SPECIAL REPORT: Retail Smarts – Professional Development

November 15, 2016

Most retailers understand that staff trained in product knowledge, sales techniques and project solutions provide better customer service and can positively impact the store’s bottom line. Yet, according to the North American Retail Hardware Association’s 2014 Employee Compensation Report, only 40.3 percent of hardware retailers surveyed said they provide formal employee training programs.mentoring-300

Why is the number so low? Possibly because training is a time commitment and requires patience and repetition, skills not all owners and managers may think they have. Fortunately, a formal plan can go a long way to alleviate what may seem like an overwhelming process. To help retailers develop a plan, Industry Edge has collected guidelines from employers who provide formal training, along with best practices in professional development as researched by NRHA, the National Retail Federation and other industry experts.

Successful Training Starts with a Good Hire

As with all employee standards, the potential for training an employee starts with a good hire. Hiring out of desperation is never beneficial, according to leadership expert Dave Ramsey, who puts new hires through a rigorous interviewing process, including a spousal interview. Ramsey warns no matter how badly managers need new hires, it’s never worth rushing the process because making poor hiring decisions will end up wasting more time in the long run and can negatively impact the team that is already in place, as well as the bottom line.

Top-rated financial management website TheSimpleDollar.com offers this advice about the hiring process for small businesses and startups:

  • Look for employees who can handle a variety of tasks, are good under pressure, can think on their feet and have cross-disciplinary knowledge.
  • Put clear expectations in writing.
  • Assign potential employees a small project to evaluate their dedication, competency and fit for your business before hiring them full-time.
  • Hire slow, fire fast.
  • Attract top talent by compensating them in ways other than salary (if salary is an issue) like vesting equity, extra time off and additional benefits and perks.

6 Best Training Practices

When new hires are ready to get to work, managers and owners should consider the following best practices to help get employees headed in the right direction.

  1. Dedicate time to training: Time can be the most demanding constraint placed on retailers, but training doesn’t require as much of it as you might think.training-300 The retailers surveyed in the NRHA employee training study indicated that, on average, they spend the following hours training employees annually (all of which break down to less than three hours per month):
  • 33 hours per year training management
  • 31 hours per year training full-time employees
  • 22 hours per year training part-time employees

Read more about training hours here.

  1. Don’t rely on old training methods: Training via print manuals and old watch-to-learn videos provide only a passive level of learning. Retailers should old-training-methods-300provide interactive, hands-on learning that gets new employees on the sales floor as much as possible. Acting out scenarios combined with interactive training games provides better learning opportunities for new employees (especially young employees whose attention is better held through entertaining techniques). Read more about new learning methods here.
  1. Take advantage of online training resources: Resources, like Mastery Technologies that offers a database of interactive training videos, provide quick training opportunities that can conveniently be completed on mobile devices such as employees’ phones. Read more about e-learning here.online-training-300
  1. Develop a training plan for seasonal hires: Whether your store has hired additional help in the lawn and garden department during the summer months or added extra bodies to the sales floor for the holidays, seasonal workers need to get onboard quickly and require a highly focused training process that emphasizes basic sales techniques, such as add-on selling and the 10-foot rule, and product knowledge that focuses on the store’s top-selling products and specialty niches. Providing new seasonal hires with floor maps and running them through training games that involve locating products in the store quickly, along with practicing common sales scenarios, should take priority.
  1. Provide on-going product training: Product training is never-ending as new products hit the shelves every day, but there are times when more products come in at once, like with the change in seasons, after the National Hardware Show® or at the beginning of a new year. Costello’s Ace, with 23 locations in New York and New Jersey, developed a product training solution in the form of a hands-on event held annually in the spring. For five years, the company has invited up to 40 vendors to a two-day event where the company’s 600 employees can interact with the products and get sales advice and product information directly from the vendors. Read more about the product-training event here.product-training-300
  1. Take training to the next level with mentor programs: Managers, assistants and even part-time staff can benefit from a mentoring program. Mentoring not only develops a person within a profession, but it also gives the employees a sense of longevity in a company, adding to their overall morale and positive relationship with the job. Read about the benefits of mentoring here.

Why Does Professional Development Matter?professional-development-300

According to the study conducted by NRHA that indicated only 40.3 percent of retailers provide training, engaged employees who completed one training module sold 69 percent more than employees who completed no training. That number alone is enough reason for retailers to invest time and effort into training programs, especially when you consider that according to many of the more than 700 independent retailers who participated in the research conducted by NRHA said finding the right employees is the biggest obstacle to business growth.

Retailers can alleviate many business worries by developing a game plan for hiring the best employees for the job and then providing them with ongoing training and development.

Read more about the NRHA study here.

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