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Spring training....

Knowledgeable retailing makes for winning seasons year after year

Many retailers choose lines based on training programs manufacturers offer to them. Materials such as interactive DVDs and CDs and written materials help retailers train employees back at their stores.Every retailer is looking for secrets in the ongoing game of greater sales numbers and continued growth.

Proven sources of sales success lie in how knowledgeable the folks on the sales floor are and how prepared they are to create sales. As baseball hall-of-famer Connie Mack said, “Training counts … you can’t win any game unless you are ready to win.”

Well-trained personnel equates to greater success for the retailer, the lines, the individual sales person and a winning season for all.

So, batter up!

Who should be trained?

The obvious answer is the sales personnel. However, when all employees in the store are involved, experiences are shared, questions are asked and valuable insights are realized from many perspectives.

“Everyone in the store is involved in training, from the bookkeeper to the delivery person,” said Steve Watson, manager, Watson’s Fireplace & Patio, Lutherville, Md.

Training opportunities also are found during trade show events, like the HPBExpo.

Training opportunities also are found during trade show events, like the HPBExpo.

At many successful specialty stores, all employees — from the bookkeeper to delivery driver — are involved in the training

At many successful specialty stores, all employees — from the bookkeeper to delivery driver — are involved in the training process.

Watson’s participates in weekend training sessions, scheduled by manufacturer reps willing to work around the store’s personnel. Flow of information is not only valuable between the members of the staff, but also between staffers and factory representatives. A consistent message results when a single session, or a split session to accommodate floor sales personnel, is produced for all.

Future employees also should be considered in the training process. Product lines providing leave-behind training manuals aid retailers with staff additions or changes during the season. Making a videotape can be valuable for new employees who join in the weeks after the training sessions. Many representatives also avail themselves for subsequent training when new hires occur. The team as a whole benefits when all players are prepared.

Where is training available?

Trade shows and associations offer a variety of affordable business training sessions for which retailers should take advantage (see page 24). However, in most cases, the fundamental product training is a service of the representatives whose lines are carried.

“We choose our lines based on their customer service,” said Kelly Stachel-White, Mountain Lake Pool and Patio, Doylestown, Pa. “All of our lines have great training programs. If they did not, we would not be carrying the line.”

Manufacturer representatives can provide training tailored to the needs of each individual store. As any retailer knows, there are different competitive situations, climates, styles and trends in play at any time. The trainer and the training needs to be take these into consideration.

“Effective training for our industry needs to vary from one territory to the next,” said Mike Friedrichsen, national sales manager, Treasure Garden. “We make sure we equip our sales force with the product knowledge necessary and let them custom tailor a training regimen that meets the individual needs of their market.”

Other manufacturers echo this training philosophy.

“The (Cal Spas training) program is constantly refined and updated to run current with contemporary industry standards,” said David Luciano, national shows and sales trainer, Cal Spas. “When a new dealer joins the Cal Spas family, part of their introduction includes multi-day training sessions to ensure our relationship will be successful.”

What form does training take?

Product training, whether for major furniture lines or accessory lines, is as varied as the trainers. One constant is each representative providing the training has a vested interest in the process.

“If the store does not sell, I do not make any money,” said Mike Biscan, independent representative for Treasure Garden.

The quantity and quality of training is created to benefit all. Factory-supplied videos of manufacturing operations as well as Web-based information are utilized by representatives to augment training presentations.

“I use images from the company’s Web site to create a sales training package as well as floor sales support materials,” said Bryan Echols, Echols Enterprises, a representative for Lloyd/Flanders and O.W. Lee. Echols also credits a high energy level and his ability to move throughout the store to demonstrate product features while involving the salespeople as providing the positive feedback from those trained.

“We provide a manual at the sales meeting, provide updates and post information on our Web site, as well as a factory tour DVD,” said Terri Lee Rogers, vice president, O.W. Lee. “The factory involvement with the training has been helpful in putting together a cohesive message for the reps to convey to the retailers.”

Retailers credit on-site tours of manufacturing facilities, domestic and off-shore, with increasing product knowledge of their sales personnel eager to augment in-store training.

Many do not stop there. For example, creating their own sales and product services videos is a practice within Doylestown’s Mountain Lake Pool and Patio.

“All of our sales personnel are able to work on all of our furniture lines,” Stachel-White said. Sales personnel hit one out of the park when their training not only makes the sale, but also creates a satisfied and repeating customer.

Time frames for training, again, are based on the needs of the retailer. From in-house update sessions to casual training camps by retailers who choose to close the doors for one or two days with hourly sessions by numerous lines. As a rule, representatives welcome as much time as possible. Retailer and representative cite a modified format as the most successful sessions involving one-hour slots and half-day functions with many lines presented on the same day. The ability to base the time around the store’s personnel provides the opportunity for high participation and positive reception.

Create winning seasons

When all members of a sales staff are properly trained and able to answer consumers’ questions without having to locate someone or something for the information, a retailer’s dream team is realized.

“We are up against mass competition,” Stachel-White said, “we have to have knowledgeable staff.”

She shares this sentiment with many others in today’s casual furniture retailing market. A well-trained team will create the desired result for any casual dealer — a winning season year after year.

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