Within the past few months, I've visited dozens of wholesalers and vendors at regional conventions, pilot courses and buying group meetings. Participants in the meetings have shared with me the challenges they face implementing training and technology. Sometimes it's worthwhile to adjust a few common perceptions, or possibly misperceptions, concerning training and technology. Here are a few of my favorites.

Misperception One: The expectation that training and technology are solutions to problems.
Training and technology are just tools. They help implement or improve an operating system and reach business objectives. They carry no inherent value on their own. Without a business system, strategies and clear business objectives, training and technology investments just wander around looking for a job to do. The most profitable operators not only train the most, but they also train the smartest. They first invest in the most efficient and effective operating systems, identify the knowledge and skills needed to operate those systems with ruthless efficiency, and then train to exacting performance standards. They then support training with the tools needed to do the job, as well as compensation packages and performance reviews.

Misperception Two: Training costs too much -- we can't afford it.
Given increased competition, the ongoing lament over margin pressure, increasing numbers of SKUs, and lower margins for error -- ignorance is far more expensive. The real issue involves placing the training dollars where they do the most good. The most obvious examples of effective training start with the basics. It's a no- brainer to recognize that employees without product knowledge can't help the customer, and employees who can't fathom how businesses make money can't help the owners. As training questions become more complicated, smart operators focus training where it provides the greatest dollar leverage. For example, if a 1% price improvement can generate a 47% increase in profit, then a course in negotiation skills for sales personnel is likely to be a wise investment.

Misperception Three: If we train them they will leave.
Training research indicates just the opposite. Companies that train the most tend to have the highest profits and the lowest turnover rates. That's because today's employees consider training and self-improvement opportunities benefits that are almost their right. Going forward into the challenging world of value-added services, supply chain partnerships, etc., smart, well-trained employees will provide the greatest competitive advantage. Poorly trained employees, without intellectual curiosity or the ambition to improve, will lock themselves into limited career and compensation options, develop a sour attitude, foul up your operation and frustrate your best customers. It pays to worry less about trained people leaving than it does to identify the unmotivated and disgruntled employees and help them find some other place to go.

With those few perceptions adjusted, let's briefly consider a few Foundation offerings targeted at the basics of products, business and management:

ProductPro Product Knowledge Programs
The Foundation currently offers 10 courses in the basics of Pipe, Valves and Fittings; Faucets and Fixtures and Specialty Water Treatment courses. These are basically turnkey programs with instruction, quizzes, a final exam and certificate. Several wholesaler companies mandate the first course for all new employees as a key strategy in eliminating the most common product mistakes.

Essentials Profitability Course
The new Essentials profitability course provides new employees with a basic understanding of how the wholesaler operates the business and makes money. Even though early response to the program has been incredible, the Foundation is taking an extra step in helping wholesalers jump-start their employees' business knowledge with pilot courses that demonstrate how to use the program effectively.

The first programs in Indianapolis and Indian Wells, CA generated significant enthusiasm. Additional courses are scheduled for June 3 in the Chicago area and in September in Las Vegas.

During the pilot programs participants learn about how wholesalers make money, pricing, sales, customer service and how small improvements in operating areas can make a tremendous improvement on the bottom line.

I will personally be on hand at all these programs to consult with participants on how to effectively implement Essentials profitability training within their companies.