Paul Crow, the MD of Ripples, shares how he approaches training but acknowledges that although many brands provide great courses, more could be done to help independent retailers that have limited time and budgets
When I was undertaking a Youth Training Scheme at IBM, I had to meet with my YTS coordinator Yvonne every Friday and take my heavy blue workbook with me. This contained detailed notes on everything I did, and was about to do, and was the master plan to launch the 18-year-old me into the world. The training section of this book was the largest. During a two-year period, it covered money management, touch-typing, presentation skills, letter writing, spreadsheets/word processing and many other skills that have served me well years later. The training even extended to outward bound courses. I left IBM incredibly well-equipped and it was a huge springboard for my career.
Then I landed with a bump. Corporate life is so very different from life as an independent retailer – especially as you get less time and almost no money to work with. Keeping people trained so that they can contribute better to the company is a challenge – and not one the industry, by its very nature, is well-equipped to deal with.
There are excellent trainers and training available, especially for product knowledge, but that alone is not enough for someone to develop their career or, more importantly, improve their contribution to the business.
Understanding architecture and bathroom design can be taught well as modules of other degree courses, but it is of little value if someone hasn’t completed that degree.
At Ripples, we are fortunate that we can justify bringing in specialists to undertake training for large or small groups of people as required.
Architects and interior designers are frequently found presenting to our design team. However, I will admit that we don’t do it often enough. Why not? Because training is ultimately very expensive.
Trainers are not cheap, then there is room hire, refreshments, travel and overnight accommodation to factor in, as well as the time taken out of busy showrooms. I am not expecting sympathy here, but think it’s important to recognise that if it is hard for us, with our benefits from economies of scale, then it must be even harder for a sole trader.
Nobody is at fault here, but perhaps the industry could do more on top of the good work already undertaken. Some manufacturers have now understood that a holistic approach to training is in their interests, as it creates more loyalty and a better-educated customer. Geberit always stood out for me in this area as being industry-leading with installers, as well as retailers, and Hansgrohe has always been good, too.
If we need help on sales training, I know exactly who I would phone and they do a great job every time. Designers, lawyers, marketing specialists, merchandisers and accountants have all provided training to our group, but it’s rarely free. But it is cheaper the more people that sit in the room or watch the screen.
During lockdown, I had the ‘pleasure’ of attending a remote Driver Awareness Course and I am embarrassed to admit it was as good as the classroom one I went to three years ago. It proved that training could be undertaken for significantly less cost and disruption and with some modifications, could have been recorded and used like a webinar from that point onwards. A small charge for these services is a good investment, so I think it could work commercially, too.
Not having skills ultimately means paying for them when recruiting and while that is a good solution, it is easier said than done. Recruitment agencies are excellent at finding these people, but they cost money and just because there are a lot of people looking for work, doesn’t mean the best person you need is among them.
Having the right skills, the right knowledge and the right people takes time and in my view is best nurtured and structured in-house with training, backed up with external specialists in specific areas.
If it helps anyone, I can share who I use so you can set up your own training with them if you wish. Perhaps from there, someone somewhere can set up a central resource, where all of these specialists and their content can be easily accessed, effectively creating our own industry version of that Blue Book. If there is another lockdown, and provided I am not attending a speed awareness course, I might even do it myself.
Have you heard the latest episode of The kbbreview Podcast? It’s all about creating amazing retail experiences and the lessons independent kbb showrooms can learn from the collapse of Arcadia and Debenhams.