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March 7, 2017

There’s a fundamental truth in life that many have to come to accept over time: people can’t be everywhere, and they can’t do everything. Even the owner of a small, mom-and-pop-style store is going to want to take a day off at some point. For that, they have their staff.

The staff represents the machinery that keeps a store running, regardless of whether the owner is in the building, out in the city or even out of state. While owners must be personable and treat their staff with respect—they are people, after all—there is some merit to thinking of staff members as interchangeable parts. If one staff member calls out sick, another should be able to step in with the knowledge and ability to perform the sick staffer’s job with the same meticulousness and care.

This “drop-out, drop-in” concept stems directly from a manager’s ability to train the staff in a redundant manner. While a store may have a head cashier or a warehouse chief, every member of the staff should be able to perform the rudimentary duties of every other staff member. For example, a stock person should know how to run a cash register, should something happen to your cashier on staff. And should the regular reptile-care specialist need to call off, another staff member should be able to pick up the slack to keep those pets happy and healthy.

Educate The Staff

One of the best ways to reinforce the “drop-out, drop-in” concept is through staff meetings. Meetings with all staff members should occur at least bi-weekly, if not weekly, to keep staff members up to date on new promotions, new animals, new products and upcoming events.

At these meetings, the staff should receive any new care sheets in addition to the copies that are kept within the store. All staff members should have to handle new animals during this time so that they can get used to the presence of animals that they may not normally consider as pets.

A staff represents the store. Further, staff members represent the store owner. The message that those staff members provide to customers should remain consistent regardless of with which staff member a customer interacts. This is not to say that staff members cannot communicate their preferences to customers; rather, a personal approach often shows expertise on their part. However, it should be made clear that their opinions are exactly that: opinions. The final say on a store’s view on an animal or product is yours, and your staff members should communicate that information at all times.

While staff training can be time consuming, a store owner may be able to cut down on lesson planning by using mandatory video or online training methods, especially for new staff, for whom much of this information may be foreign. Animal Care Technologies has a wonderful series on YouTube, AnimalCareTV, which features basic veterinary techniques. While many of its videos are meant for veterinary students and vet technicians, they are just as applicable for pet store employees who must be on the alert for disease and must be vigilant in their care for animals. HowCast also has a large video series on YouTube which specifically covers reptiles. When training new staff, these may serve as a quality baseline for all staff to understand.

Make It Fun

One concept that any store owner could implement in staff training is the concept of a merit-based gamification. Gamification—the act of turning a task or process into a game—has been shown to have increased success when measuring student retention and progress through material. Consider offering employees tangible rewards based on how many independent training modules they complete. Any owner may consider tying this system to potential pay bumps, preference for promotions, staff discounts on store materials or even outside prizes like gift cards or the like.

Coupled with this, owners may consider implementing a “leveling” system within various specialties in the store. These levels of proficiency provide an easy-to-understand method for incentivized learning.

It’s easy for an employee to say, “OK, I need an additional eight hours of reptile training, plus this online quiz, to reach Level 4 Reptile Mastery. If I do, that increases my staff discount to 30 percent!”

Store owners who implement a gamified training procedure should consider posting progress in a visible area, like a staff break room, and openly praise staff members for taking the initiative to train on their own. This reinforces both the importance of cross-department training and provides a positive atmosphere for employees.

Stay Flexible

Unfortunately, as with all professions, one of the biggest threats to staff development and training is turnover. Regardless of how welcoming a store might be, how well an owner pays or how hospitable the work environment is, a store eventually loses employees. If or when an employee quits (or, heaven forbid, is fired), the onus falls upon the store owner to ensure that an adequate replacement is found quickly and trained up with all possible haste.

In these difficult times, flexibility remains key. Consider giving remaining employees a chance to move into other areas, demonstrating their proficiency in an area of need.

If a specific team member steps up, a good store owner should praise them and even consider some sort of bonus for them. Letting employees know that everyone is in this together often results in it becoming less likely that the store owners will have to deal with staff turnover on a regular basis.

Simply put, a well-trained, well-vetted staff makes a store better. The more knowledge that passes from owner to employees, the more knowledge that they can pass to the customers. And that means repeat business.

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