Anne M. Obarski

Article Summary:

Advice, tools, and ideas that you can use when training retail employees.

Training Retail Employees

I am not sure where I read the following two quotes, but I found them interesting; "the average retail company spends less than $100 per year per employee on training. There is no wonder so many employees are unhappy at their jobs; they simply do not know how to perform them effectively."  Here is the second interesting piece of information; "Research shows well-trained employees can increase a company's overall productivity by 22 percent. By combining a comprehensive training program with continual mentoring, productivity can increase by as much as 80 percent."

There are some powerful "nuggets" of information in both of those quotes:

  1. Most companies do not invest a lot of money in training their employees.

  2. Employees become frustrated when they don't know the correct way to perform their jobs.

  3. The employee who is well-trained and highly motivated is more likely to be productive.

My focus of this article is simple:  Develop an ongoing, comprehensive training and make it a priority and there is a higher chance your employees will be more productive and that productivity can lead to more sales.

If you have a training department, this job is easily delegated and monitored.  But if you are a small business, this task can be overwhelming.  How does one fit in training in between vendor phone calls, budget reviews, order placement, scheduling advertising, stocking the floor, interviewing, vacuuming the floor and yes, sleeping?  There just aren't enough hours in the day if you are a sole proprietor!  

Let me see if I can give you a few ideas to develop a "repeatable" training program.  That word repeatable is important.  You need the program to be such that you can repeat it over and over to new employees in such a way that you may not have to be the one physically doing the training and the information is still taught.  

Training tips to keep your employees informed and you sane!

1.   Develop an employee handbook.  
This can be as simple as 20 sentences on one piece of paper or it can be a bound document.  What is most important is that you have one.  In the employee handbook you can address the "image" of the employee.  They represent you and your company and your brand.  What do you want them to look like, sound like, act like and behave like?  It is your company and you can list simple rules you expect them to follow. 

2.   Once your employee handbook is done you can now  develop your training program.  
I suggest that the program be divided into two areas, operations and sales knowledge. Start with the Operations section first.  Write down all of the procedures that are necessary for your employees to know how to do.  Just write the main title.  You can be more specific as you develop the program.  

Decide how you want to deliver this information.  Technology allows us to deliver the information in many formats.  If you are developing the information in a text format, you can print it and make it available in binders for new employees to read and complete simple question and answer sections and/or you can copy it to a disk and have them complete it at work or at home.  The operations end of the training will probably come easily as it is procedure based.  To make it easy, develop your training program in steps.  First you do step "a", then step "b" and you get to the goal "c".  Make it easy to read and easy to understand.  The operations part of the program should deal with the basics of handling sales, returns, inventory control, opening and closing procedures, safety issues and anything else that falls under the operations of the business.

The second training area is that of product knowledge and sales techniques.  This is more time consuming to develop because it is conceptual teaching vs. procedural teaching. Product knowledge is mandatory in any business.  Here are some ways to deliver the information:

  1. Develop an instructional manual/CD or video that highlights the major classifications or departments you have in your business.

  2. Conduct weekly meetings for 20 minutes before the store opens and give 5 employees 3-4 minutes to do a "show and tell" about a fast seller in their department.  Have them discuss the features and benefits of the product, why they think it is selling so well, who is the competition and how are they priced and how are they promoting the item.  In twenty minutes, all of the employees will learn something about 5 items in the store that are selling well and they can offer that information to their customers.  Have someone "take notes" during the 20 minute meeting and post the information in a break room or in a newsletter for all of the employees to read.
  3. Employee newsletters can be another invaluable way of broadcasting information about products as well as fun things about employees.  Make your newsletter a "quick read" and something they look forward to reading.  You can make it rewarding by adding a puzzle or something they must find within the articles or pictures that they can win a prize for finding.

  4. Vendors are wonderful sources of information.  Call some of your main vendors and find out when they might be in your area so that you could schedule a "training time" with your employees.  This is a win-win for everyone.

  5. Digital cameras and video cameras are wonderful ways to capture your training information.  You don't have to be Zig Zigler to make a training video.  Stay after hours and make the video with the help of a friend or employee right in your business.  If you make the video conversational, your employees will want to listen.  Before you start filming, write down the areas you will want to cover and how long you think you will need to record. Try scheduling a "filming session" once a week for 5 weeks and you will have a complete set of training videos in a little over a month's time.  Let's say the first training is on greeting skills.  Talk to the camera and explain the right way and the wrong way to greet customers according to your standards.  That way they will learn how AND why they are expected to do what you have asked.  Your next sessions could be add on sales, teaching about specific products, dealing with an unhappy customer, as well as phone skills.  It is far cheaper and easier to develop your own training program than ever before.

  6. Send your employees to classes.  There are wonderful programs in every city that have to do with sales and communication skills.  Your employees will feel valued if you offer to send them to some off site classes.  You can also call local community colleges and ask business instructors if they would like to come to do a special training session in your business.  Usually they will come for free or for a nominal fee and offer lots of great information.

  7. If you have a number of locations you can get creative by offering teleseminars.  There are a number of teleconferencing businesses out there: Simple sign up and set up a time that everyone calls into a specific phone number, and you can do training over the phone to your employees in other locations.  They can be at home, in their car or on a speakerphone in another city.  

There are so many ways to get creative in developing your own training program.  The most important thing is to get started.  Don't give up on the idea if you look at the above list and say you don't have time.  Most of us don't.  

Here is the best tip of the day.  Call your local university or small college and ask for their person in charge of their internship program in the business department.  There are many college students who need hands on internships for a semester that you can hire and have them develop the program for you, and most programs are FREE. All you need to do is provide the guidelines and let them use their young minds and fresh ideas to develop your program for you.  In twelve weeks you will have a product you will be proud of and the student will have had a great real world experience.  I have used interns over the years and have never regretted the experience.  

If working with a college is just more time consuming than you want and you still need a training program written, then hire an HR freelancer and outsource the job, this time for a fee. It just couldn't be simpler.

So what are you waiting for?  Make training your priority and you will retain your employees longer and watch their productivity and your sales improve.

Anne M. Obarski is "The Eye on Performance!" As a professional speaker and trainer, Anne helps companies focus on the profit building service strategies that will keep their customers coming back. Anne presents nationwide keynotes, break-out sessions and customized training in the area of customer service. She has written "Surprising Secrets of Mystery Shoppers" and "Real World Customer Service Strategies That Work". For more information visit her website at www.merchandise

Read all advice by Anne M. Obarski; Find more Retail Services experts

More advice on Retail Services
» The importance of retail merchandising
» Shoestring Retail Store Display Merchandising Tips
» all Retail Services articles