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Natural Foods Merchandiser

9 ways to provide ongoing employee education with limited resources

9 ways to provide ongoing employee education with limited resources
Here are top ways, even on a tight budget, to create a culture of knowledge that will pay off in more sales.

Natural products consumers are discerning shoppers—or they aim to be—which is why they enter your store. How can you sell them your stock and, more importantly, keep them coming back for more? Educating your employees about products, their benefits and the differences among brands will help them attract and maintain your shrewd target customers.

Retail management specialist

1. Budget for training.

Employees’ product knowledge is an important selling tool and needs to be adequately budgeted to reap benefits. The question is not how to train on a budget but rather how much more training can you do if the budget must expand? To differentiate yourself from the competition, you must provide better customer service to sell what you and your suppliers believe are superior products.  

2. Foster product fans.

Conduct formal training away from the customer. A manager can set up a table with several branded products and explain them to employees with the assistance of a “tip sheet” prepared by the buyer or producer. The buyer should attempt to obtain training money from the manufacturer and get samples for employees so that they can use and become fans of the items.

3. Have new hires shadow.

New employees should walk the store with knowledgeable team members and watch their techniques of talking honestly with customers about products. When experienced employees see shoppers pausing to read labels, they stop and either explain why that product would be a good purchase or steer them to a better fit. Customers remember this extra assistance, which builds store loyalty and, over time, increases sales and profits.

–Bob Berger Principal at Berger Management Services in San Mateo, Calif.

Natural products industry consultant

4. Pay for education.

Most employees won’t study products or store policies on their own time, so offering compensation can help motivate them to enhance their knowledge. But for limited-budget stores, consider granting “comp time”—time off in lieu of cash compensation—in exchange for time spent studying. For instance, offset an hour’s worth of study with an hour of time off at a mutually agreed-upon date.

5. Measure success.

Ask any provider of training content and services to also give a quiz on the material covered during the course or session. Request that your team members complete the quiz with a passing score to qualify for comp time. Some providers make your job easier by administering training services and quizzes online and then digitally reporting individual and team results.

6. Hire for attitude.

The best training in the world won’t fix a bad attitude. You can train for skills but not for attitude. It’s better to leave a position unfilled than to hire someone with a poor demeanor that sabotages your educational efforts and spoils your team. Recruit only those who value knowledge and helping others, and consider shedding your bad apples now.

–Jay Jacobowitz President of Retail Insights in Brattleboro, Vt.

Retail and brand expert

7. Provide Internet access.

The immediacy of Web content allows sales associates to keep up with the latest and greatest in product features. In a matter of minutes online, employees can familiarize themselves with brand history and become product experts, which drives sales. Online education platforms are much less expensive than clinics.

8. Organize free content.

To make learning easy for employees, use your Web browser bookmarks or favorites to highlight brand sites that provide the most relevant information. Stick to the brands that generate the most revenue for your store. For example, equips salespeople with up-to-date product knowledge—all at no cost to retailers. The resource also is tied to an employee purchase program, which provides product discounts so that sales associates can gain hands-on experience and elevate their product expertise.

9. Encourage and remind.

In staff meetings, backroom notices and employee emails, talk about the importance of browsing the Web to brush up on product features as a key complement to the information already on the sales floor. Use contests or promotions as an incentive to encourage regular online product education. Studies reveal that product knowledge is the best sales tool.

–Dave Stockham Vice president of business development for eXperticity in Salt Lake City

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