If Todd Bennatt wanted to have a normal job, he’d still be an environmental engineer.
Instead, he’s co-owner of Spokane Green Leaf, which was the first licensed cannabis retailer in Spokane County and in the state of Washington. He and Kirk Haggerty opened the shop’s doors July 18, 2014, and since then they’ve seen the entire industry grow and change, grow and change, and grow and change some more.
“It feels like such a long time ago,” Bennatt said. “One year in the cannabis world seems like seven years in any other business.”
Before taking on this venture, he worked as an environmental engineer for 17 years, focusing on regulatory compliance. Selling legal cannabis to the public has been is nothing like that fairly predictable, fairly dull line of work.
“Everything is so fluid, and if you don’t like change, it isn’t a good environment for you,” he said. “What’s not to like?”
It’s always busy, from the first day when 700 customers waited in line and hundreds of local, national and international news media were calling. But for the first few years, he and Kirk continued to work their regular jobs along with running Spokane Green Leaf. Bennatt’s last employer was Kaiser Aluminum, where he worked 12-hour days, then worked at least six more hours at the shop.
“I woke up one day and realized I can’t continue doing this,” he said. “So now I’m doing this full-time. It’s so rewarding – I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Today, Bennatt and Haggerty are able to put all of their creative energy into the shop. They make sure to create a positive customer experience, whether someone is coming in for the first time and unsure of what to do, say or buy, or has been a frequent visitor.
“We pride ourselves on our customer service,” Bennatt said. “We have great budtenders, some who have been around since the beginning.”
This longevity is an asset.
“A lot of our employees have been working with the same customers for years so they know what they like, what they’re dealing with in their lives, and what they want to achieve through cannabis,” Bennatt said. “I’m shocked how much our employees know – they have true knowledge and have created some genuine friendships.”
Budtenders guide customers to what type of product can work best, whether it’s various strains of flower, edibles or concentrates to enjoy themselves.
“We pride ourselves on having one of the larger product selections around,” he said. “For sure, we have the largest amount of concentrates in town, and a third of our inventory is edibles, rather than just one corner of the shop.”
In 2019, the Spokane Green Leaf team is looking forward to working with even more customers, in an increasingly challenging environment.
There are just under 40 retailers in Spokane County, and it doesn’t seem that long ago that there was only a handful. So staying ahead of the competition is vital.
“We now have more legal cannabis retailers here than the entire City of San Diego,” Bennatt said.
Wholesale prices of cannabis products keep dropping, and some customers seek less expensive items. But Bennatt said the shop is ready to adjust as needed.
“You have to be ready for anything, and always be flexible,” he said.
Spokane Green Leaf now offers a price-match program.
“Because there are so many stores around, we now guarantee that if someone finds a lower price for the same product at another store, we’ll honor it here,” Bennatt said.
He also expects that Canada’s experiment with federal legalization will eventually lead to increased opportunities and access for U.S. customers. As more states continue to make cannabis legal, a federal decision allowing it could come within two years.
That will be good for shops like Spokane Green Leaf and their customers who represent such a wide range of interests and professions.
“People are a lot more accepting and there’s much less of a stigma,” he said. “I even have some of my conservative friends asking about CBD lotions to help with pain.”
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