Mike Morchak found himself a second career as a budtender in Alaska’s Denali National Park area, where he serves locals, summer workers, and travelers from all parts of the world, offering advice on strains and products, along with some personal anecdotes on the healing powers of cannabis and CBD.
“It’s a 5-star day for me every day, because I feel like I’m helping out,” said the 60-year-old, who recently left a lucrative marketing career in the aviation sector to be a full-time budtender at Denali’s Cannabis Cache, a family owned dispensary.
Don’t count Morchak in the majority of budtenders – at least not based on turnover at the position.
Budtenders are a retailer’s core, but turnover at that position is an all-too-common occurrence, according to a new report from Headset Cannabis Intelligence, a Seattle-based data and analytics service provider for the cannabis industry.
The authors of the report examined data to see when employees started showing sales or stopped showing sales – when they started the job and when they left – to figure out when turnover is happening, who’s leaving and perhaps even why.
Data for the report come from sales reporting by participating Washington and Colorado cannabis retailers though point-of-sale systems, which are linked up with Headset’s business analytics software. The report is based on data collected in the states over a 12-month period.
Chief among its findings is that a lot of budtenders don’t last too long.
“The vast majority of stores see a high rate of turnover, with much of that happening before their new hires even have time to settle in,” the report states.
Among employees who stopped reporting sales, 58 percent of them didn’t make it two months, and 40 percent didn’t even last one month. Only 14 percent of all employees who did leave were at their position for longer than three months.
Colorado had a much higher rate of turnover than Washington. In Washington, 47 percent of employees stayed over the year examined, while only 38 percent stayed in Colorado. However, Colorado showed a slightly lower turnover among longer-term employees.
The data also showed turnover varies by season. The highest rate of turnover follows summer, usually the busiest season.
An end of summer slump makes sense, given that budtending tends to be an attractive summer gig for college students, the report’s authors note.
However, there’s a December turnover spike in Colorado, which the report’s authors presume may be due to the cold weather — or that budtenders there prefer instead to spend more time skiing.
Successful stores also don’t seem to be immune to budtender turnover.
Most stores, regardless of performance, suffer from a relatively high rate of turnover, with only a few stores seeing almost no turnover whatsoever, the report showed.
The average store experienced roughly a 30 percent turnover, while only 5 percent of stores in both Colorado and Washington saw less than 10 percent of their employees leave.
High-performing stores with 40 percent or above annual revenue growth showed high turnover rates, while stores reporting between 20 and 40 percent annual growth had a more stable workforce, the report shows.
Conversely, the highest performing budtenders are those who tended to stick around.
Less than 30 percent of employees ranked between Nos. 1-4 in terms of total sales volume turned over. But those with sales near the bottom of the budtender ranks had much higher turnover rates, according to the report.
Between 150 to 200 people per day walk through the doors of the store where Morchak works. The store is situated on a busy boardwalk in the middle of town, so he’s always busy. He works full shifts five days a week, along with three other full-time budtenders and roughly a half-dozen part-timers.
He likes being able to deal with a diverse crowd of people, who can range from local regulars to foreign visitors who have never tried cannabis – and those who haven’t tried it in a long time.
“Some come in and say, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know it was legal here.’ Or, ‘It’s about time, I can’t believe it’s taken this long.’ I Had a few women in their early 70s say, ‘Yeah, I haven’t smoked pot since Woodstock.’”
Beside the advantage of getting to meet interesting people, Morchak said the “pay is fine.” He earns $15 an hour plus tips, which usually add up to between $25 to $40 a night to his wallet. And he likes the perks of getting to try new samples and products.
When asked why there was so much turnover, he was stumped for a good answer. But he did acknowledge that the job isn’t without challenges.
Getting older people who visit the shop to understand the healing benefits of cannabis is one challenge that he believes some younger budtenders may struggle with.
Many of these older people come in to inquire about cannabis for needs like pain relief or to reduce anxiety, but they still want to be convinced before buying.
Morchak, who has severe osteoarthritis in both shoulders, tells them how cannabis helps him.
“Then it’s just getting them to understand that this is a viable option that doesn’t require taking oxycodone or anything that you can become addicted to, anything that is going to destroy your liver,” he said. “At the end of the day I’m pretty spent energetically because I’m putting my energy out there 110 percent every time someone comes up to our counter.”