#Budtenderhacks: Wisdom from Shelton Howard, Cannabis Business Awards’ 2016 Budtender of the Year

This is a collaboration between Carlos Hernandez and Shelton Howard

The other day, The Cannabist put out a “Ten Commandments” for budtenders and prefaced it by calling 2016 the year of the awful budtender. The Green Solution disagrees. It’s never been a better time for budtenders and bud connoisseurs, or maybe we just hired all the good ones. Over half the country has some form of legal cannabis, and legitimacy like that means that now more than ever, industry pros are upping their game. In fact, this year’s Cannabis Business Awards ceremony sold out. And speaking of upping their game, we’re proud of our very own retail associate Shelton Howard, who’s managing to complete his entrepreneurial course of study in University of Colorado Denver’s Business School while working at our 20th Avenue location in Edgewater.

We reached out to Shelton not only to congratulate him but to hear his approach to award-winning marijuana sales. We hope sharing his philosophies might help the entire industry, not just the fastest-growing dispensary brand this side of the Front Range. Here’s what he shared.

*Editor’s note: Some of Shelton’s quotes have been edited for clarity.

1.   Steal Like an Artist

Many greats learned this early on: Picasso, Eliot, and others. We’re not saying play the copycat. What we are saying is look at what lies behind the things that impress you and learn how to re-interpret them for your craft. Austin Kleon said it best, “ Shelton explains it like so: “Find inspiration everywhere and replicate it! Whether it’s great salespersonship at a restaurant or car dealership, you tend to notice a good salesman using open-ended questions.” And speaking of open-ended questions…

2.   Ask Questions that Start Conversations

In other words, ask more than just “Sativa or Indica?” At a restaurant, for example, your favorite servers don’t say, “Steak or Chicken?” So why would you limit your dispensary’s potential (and your product’s value) like that? Instead, try asking about favorite consumption types or desired effects. The game is changing, and new hybrid strains, concentrates, topicals, and edibles are flooding this freshly legal market. It’s a cutting-edge world out there, and you’re the first word on it for customers and patients.

3.      Offer “Appetizers and Desserts” with Every Sale

We all know what upselling is, and it’s been around since before the Bloomin’ Onion. Every consumption form features a way to up its ante, be it a bowl topper, potency enhancer, or any number of other options. Upsells dance on a fine line between added benefit and added purchasing pressure. The best of them are those that you truly believe enhance the experience. So, for example, don’t pressure novice smokers to get bowl toppers if you think they’ll have trouble handling the potency. Instead, offer a tincture and give some tips on having a laid-back, gradual experience. If you ease them into a new lifestyle, they’ll trust you later when you recommend their first dab.

4.      Become One with Your Product

Even non-salespeople have heard it: Sales are built on client relationships. But what about building a relationship with your product? Would you trust a car salesperson if you found out he or she preferred public transportation over car commuting?

Shelton says, “Try everything and develop your favorite things about each product category and item.” We’re taking “favorite things” to mean no product scripts. People know when you’re reciting lines. Instead, imagine favorite features about each product as a list of benefits to your customers. Use these points to follow up on your open-ended questions so you can chart a course for your customer’s cannabis journey, which brings us to…

5.      Know Your Audience

“Use your expertise to make targeted suggestions for them,” says Shelton. Need we say more? Open-ended questions + your relationship with your product + your expert knowledge = sales success and lasting customer relationships. Everybody wins.

6.      “Perfect Your Lap!”

“No shortcuts, hit every point, every time.” Cutting corners means cutting your chances for sales or customer delight. Don’t assume people read package labels or as many blogs about infused products as you do. Thoroughly informing consumers doesn’t just legitimize you as a salesperson, it legitimizes our product and industry.

7.      Commit to Excellence

“Make a commitment to be in the top 20% of anything you do.” In other words, commit to being your best and you’ll end up being the best. Not the competitive type? Surprise: there are two communities you’re already competing against just by accepting the job: online reviewers and anti-cannabis advocates. Lucky for you, unlike those communities, most budtenders engage in friendly competition. What you’ll find if you follow Shelton’s preceding tips is that the top 20% have all helped each other arrive there.

8.      Smile and Use the “Magic Word”

“Smile at every customer when you are walking towards them. Also, a customer’s name is a magic word. Use it every time.” People aren’t overly excited to shop at a dispensary anymore. Now that the industry’s gaining massive traction, consumers are getting as picky as they would about apparel or autos. Set yourself apart by not being the snobby budtender who alienates less informed consumers with condescension.

9.      Take Shelter at Work

“Use work as a refuge from potential drama in your life. Make a commitment to leaving it at the door and lose yourself in your work. Find your happiness here.” This is our favorite Shelton quote so far. How can you find happiness at work? Simple: figure out why you applied there in the first place. You’re helping to shape an entire culture. You’re getting paid to blaze trails…so to speak. In addition to all the smaller perks like discounts and direct access to industry developments, remember that there are plenty of places where people can only dream about legally consuming marijuana, let alone selling it. And speaking of dreams…

10. Dreams Are Just Large-Scale Goals

So, write them down no matter how big or small they feel. Take Shelton’s word for it: “Write your goals down and enlist your friends to help you with them by asking them to help hold you accountable.” Yes, your friends and colleagues can help you achieve them. They can also help you by offering outsider perspectives, like whether you need to temper expectations, or if there are tweaks your goals need to make them better attainable. “We are here to help each other succeed.” Well said, Shelton. Well said.

11. Enjoy the Means; Stay Focused on the Ends

On a grand scale, the industry’s end goal is marijuana’s global legitimacy. So, what’s on your individual scale? “Always focus on, ‘What’s next?’ You might not be a budtender your whole life. How can you help The Green Solution® [or any brand you may work for] get you to both of your next goals? It could be flexible hours for college, working for a promotion, or even becoming budtender of the year.”

Perhaps Shelton “Won’t be a budtender [his] whole life,” but we love working with him while he is one and can’t wait to see how else he’ll help innovate The Green Solution and the marijuana industry.

You can find Shelton at The Green Solution’s Edgewater store. Reserve your order beforehand online at www.mygreensolution.com, the world’s first eCannabis platform, and choose Edgewater as your preferred pickup location.

Care to test out your wise approaches to the marijuana industry? Check out our careers page to find out if you can join the ranks of award winners like Shelton.

This is a collaboration between Carlos Hernandez and Shelton Howard