Becoming a dispensary owner may be one of the most appealing opportunities that the legal cannabis industry has to offer. The ability to curate a line of product offerings, interact with and educate consumers, and provide your local community with safe, tested and regulated cannabis is special.
But that doesn’t mean opening a dispensary is easy – especially if this is your first time operating a retail business.
Luckily, despite a roller coaster ride of a journey and some moments of uncertainty, many others, including myself, have already gone through the process and now have takeaways to offer anyone else looking to successfully open a dispensary in New York.
Once you receive your license and are going through the process of getting your doors open, you’re going to want to be sure to do the following:
Be a good neighbor.
A core goal of the legal cannabis industry is to integrate into and contribute to our local communities. Especially with some preexisting stigmas still at play and illicit shops present, it is key that you are connecting with your neighbors and contributing to your community.
Astoria, where Terp Bros is located, is a tight-knit community. This is why we made it a point to introduce ourselves to the other local businesses on Ditmars Boulevard, especially the restaurants next door.
We did our best to source everything locally throughout the process of the buildout. This included, among other things:
Real estate services
We wanted to show a commitment to collaboration and mutual support.
Through this, we’ve built great relationships with our fellow business owners and have found ways to promote each other. By putting ourselves out there and humanizing ourselves a bit, we were able to foster a lot of acceptance and excitement about the presence of a legal dispensary in the neighborhood.
Advocate for yourself.
There will be times when you need to fight for yourself and your business. Whether it be at a public hearing in front of city council or a zoning board, at a hearing pertaining to a lawsuit, or on social media, you should not be timid when it comes to making a case for yourself as a business owner or for your dispensary.
As a CAURD licensee whose opening was drastically delayed due to the injunction, I had to publicly advocate for my business through the media, at court hearings, and to the New York Office of Cannabis Management. I, along with many other CAURD licensees and supporters, even bussed ourselves up to Albany to rally at the courthouse.
Unfortunately, the cannabis industry comes with many hurdles, from convincing your local municipality to allow your business or fighting through legal and regulatory red tape. Be prepared to make a case for yourself in whatever setting necessary.
Be a hands-on business owner.
Make sure you’re present and involved in all decision-making, training, hiring processes, and so on, from the planning to the actual operations. The cannabis industry highly regulated, and compliance is key, so it’s important to be a hands-on business owner and remain aware of everything happening throughout your opening process.
I made it a point to be involved in the hiring process of our budtenders, and I am fully trained on how to operate our software and point-of-sale technology. During our first couple of days being open, as our budtenders were still getting a feel for cannabis retail procedures, I was able to jump behind the counter and help streamline the process.
This goes a long way, not only with your employees, but also with your consumers. It’s important to have visibility and become recognizable to your audiences.
Surround yourself with reliable partners.
This is not a process you can do alone. Between the buildout, promotional and marketing needs, technology, real estate, and regulatory compliance, you’re going to need to build a team of experts who can provide you with reliable counsel.
Luckily, there are some wonderful ancillary businesses in the industry who have emerged as true partners that will play a key role in getting your operation off the ground. For example, Lettuce Print did all of our branding and printing for our merchandise and signage in the dispensary, helping us develop the Terp Bros identity, while Castetter Cannabis Group guided us through the regulatory process.
Without these partners (and the support of many more), it would have been nearly impossible to get a dispensary built out, let alone customers through the door to purchase products.
Make your employees feel valued.
Your staff is the heartbeat of your dispensary, and many will likely be eager and committed to pursuing a career in the cannabis industry. This is why it is essential to make them feel like valued members of your team and extensions of you as a business owner.
I’ve made it a point to make my staff feel included as much as possible and express my gratitude for their work and commitment to our business. Many of them were hired before the injunction and, despite the uncertainty, stuck with us until we were able to open our doors. Making them feel appreciated will be how you get the best out of them, which will trickle down to improving relationships with your consumers.
Hopefully New York will soon see more dispensaries opening their doors, but only those who instill good business practices and build upon the takeaways from those of us who have gotten across the finish line will find and maintain success.
Jeremy Rivera is the owner of Terp Bros in Queens, New York.
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