Employee training is one of the four "secret" ingredients to achieve success in the showroom business.

Here is the absolute guaranteed recipe for success in a showroom business:

Location, Location, Location
People, People, People
Margin, Margin, Margin
Training, Training, Training

In this column we're going to concentrate on training. You can't do too much of it!

This is one of the easiest things your business can do to ensure success. Finding good people is much tougher than training them. So, if you go to all the trouble to advertise, interview and hire, why not follow through with the training?

A good, formal training program equals increased sales and profitability, fewer mistakes and happier and more productive employees. The more they know, the more self-confidence and self-esteem they'll have. These feelings are contagious. They rub off on fellow employees, vendor reps and clients - and I'm thinking, probably family and friends as well.

Training, for everyone, starts the first day on the job and never ends. Following are a few suggestions to help you in beginning to put a training program together.

The first day

Provide a warm, sincere welcome and introduce your new employee to the entire staff.

Do an in-depth tour of your facilities.

Allow time to complete new employee forms.

Review hiring agreements, benefits, pay schedule, job description and the company's organization chart.

Deliver the employee manual and policy and procedure manual.

Allow the employee time to read and sign off on receiving each of these manuals. Encourage questions.

Explain your schedule for breaks, lunch and holidays.

Review your company's philosophy on teamwork, open door policy, customer service, communications, etc.

Set goals for the first week, month and 90 days. Set times to review progress.

Don't try to cover too much too fast.

Be sure the employee's work area is clean, neat and well supplied.

The first week

Introduce the new employee to all forms of paperwork, paper flow and procedures.

Have the new employee "shadow" an experienced salesperson. With notebook in hand, the new person goes nearly everywhere the mentor does, meeting and greeting clients, following the product selection process, preparing the quote and writing orders. At the end of each day ask questions, get clarifications and most importantly - review the new employee's progress.

Encourage new employees to take home a different manufacturer's catalog and price sheet each night and review it for format, products and warranties.

Have the trainee begin to complete some easy paperwork - under the supervision of the mentor.

Start to diagram the showroom. Do a complete layout of the showroom - showing every board and every product. He or she takes one section at a time and identifies every product by looking up the item in the manufacturers' catalogs. The trainee marks down the model number, description (color and finish) and list price. As each section is completed, the mentor checks it for accuracy. The trainee may work at this for one and a half to two hours per day. It may take up to two months to complete this assignment.

The trainee will attend every weekly staff meeting.

At the end of each week do a short test or review.

Evaluate the first week's performance.

The first 90 days

If there's more than one experienced salesperson in the showroom, change "shadows." Let the trainee work with each mentor for 30 days, then change. This way the new person will experience several sales styles and can pick what is comfortable from each person.

After 30 days the trainee should be able to act as a backup to the experienced salesperson. He or she should be able to prepare quotes, write orders, make follow-up phone calls and check deliveries, all under the watchful eye of the mentor. This should prove helpful and allow the "old timer" to be more productive.

As the trainee becomes more proficient at these easier, basic tasks he or she should be given more to learn/do.

Keep new employees' "plates full," but don't bury them or give them tasks they haven't been trained to do. They'll become discouraged and less willing to take on responsibilities.

By the end of the third month the new person should be meeting and greeting clients on his or her own. The trainee should have completed the showroom diagram and be familiar with all the manufacturer catalogs and price lists. He or she should be generating quotes and writing orders unaided, as well as following up on situations and opportunities.

Do weekly evaluations for the first month, then do them monthly.

By the end of the third month the mentor and/or supervisor should know whether the new person is a keeper. If there's even a suspicion that he or she is not, then cut that person loose and start again. It isn't warm bodies we need - it's hardworking, productive people we must cultivate.

During the first 90 days you will have scheduled meetings for the new employee with all the important manufacturers reps. These meetings should be two hours minimum and held in a quiet, uninterrupted place.

Throughout the training encourage feedback. It's a wonderful opportunity to get a new person's evaluation of you and your business.

Don't rush the process, but move it along just as fast as the trainee can handle it.

By the end of 90 days the new person should be pretty much on his or her own. By the six-month mark the new employee should be approaching full productivity.

Give new salespeople sales and gross profit margin goals monthly! This tracks their progress and gives them a monthly "report card." Comment on their report card each time it is given to them.

You should have a library of sales training books, audio and videotapes, available for your employees. Encourage (insist) that every salesperson checks these out and continues the learning process. Develop some testing to ensure comprehension. Perhaps motivate with a small bonus for each completed venue.

At least once a month a staff meeting should be devoted to sales training, complemented with the appropriate role-playing. Your people may not like it - but it's very effective.

Finally, look at each one of your employees as a link in a chain, all linked together to make your business successful. The entire chain (your company) will only be as strong as your weakest link (the employee). You must work continually to strengthen your weakest link - either by replacement or training.