It's no secret that there's a huge evolution taking place in our industry. Large wholesalers continue to acquire smaller ones. The "big boxes" are marketing themselves direct to the contractor. And the showroom business is becoming more important to more and more wholesalers. (It's about time!)

There's also an evolution taking place with today's workers. They are a new breed, more self-reliant, independent and creative than any previous generation. These new employees are also expecting more from you - their employer. They have more focus on quality-of-life issues. They want more autonomy in their work and more recognition that they are important members of the "team."

In the 21st century successful companies will recognize human capital (that's people) as their most important and unique asset. The successful company will be a learning organization. It will be one that encourages, supports and enriches the intellectual and emotional capacity of all its employees. This leads us to Part 2 of our human resource series: Training.

Every company must invest both time and money into a well-thought-out training program. Your employees want and need you to follow up with information, support and clarification that will strengthen the required skills you have identified they will need to be productive, contributing members of your team. Give your employees lots of opportunities to learn and practice the skills, techniques and behaviors you want them to develop.

Employees will become discouraged and unmotivated when they lack the skills necessary to complete their responsibilities. Managers who provide continuous training and growth opportunities motivate their employees by enhancing their self esteem, which enables the employees to experience feelings of power and control in their jobs.

Most employees want to do the work, and will succeed and be happier with clear guidelines, proper training and adequate resources.

Training starts Day One - and never ends. You have to have a plan. That plan needs to include:

  • What training needs to be accomplished
  • Who will be participating in the training
  • Who will do the training
  • What the time line will be for all segments of the training
  • Where the training will be done
  • What budgetary dollars need to be earmarked for the training

New Employee Orientation

You've heard it said many times: "You have only one chance to make a good first impression." This certainly applies to brand new employees.

You've spent a lot of time, energy and maybe money going through the hiring process. Now the real work begins. New employees will have a lot of questions:

  • Who is my boss or supervisor?
  • Are we allowed to take a cigarette/coffee break? When? Where?
  • How should I dress?
  • How long is the lunch period? When? Where?
  • Where are the restrooms?
  • When is pay day?
  • Where should I park?

The list goes on and on. Your job is to answer all of these questions as part of the orientation. Obviously you will want to introduce the new employees to the rest of your "team." Their workspace should be clean, neat and well supplied with all the tools they'll need to perform their job. By spending time with the new employee, the "boss" motivates him or her through respect.

A nice way to introduce your orientation program is with a "welcome letter" sent to the new employee's home. Include a schedule time frame - if practical. These items should include:

  • Time and place to meet
  • Where to park
  • Who to ask for
  • List of materials they should bring
  • Meeting fellow employees
  • Completing new employee paperwork
  • Payroll enrollment
  • Benefits enrollment
  • Introduction to company policies and procedures (give them a copy of your employee handbook if there is one)
  • Holidays, vacation, sick leave
  • Company history and culture
  • The job description and work environment
  • The facilities - parking, restrooms, lunchroom
  • Names of key people
  • Organizational chart
  • Important numbers (telephone, fax and e-mail)
  • Training schedule and description
  • Review periods (one week, one month, three months, six months, annual)
  • Meeting the end of the first day to review all of the above and answer any questions

How you handle all of the above will set the tone for the entire training process: The First Week

The first week should be spent teaching the new employees all the paperwork and procedures. You're probably computerized - so teaching them your system will be very important.

Product knowledge and training begins immediately - and never stops. Schedule sit-downs with the manufacturers reps that sell you showroom products. Don't just wait for them to come in - schedule them! Don't let it be a 15 minute fly through the catalogue. Be sure it's a thorough in-depth educational session. Give the trainee manufacturers' books - one at a time. New employees should become familiar with which manufacturer sells what products. They also should study the price book that goes with the product book. They should know how to look up prices for each and every product - including all the different finishes and colors.

After The First Week

After the first week the trainees should "shadow" experienced sales consultants. They follow the "pro" all day long, walking the showroom and listening as the pro specs products for the client. They should be introduced to the client. The pro should explain why they will be tagging along and ask if it's okay. New employees should work with as many "pros" as possible in order to learn different techniques and styles. Trainees should always have a pad and pencil so they can write down questions or comments to review at a later time.

Concurrently, new employees should begin diagramming the showroom. This is a great way for them to learn all the products and pricing of display merchandise. Over the course of the first three months the trainees should spend about two hours a day identifying a certain area of the showroom. They should actually draw a diagram of each area, by manufacturer if possible. Then by looking in the manufacturers' books, they can identify every product by model number, color, finish, size, etc. Next they should look up the appropriate list price. At the end of the diagramming process the trainees will have created a layout of the complete showroom - showing model numbers and list prices for everything. This process gets the trainees into every manufacturers' book and price sheet and will give them a "cheat sheet" they can later refer to when walking the showroom with clients. It's a great training exercise.

By about the third month of employment, the trainees should be able to act as backup to one or more of the sales consultants. They should be able to turn rough quotes into finished quotes, look up prices and extend discounts, call vendors for various information and call clients back with answers to questions or updates. They should also be able to start working with clients on "easy" quotes and orders.

There are two great sources of basic product information. Don Arnold, who writes for Supply House Times, has developed a "College of Product Knowledge" and Annamary Kennell has produced "The Instant Plumbing Product Knowledge" book. Both are excellent training sources for the new showroom salesperson. (You can get information on both by contacting me at the e-mail address at the end of the article.)

Almost immediately in the training process the new employees should work on developing selling skills. This is a learned skill and must be taught and practiced. Seminars, audio and videotapes and many books teach the basic selling skills. Just like product knowledge training, learning and practicing selling skills is a never-ending process.

By teaching employees how to effectively articulate features, benefits and the "value -added package" offered by your company and the companies you represent, you will make price less of an issue and value the important factor.

Obviously someone with experience has to be in charge of this all important human resource management. Training needs a plan and direction. If you don't have one in place, start today. You really can't afford to wait!