Employee training is so important that it makes the difference between your store’s success and its failure. However, it is easier to accomplish this training than you might believe. You can do a lot just by arranging regular product meetings with your major manufacturers.
One of the more important things we do as a manufacturer’s representative is to visit aquatic stores throughout our territories. Our business model specializes in staying in touch with aquatic stores and full line stores with aquatic sections in them—and as you can imagine, when you visit enough stores you’re bound to see market trends that transcend more than just one category. Across store categories, we’ve seen changes in the investment successful stores make in their employees.
Not much more than a decade ago, general practices for pet-related business owners included advertising in the yellow pages, hiring high school aged employees to work after the school day and simply just hoped people would walk into their store. Most retailers gave little thought to investing in more than the bare necessary training for these employees. That type of investing may have worked back then. Over the intervening years with continued consolidation and big-box store growth, as well as the growing Internet influence, retailers need to look for new ways to define their business and stand out from the crowd.
A Training Resource
Having said that, what is a store owner to do? One thing that sets a store apart from the crowd is having knowledgeable sales people engaging the public. People who aren’t expert in sales might think that sales is an easy job, but the fact is to be a good sales person you need to know your product and be confident that you can solve problems. The truly great sales person is someone who feels they are offering a service rather than just making a profit.
Our aquatic customer base may deal in more technical things than dog toys and hamster food, but every product has its story to tell. In the field, we know when we have walked into a store with a knowledgeable sales team. These sales people will be engaged with customers, typically discussing the features and benefits of a product and suggesting ways to increase the success and joy of pet ownership.
How are these specialist sales people found? They usually can’t be found. Instead, they have to be made. You’re lucky if you find a person who has the attitude and drive to sell something, but to also expect that person will be knowledgeable about products from aquatics to dog food formulas, or kitten wellness to bird seed just isn’t realistic.
Reaping the Rewards
The bottom line is that store sales people need training and there is also a vast array of opportunities for technical training available. In many cases, manufacturers have experts that will attend a store’s training meetings. Once it becomes known that a store wants training for their sales people—either by letting the store’s distributor contact know or by requesting this at a manufacturer’s trade show booth—manufacturers will line up to help.
Manufacturers know that trained personnel are the key to their sales growth. I’m sure stores who sell dog food already know this, but the same holds true for aquatic product manufacturers as well as reptile products, pet containment, pet training products and even grooming services.
If you are hiring high school-aged employees to work in your store after school, there is no reason not to train them to be product experts, too. Should a miracle ever occur and you find someone already fully-trained in the products your store specializes in and they happen to have a winning personality, do everything you can to keep them. Someone who comes to you with those skills was trained by someone else and luckily for you, you’ve just reaped the benefits of their efforts.
Remember that one big difference between your independent store and the big-box stores and the Internet is knowledge. Try to set up one day a month with a different manufacturer to come in and do a training session before or after hours. It will pay you back in added profits during the year because customers will keep coming back when they trust the information your sales staff provides them.
If you can’t offer more than a price and product availability, your business model may not be realistic for the period in which we do business in. Stand out from the crowd by investing in your sales staff