In a blooming market of recreational cannabis retailers, Island Herb continues to stand out by “not just doing the minimum,” according to general manager Eric Wing.
A lot of that effort is put into the people who work at the Freeland pot shop.
“I get probably 20 compliments a day on how good the team is,” Wing said.
Almost all the employees have been certified or are in the process of becoming a certified medical marijuana consultant. This means employees can help create medical marijuana cards, assist patients in selecting products to help with their qualifying conditions, describe risks and benefits of products and provide more information about products and medical marijuana laws.
“It’s in the origins of why we’re here,” said Wing of the emphasis on being medically endorsed. “It’s in our DNA.”
The efforts paid off. Island Herb was voted Best Cannabis Store in this year’s Best of Whidbey contest.
Owner Lucas Jushinski opened the first medical marijuana dispensary on Whidbey Island, Island Alternative Medicine, in 2012. He started Island Herb in 2016 after the forced closings of medical dispensaries throughout the state with the passage of Washington Initiative 502.
Over the past two and a half years, management’s emphasis has been on the store’s environment, Wing explained. He sat on one of the large couches in the well-lit room, decorated with an eclectic collection of art from Jushinski’s travels abroad and local artists.
The clean, open space with its distressed wood and corrugated sheet metal walls is a deliberate effort to reflect South Whidbey’s aesthetic, Wing said. It’s also meant to combat stereotypical images people might have of pot shops being “dirty” or “sketchy.” This effort is particularly important because a large percentage of the clientele is made up of seniors.
“We want to make sure everybody feels comfortable,” said Wing.
Wing said he came to work for Jushinski after meeting him through a mutual friend. He had worked both in recreational and medical cannabis scenes and Jushinski was looking for someone who could handle almost all of the day-to-day operations of the store. Wing said he was impressed with the owner’s hands-off style of leadership and his dedication to giving back to community.
“Anybody who knows Lucas knows he’s exactly the kind of guy you’d be inspired to come to work for,” Wing said.
Island Herb has donated to a number of Whidbey Island nonprofits, such as $10,000 in matching funds to Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores and another $10,000 to the Whidbey Veteran Resource center earlier this year. Last November, Jushinski committed half of the store’s after-tax sales on Giving Tuesday to the Whidbey Homeless Coalition.
The owner’s proclivity for philanthropy is a draw for new employees. Valerie Boothe has been a bud tender at Island Herb for about a year and a half. She said she chose it over other pot shops because of its emphasis on medical use and Jushinki’s involvement with the community.
To encourage retention, employees play a major role in decision-making processes, Wing said. He lets the bud tenders help choose what shows up on the menu, what products are displayed and encourages their input on the long-term direction of the company. The low turnover of employees contributes to the high-level of service customers can expect, he said.
All decisions, from ranging from employees, products to atmosphere, are made with the intention of causing Island Herb to stand out.
“We wanted to create something just feels a little different,” Wing said.