijuana dispensary or adult-use shop.

So finding the right employee to present the face of the business and set the tone is an important decision.

The right or wrong receptionist, for example, can have an impact on your bottom line. A cranky, unhelpful person helming the front desk can turn off potential customers – or even drive them to competing retailers. A welcoming, helpful receptionist, by contrast, can make people repeat customers who are more willing to open their pocketbooks.

Receptionists also perform crucial tasks. They check identification, guide customers and patients into the store and generally ensure a business remains compliant with all necessary regulations.

“One of the most important aspects (of your business) is that first face that people get a chance to connect with and say hello to and get to know your company from,” said Wanda James, owner of Simply Pure, a Denver marijuana retailer that sells medical and adult-use products. “I have often said that the hardest person for us to find is the right receptionist.”

But keeping a receptionist on board over the long haul can be a challenge, paving the way for frequent turnover. The position is often considered a stepping-stone to a job as a budtender or another role in the company. So, people who apply may want to move up the ladder quickly without staying in the job for long.

Finding someone with hosting experience in the restaurant industry or other hospitality trades such as hotels is a good place to start. Other retail business owners have had good luck with elderly people who enjoy interacting with customers.

In short, you want someone who can keep smiling and be helpful when a crowd of customers rushes through the door.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

For Jennifer Dresbach, operations manager of Monarch Wellness dispensary in Scottsdale, Arizona, the top quality is friendliness.

“They definitely have to be a warm, friendly, welcoming kind of person,” Dresbach said.

She also looks for good grooming habits – in other words, the person is showered and clean, hair is neat, nails are trimmed, etc.

“That’s the first impression that any customer is going to get,” Dresbach noted.

The ability to multitask comes in handy, too.

“There’s definitely those moments where the phone’s ringing,” Dresbach said. ”You have two patients standing in front of you, and the UPS guy just showed up.”

Grace under pressure is another key quality.

“They definitely can’t be the type to slow down and get frazzled when things get piled on,” Dresbach noted. “You’ve got to be able to effectively kick it into high gear and keep a smile.”

Dresbach also seeks out someone who can handle different software systems, take accurate messages and share information with management in a timely manner, such as feedback on products and what customers are seeing in other stores.

“We find that anybody who’s done hostess work in restaurants comes more than qualified. If they’ve done reception work at busy medical offices, that’s perfect,” she said.

Dresbach has one receptionist who worked in the same role at a bustling hair salon.

“She loves it here,” she added. “We definitely look at people who enjoy that line of work and have some experience with it.”

To Keenan Hollister, co-owner of Pakalolo Supply Co., a recreational marijuana retailer in Fairbanks, Alaska, compliance is the top priority.

Hollister is concerned about a fake ID getting past his receptionist or that person falling victim to a sting, where someone who’s underage or using an invalid identification is used by law enforcement to test a business’ compliance practices. He wants someone who is alert and knows and follows the regulations.

His receptionist also monitors the parking lot for loitering.

“Because we don’t have any onsite consumption we have to make sure no one lights up a joint in the parking lot on the way out,” Hollister said.

Still, he’s not looking for an intimidating presence – along the lines of an armed security guard. His current receptionist is a 70-year-old Vietnam War veteran.

“I think that veterans are a great fit. He’s retired and spends a few hours each day here. He gets to say hello to people and send them off with some (cannabis) in their hand,” Hollister said.

Wanda James in Colorado agreed on the value of having an older person at the front.

Her receptionist is a 75-year-old retired man who “absolutely loves the industry.”

“What I like about him is he’s not the norm. You’re expecting the 22-year-old young woman,” James said.

Her receptionist also puts customers at ease.

“When you have this 70-plus man sitting up there at the front with all his wisdom and everything else it already makes people feel like they’re going to have an amazing time at the dispensary,” James said.

To reduce turnover, she avoids hiring receptionists who want to become budtenders. Instead, James hires people who genuinely like greeting customers.

But limiting your choices to such candidates can narrow your hiring options.

“Because everybody, when they come through, they want to look at the receptionist job as getting your foot in the door or the best way to learn to be a budtender,” she explained.

Ultimately, James wants someone who is outgoing.

“Are they engaging when they first walk in?” James asked. “Are they just one of those people who just seem to smile when they see you? Does their face light up?”

WHERE TO LOOK

Word of mouth yields the best results for Dresbach when it comes to finding a receptionist.

In fact, Monarch Wellness receives applications and recommendations almost daily through its customer base.

“It could be a mom who says, ‘Hey, my son would fit in really good around here. Are you guys hiring?’” Dresbach noted.

That has meant she doesn’t have to use ZipRecruiter or other online employment services.

James said she looks internally first, drawing on Simply Pure’s network of employees.

If that’s dry, she reaches out though personal social media and the dispensary’s own accounts, which include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. James also has used recruitment firm THC Staffing Group, which has offices in Boston and San Francisco, as well as Denver-based staffing agency Vangst Talent.

“But we can usually find (receptionists) internally,” James said.

HOW TO TRAIN AND MANAGE

Dresbach said Monarch prides itself on having a robust training program for its receptionists.

“We make sure they have a good amount of knowledge.”

The first day, a receptionist trainee starts with four to six hours of orientation, which includes a lesson on policy and procedures, dress code and HIPAA compliance.

On the second day, one of Monarch’s patient advocates educates the trainee to impart the dispensary’s core values and mission, namely its commitment to patients, wellness, education and helping the community. The trainee also learns Arizona’s qualifying conditions for MMJ, and that person is tested on the store’s menu and products.

Once that’s completed, the trainee shadows a fellow receptionist for five daylong shifts.

Provided everything goes smoothly in the training process, the next step is a review at the 90-day mark. If someone is struggling at that point, a decision will be made.

“If it’s customer service-related they might be parting ways after 90 days, because some things you just can’t teach,” Dresbach said.

Hollister’s retail store manager, who came from the alcohol industry, focuses on teaching the receptionist how to spot fake IDs and law-enforcement compliance checks.

He makes sure the person knows Alaska’s regulations. The receptionist is also trained to make the customer feel relaxed when entering the store.

“Your grandmother or 21-year-old should feel perfectly comfortable when they walk into our dispensary,” Hollister said. “We want to be hip enough so young people feel good. But the most important thing is does your mother feel good?”

At Simply Pure, James has a training program for each position.

Receptionists are trained for a week before being left alone. They’re trained on the BioTrack THC and METRC point-of-sale and seed-to-sale systems as well as check-in and check-out procedures for customers.

Even though the receptionist won’t be selling marijuana, one training session takes that person through all the products.

“So you’ll have a really good understanding of how the dispensary works and all the products you have,” James said. “This person is answering questions when people call in: ‘Hey, do you have sativas? Hey, do you have something for sleep?’ And I want that receptionist to be able to at least give them basic answers.”