Natural Foods Merchandiser
Employee training session draws a big crowd at NPA MarketPlace

Employee training session draws a big crowd at NPA MarketPlace

“What about mumblers?” asked an independent retailer at Friday’s store employee training session at the Natural Products Association MarketPlace show in Las Vegas. The retailer was referring to those employees who don’t articulate when talking with customers, or for that matter, with fellow employees.

Leading the session, Ann Lofgren from Ann Arbor’s Zingerman’s walked about 50 natural products retailers through the store’s renowned training program, which centers on a passport—a Zingerman’s Training Passport. Employees who complete the steps inside the passport-size pamphlet within 60 days enjoy rewards—health benefits, a paid day off, and merchandise discounts.

At Zingerman’s, the onus of a successful employee rests largely on the trainer. As written clearly in the Passport, the trainers are on the hook to document clear performance expectations, provide training resources, and recognize and reward performance.  It’s all part of the company’s “Bottom line Training” that contributes to its three bottom lines: Great Food! Great Service! Great Finance!

Here are some highlights of the Zingerman program:

  • Assess knowledge. On their first day of work, the new employee takes a test assessing his knowledge of store basics like the store’s telephone number. “It’s not a trick”, Logren said. “You tell them upfront that they will be tested; it’s a great gauge of expectations being met.”
  • Offer rewards. Rewards for meeting expectations can be as simple as autonomy. “Adults want independence: so when they demonstrate they’ve mastered a job, leave them to work alone,” Logren said.
  • Set clear expectations. Trainers should have clear ideas of what they want the employee to know at day’s end and set aside time chunks when other employees won’t disturb the training. “This ensures that you don’t run around like a chicken with its head cut off and then don’t accomplish anything,” Logren said.
  • Prepare your employee for real situations. Inform new employees of the top 5 customer complaints the store gets, and how to respond.
  • Show tasks in real time. Some people are visual learners.

And those mumblers? Gently but directly address the issue, Logren said. Not only will you be helping the employee's customer relations at your store, you will be giving them skills they will use throughout their lives.


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