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Retail Sales Training (or the Lack Thereof)

I took over the hiring of employees at Toy House in the fall of 1995. My dad never really liked the job. I quickly found out why. We would hire 10 or more seasonal employees every fall and try to train them up to our customers’ expectations in just a couple short weeks. Finding good quality people wasn’t as easy as it seemed. The first year I did it, I sucked. Out of ten seasonal employees, I had two good ones, six warm bodies, and two that would be better off if they just stayed home. Not a good record.

I don’t like to be bad at anything so I started reading books on hiring. The first one I read was the Harvard Business Essentials book you see here.

The title was exactly what I wanted. I read the book cover to cover. The most important point they kept coming back to in the book was this…

“The number one factor is experience.”

So I spent the next few years hiring for experience. I only hired people who had worked retail before. And for the next few years my results were exactly the same – two good ones, six warm bodies and two people who need to go home. Yes, it was the definition of insanity.

So how could Harvard Business Essentials and all the other books I read that said the same thing be so wrong? They were making the one HUGE assumption that constant training happened to everyone everywhere. Maybe that is true in many service jobs, but continual training is lacking in the retail sector. Heck, many large chains hardly do any new employee training. One of my former employees went to a large national chain and reported back that after learning how to use the time clock there was zero training other than criticism when you did something wrong.

Untrained employees who have to learn the job on their own will never rise above their personality traits. 

I did two things that changed my results each fall. First I started hiring for personality traits. Second, I implemented both a more thorough new-hire training program and a monthly training session for the current staff. The quality of my new hires went up dramatically. More importantly, so did the quality of my entire staff.

If your competitors were training their staff regularly and you weren’t, what kind of advantage would they have over you? Now switch that around. Most of your competitors are not offering the kind of sales training they should be. But you could. Most of the managers at your competitors don’t even know how to train their employees. But you could.

One of the best compliments I ever received was from a former employee who went to work for Disney. She came back and reported that the highly regarded Disney Institute for customer service reminded her of all the training she did at Toy House. She said, “They pretty much teach all the same stuff you do.”

The best way to learn what I teach and how I teach it is to sign up for the SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop happening April 26th.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The second best compliment I ever received happened the day we announced we were closing Toy House. I received more than one phone call from other businesses wondering what would happen to my employees and when they would be available because, “we know what kind of people you employ.” Believe me, I didn’t employ such great people by accident. I learned from my mistakes twenty years ago.

PPS Since none of the other books on Hiring talked about hiring for personality traits, I decided to write my own. It is called Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art. The book outlines what you should do. The workshop shows you how to do it.

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