Retail Insights: Colorado’s Smokin’ Gun Apothecary

Education is the foundation for success at Smokin’ Gun Apothecary (SGA). It starts with educating budtenders about every product the cannabis store offers and how to talk to the customers who visit.  

“I’m really particular about our employees,” said Brittany Pittel, general manager of the shop in the Denver suburb of Glendale. “When I interview someone, I make it very informal. I want people to show me that they can interact with people confidently, comfortably, and politely. You need to have respect for customers, and you need to want to help them.” 

With a background in mental health, Pittel knows just how crucial it is for budtenders to listen to customers to determine which products will be best for them. She expects her budtenders to work as a team and treat the customers and each other with respect. When hiring, she tries to get at how willing the applicant is to learn.

“You have to educate our customers, so you have to take on education yourself,” Pittel said. “I always start by asking customers questions. I never want someone to feel like I think I know more than them. I never want to come across as condescending.

Keeping up with the variety of products in the cannabis space and how those products can affect people is among the challenges Smokin’ Gun budtenders face when trying to help their customers. Pittel created a 30-page document that describes every product SGA carries. It outlines what makes the product great, what makes it different, and what you can do with it. 

“Everyone is very different,” said Pittel said. “You have to figure out their needs and figure out what’s going to work for them. Just because your friend felt a certain way doesn’t mean you’re going to.”

When determining which products to add to Smokin’ Gun’s lineup, Pittel said a big consideration is what type of relationship the company is willing to create with the shop. Among the things they look for in brands is their willingness to participate in SGA’s vendor-of-the-month program. Through its partnership with edible maker Dixie, SGA offers a three-for-one deal on all gummies, a bargain also available for its own line of gummies.

Many retail shops grow their own cannabis because they were required to when it was first legalized in 2014. But SGA stopped growing its own when those regulations loosened up.

“I’m a big fan of not having our own grow,” Pittel said. “You can get stuck on the same strain because that’s what you’re growing, and we don’t have to sell subpar flower because we grew it.”

The shop’s aesthetic oozes a prohibition saloon vibe. The door into the sales area is akin to a speakeasy door hidden with wall paper. A glass-topped table in the lobby displays 100 shotgun shells perfectly aligned with a red one in the center. Four wooden barrels are laying on their sides to display the 24 different strains of flower SGA offers on any given day. Above the barrels, a screen describes the products.

“You can’t smell them because of COVID, but you can look at the product,” Pittel said. “It gives it more of a fun vibe.”

SGA was close to opening a cannabis tasting room that they had dubbed Colorado’s first cannabis saloon. Those plans were put on hold when COVID-19 hit the United States. The company now boasts the state’s third drive-thru service.

SGA prioritizes customer and employee safety while striving to maintain the potential for a leisurely and educational experience. They allow just five customers on the spacious sales floor at one time and up to three people in the lobby. If the shop is at capacity, incoming customers wait in their vehicles for a text from the shop. As another safety measure, SGA now displays products on the sales floor for customers to peruse. Each package has a green tag with the name of the product and the price. Customers take the tag to the counter, and the budtender retrieves the product and sanitizes the tag before returning it to the sales floor.

“We really wanted to give people the freedom to roam,” Pittel said. “I like the aspect of taking your time. There’s really no rush.”

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