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Training – The Best Investment You Can Make [Part 2]

Okay, my last attempt at this post mutated into an advert for NACS and the NACS Show in October 2013.  What I want to focus on today is the importance of training in creating a professional convenience retail business.

As a customer you want the person serving you to be knowledgeable, efficient, and friendly.  As a store manger you want your staff to be competent, thorough, and to show up for work.  As the store owner you want your employees to be accountable, consistent, and safe.  All of these components are directly affected by the quality and frequency of your training program.

During my years in the retail industry the two biggest obstacles to a well trained employee that I’ve seen are 1) management’s position that training is a cost and not an investment and 2) that training only can help with hard skills.  The first obstacle is obvious the second one isn’t.  Let me explain.

Obstacle one: Training – “How much is it going to cost me?”  The witty response is “How much is it going to cost you if you don’t?”  Although the response is correct, in my opinion, it misses the point.  You can’t really put the cost of training into a line item like supplies and utilities.  Rather, it needs to be considered more along the lines of an investment in your “human capital”.  The equivalent is like getting a used car and spending the money to fix it up so that it performs better.  You don’t think of the expenditure on brakes and a tune up in the same way that you think about the cost of gasoline.  The same thing should hold true for training – you are investing in your staff to help them perform better.  Training that is good, frequent, and consistent (very important, that consistent part) gives your staff the tools they need to do what you want them to do, as we say, every shift – every day.

The second obstacle can be a little more difficult to get your head around.  Most retailers that I’ve met think of “hard skills” when they think of training – how to fill out paperwork, how to front shelves, how to run the register, etc.  They know that you can train “soft skills” (customer service, employee empowerment, being proactive) but they are considered to be too warm and fuzzy to measure.  During our time of operating thousands of convenience stores we have seen that the better an employee has been trained (good training consistently given) on the hard skills the better they perform with “soft skills”.  A well trained and knowledgeable employee is a confident one.  If an employee is confident in their job function – knowing how to do their job and feeling secure in the confines of its requirements – then they are not harassed or scared during a transaction and can be friendlier to the customer.  An employee who knows what is expected of them and how to accomplish it is happier with their job.  Customer service goes up, upselling goes up, and staff turnover goes down.  This is the return on the investment that was made in obstacle one, above.

In a later post I’m going to talk about how to deliver good consistent training.  It is something that we have to deal with every day as we have employees all across the US who we want to deliver outstanding soft skills and solid hard skills.  We want to make sure that everyone – our employees, our customers, and our shareholders – get a return on our investment.