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Educational Importance

Jason Kamery//June 3, 2014//

Educational Importance

Jason Kamery //June 3, 2014//

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When it comes to running your business, your employees are arguably one of, if not the most, valuable resources you have.

While you want to hire the perfect employee, finding that person and hiring them is only half the battle. Past that, you have to train them and keep them motivated to continue doing well for your business.

Dale Carnegie, a training organization founded in 1912, and MSW Research did a study on over 1,500 employees, to dig further into what creates engaged employees. The study revealed that 29 percent of the workforce is engaged, 45 percent are not engaged and 26 percent are actively disengaged.

In a 2013 report by Gallup, the company estimates that active disengagement costs the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion per year.

Training an employee takes days, weeks and possibly months out of your time that could be spent running your store, but the payoff could be huge. So what does it take to train an employee properly?

While there is no “right” way to train an employee, several stores have their own way of doing things.

Terri Ellen, owner of Nature’s Pet Market in Ashland, Ore., has personally trained the employee who has gone on to become her store’s manager.

“I found the best way to train is by example, to have them follow me from opening to closing and talk out loud about what I was doing and why,” Ellen said. “I give them lots of reading material and ask them to go on each manufacture’s website to learn about products. Many of the reps were influential in product training for me and my employees.”

Keith Miller, co-owner of Bubbly Paws with two locations in Minnesota, has a general manager who fits the Bubbly Paws profile of what they are looking for in an employee.

“She trains each of our staff during one of her shifts, but we also have new staff shadow employees for two to three shifts before they start on their own,” Miller said. “We only turn them loose on their own, once we are confident that they represent our name and brand in the way we want it shown to the public.”

While some retailers may have others who train their employees, others believe in doing it themselves.

Trevor MacKellar, the co-owner of Healthy Pet in Austin, Texas, believes the shadow method is the best. According to MacKeller, you cannot expect someone to do a job the way you do it if you haven’t shown them how you would do it.

“I walk every single employee who starts around the store and give them a tour,” MacKellar said. “From there, I tell them there is a lot to learn but [not to] be scared [because] there is plenty of time. I tell them when it’s slow, to walk through the aisles and read the packaging, read the names of things, look at where things go and why.”

MacKeller also encourages his employees to ask questions, saying that no one ever gets in trouble for asking, only for assuming.

Dan Remus, the co-founder of Wag N’ Wash, has developed a systemized process for training.

“We have defined positions in our organization, so depending on what position they were hired into will determine the kind of training they will get,” Remus said. “Provide them with a good base knowledge of what your business is and what the intent and goals of your business [are]. Give them some base product knowledge, then work side by side with them and have them experience the job and really get that hands-on experience.”

Pet Food Express, winner of San Jose Mercury News’ Top Work Place award for 5 years in a row, has seven different ways they continuously train their employees, including their own Pet Food Express University for new-hire training.

“[New-hire training is] a solid, full week course conducted once a month in our classroom at corporate that covers everything from policies and procedures, to customer service and sales skills, with a main focus on product training,” Michael Levy, president and founder of Pet Food Express, said. “This program is designed to give new employees basic information and introduce them to our core philosophy, to treat people the way they want to be treated.”

The company also does Web modules, product training sheets, quarterly training, education department-store visits, community training and management training.

“All store managers attend a meeting once a month in our corporate classroom to train on new products, procedures and services, as well as to receive ongoing management training and development,” Levy said. “Over 200 Pet Food Express store managers spend about a day at corporate each month attending these classes.

Laurren Schmoyer has owned and operated, an aquarium store for over 25 years. In the past 2 years, he has written three books and created the National Aquarium Training website.

“During my retail store days, we had a very basic training program, but it took mine or my staff’s time to teach, and covered a few topics,” Schmoyer said. “I wanted a training program that was more comprehensive and took very little of the management’s time. This is why I created, which has over 45 freshwater, saltwater and reef courses, with self-grading quizzes at the end of each course. Quiz scores are automatically added to a store report. The training site will never stop growing since there is so much to learn about keeping fish, plants, invertebrates, corals and the equipment.”

Schmoyer said one of the advantages of the online training is that after each course is completed, a test is given. Once the test is completed, the score, along with other relevant information, is added to a store report. This makes it easy to reward their employees by completed courses, which can tie into raises, gift cards for food or music.

“Everyone wants to be appreciated and recognized, therefore great motivators can be an award certificate, a promotion or even a new title,” Schmoyer said.


After a retailer has properly trained their employee, the next biggest task is to hold onto them and continue to motivate them. Continuing to motivate them not only makes them better workers, but makes them want to stay with the company.

According to The Bureau of National Affairs, it estimates that U.S. businesses lose $11 billion annually due to employee turnover.

Just like with training employees, there is no one right way to motivate them.

Miller takes great pride in being a family-owned business and tries to treat each employee as a member of his family.

“We have employee nights out and have fun holiday parties,” Miller said. “One year we even had a kickball team in a league; we are not that good, but [we] tried. My wife and I are very active with our business and get to know each member of our staff and what is going on in their lives. I believe that all this goes into creating good and motivated staff members.”

In order to keep a good employee, Miller believes that if they are living the company culture that they have created, the employee will want to stay.

“One of our groomers, Jessica, has been with us for 3 years and describes it as her ‘dream grooming job,’” Miller said. “Last year on her anniversary, we got her a cake and put how much we love her on our Facebook page. Making sure staff [members] know they are valued is very important to us.”

For Remus, he believes the best way to motivate your employees is to give them the opportunity for growth.

“It could be more responsibilities, opportunity to learn more, but definitely motivating team members by allowing them to continue to grow in your organization,” Remus said.

For Ellen, she has learned that personal goals and also being accommodating for her workers has been the best motivation.

“An example is the two single mothers with small children who need to pick up kids at a certain time from daycare,” Ellen said. “Their hours are built around that and when a child has an emergency or is sick, we work around them. They have even come to work with their moms because there was no other choice.”

Also, Ellen doesn’t just tell her employees what to do or ask them to do something. She takes it a step further than that.

“I explain to them the reasons behind my requests so that they understand where I’m coming from,” Ellen said. “I always value their input and listen to them. They often have ideas and tweaks to make things even better. I value the team and we collaborate. Each one of my employees brings something valuable to the store.”

MacKellar has a similar philosophy to Ellen’s, in the sense that he believes in always working side by side with all of his employees and teaching them all to work together and communicate.

“There is not a single job that I would ask my employees to do that I haven’t and don’t do myself,” MacKellar said. “In addition, I have had success with employees through extensive training.  People can have different ways of doing things, but if you insist it must be done a certain way, then you must show and teach them what that is. Being right alongside my employees really helps me do this without it feeling like a training session.”

Training Programs

In the pet industry, many manufacturers offer training programs for retailers.

Coastal Pet has a Selling Specialist Program to educate employees on all things Coastal. For 2014, Coastal is offering the entire Selling Specialist Program in a convenient, interactive online format.

“We have had the program for a few years but it existed in the form of hands-on training,” Ashley Brindle, communications coordinator for Coastal Pet, said. “Coastal Pet has not done away with this part of the training; rather, we have expanded it to the online version to reach more retail employees. Our goal was to upgrade the program to make it easier for the employee to learn by offering it as an interactive, online program. Now, through the online program, more stores can access the information at times that are conducive to their schedules.”

Programs like these are important because product expertise and advice will help set a retailer apart from their competition. According to Brindle, after learning about the products, the store employee will be comfortable with making product recommendations, which provides the store with higher turns and the consumer with the best product for their need.

Zoo Med currently has a dozen regional representatives handling the United States and Canada. The company requires its sales staff to set up training seminars to pass along their knowledge and skills to the retail employee.

“Most retail employees find their way into pet stores because they have a passion for animals,” Keith Morris, national sales manager of Zoo Med, said. “This passion is a great building block, but it doesn’t necessarily equate to solid retail sales.  Zoo Med requires our sales staff to conduct sales seminars with retail employees, managers and store owners.  We offer training seminars that run from 15 minutes to 2 hours on a variety of subjects, including lighting, heating, foods, substrates, etc.  If employees have a passion for animals, then teaching them about husbandry techniques and product application will strengthen their foundation on the sales side of the business.  Zoo Med sales representatives are a great resource and can be utilized for follow up questions and information, too.”

Pet Store Pro is a free online training program that gives pet store owners the time and resources to make sure those essential tasks get done correctly. It teaches critical skills for associates, managers and owners. It prepares new hires for success and addresses performance issues.

“We wanted to focus on providing a basic level of consistent knowledge,” Stephanie A. Kaplan, Pet Store Pro director of online education, said. “When a customer comes into the store and asks four different people in the store, they get one answer, instead of four different answers. At the same time, we really wanted to free up the owner/manager’s time to not have to do the very basics, and instead source that out to a trusted resource, so that they can really focus their training time on what differentiates the store, the details of what brands they carry, all that kind of medium and advanced level.”

Pet Store Pro’s associate curriculum is divided into two categories. One is business basics, which focuses on customer service, sales, merchandising and pet retail basics, which is geared toward brand new employees to the pet industry.

The second one is the animal care track, which is geared toward stores that carry livestock.

“Many of our customers don’t actually have animals in the store,” Kaplan said. “But they still put their employees through those courses because they want them to be able to answer customer questions when they come in.”

Pet Store Pro’s goal is to give independent retailers the resources to differentiate their stores on service and knowledge.

“Having different courses that [boost] sales associates’ confidence, increase their ability to answer customer questions, allow them to do a targeted analysis to figure out what type of customer is this person, what type of service are they looking for,” Kaplan said. “Fundamentally, that’s how we believe independents will stay around and be a success.”

Professional Input

Most retailers will tell you that training doesn’t end right after an employee is hired. Training should be a constant, especially if there is ever a change that you make to the store.

Chris Delaney is the founder of and a professional career adviser, trainer and coach.

According to Delaney, there are five key steps to achieving staff motivation when implementing change.

His first step is to involve the staff in the ideas stage.

Step two of his process is to match values. He said that highly successful businesses are open about their values.

The third step deals directly with training and developing the staff.

Step four is to walk the walk and talk the talk. He said you need to motivate your staff and increase production; businesses need to implement what they say they will implement.

The final step is planning.

“Once your training needs have been identified, companies need to record these in a time-framed development plan,” Delaney said. “Time frames have to be realistic, as falling behind in the achievement of milestones can unmotivate staff. A development plan also shows staff short, medium and long-term goals.”

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania management professor Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill, assistant professor of management at George Mason University, performed a 16-month longitudinal study at a long-term health care facility to measure the effect of companionate love on emotional and behavioral outcomes of employees.

Companionate, according to Barsade, is shown when colleagues who are together day in and day out ask and care about each other’s work, and even nonwork issues.

To conduct their research, Barsade and O’Neill constructed a scale designed to measure tenderness, compassion, affection and caring. Instead of asking the participants if they felt or expressed those emotions themselves, the researchers asked to what degree people saw their colleagues expressing them. Lastly, they added ratings of cultural artifacts, how the culture is displayed in the physical environment, which reflects a culture of companionate love.

According to the University of Pennsylvania’s website, one of the most significant findings in the study was that a culture of companionate love reduces employees’ withdrawal from work. Barsade and O’Neill measured employee withdrawal by surveying workers about their levels of emotional exhaustion, and by studying their rates of absenteeism.

They found that units with higher levels of companionate love had lower levels of absenteeism and employee burnout. The researchers also discovered that a culture of companionate love led to higher levels of employee engagement with their work via greater teamwork and employee satisfaction.