Integrate training with the company’s business strategies.

By addressing the needs of new employees with a “First 5 Days Training Sheet” that managers have to follow and a monthly two-day orientation at headquarters, Consolidated Supply Co. of Portland, OR, reduced its employee turnover rate from 21% to 12%.

This was just one of the many valuable pieces of information shared during the American Supply Association Training Council’s Inaugural Meeting and Seminar at the Renaissance Chicago O’Hare Hotel Aug. 14-15. Attendees from all aspects of the wholesale distribution industry, including sales, human resources, training departments, and even business owners and CEOs, gathered for this event.

The ASA Training Council was formed as part of the Networking Councils that the ASA implemented earlier this year to offer expanded networking and educational opportunities to its members.

The two-day training event featured:

  • Pauline Mueller of Portland, OR-based Consolidated Supply, an industry peer with real-world experience, addressing “The Importance of Early Training for New Employees”;
  • Dr. Susan Levering, talking about “Developing Top Performers in Wholesale Distribution”;
  • ASA’s Paul Martin, executive vice president of the Education Foundation, explaining the training program development tools that ASA has to offer; and
  • Countless networking opportunities with individuals from all over the country who face the same challenges and successes in conducting training at a wholesale distributor.

  • ASA’s Paul Martin discussed the tools and programs offered by the Education Foundation for helping distributors develop quality training and HR systems.

    The Importance Of Early Training For New Employees

    A 12-year veteran at running the training program she created at Consolidated Supply Co., Pauline Mueller, director of human resources, shared some of CSCO’s strategies for training new employees and its historical success. Consolidated Supply Co. is a 79-year-old family plumbing, heating and water works distributor with 17 branches throughout the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.

    Mueller stressed the importance of new employee orientation, stating that the first 60 days is the crucial time for a new employee to decide to stay or leave. She described the company’s “First 5 Days Training Sheet” that provides a schedule for the new employee’s first five days at the company, including background information to be provided and training for the specific job they will perform and for the company’s various computer and phone systems. This is followed up with a two-day orientation where once a month they bring in all the new employees to the headquarters to acclimate them to the company. Implementing these strategies, Mueller said, has cut the employee turnover rate from 21% to 12%.

    Mueller also talked about the Delpro Customer Service Initiative that the company follows, where they offer a $25 discount to their customers if the customer service doesn’t meet all the initiatives outlined in the plan. Therefore, training of their employees is important from a monetary aspect for the company as well as a strategic growth initiative.

    CSCO bases its training on the concept that change is needed, Mueller said. Their training program is based on a four-core strategy statement that aligns with the in-house abbreviation of the company name:

      Customer focus
      Sustained financial fitness
      Continuous growth
      Outstanding people

    The company’s values and beliefs include the idea that its number one asset is its employees. Therefore, Mueller said, CSCO fosters a culture of learning where people, performance and profitability are all tied to training.

    To encourage the employees to take the responsibility for their own training, CSCO offers incentives for earning college education units, including company shirts, jackets, money, etc. Mueller referred to this program as a “pull vs. push strategy.” She said the star employees are all involved in setting the curriculum for the training program to ensure that it will focus on what is important to the employees and what is needed to do the job. Mueller said she also holds focus groups, and asks for feedback from the employees and customers.

    Mueller noted that the company relies on its supervisors to provide the training rather than employing a training staff. But to encourage the supervisors to complete the training, CSCO ties management’s bonuses to their training goals; certain performance measures are set up, and the managers will have their bonuses docked for not meeting these training goals.

    Mueller said CSCO has training segments for all employees in the core departments like customer service, computer training, financials and safety training, etc., but then the training is broken into specific segments for the department they will be working in, i.e., operations, warehouse, sales, etc. After completing any training program, the employee will complete a review with their manager to show what they’ve learned, thereby providing a timely measure of how successful the training segment has been.

    Mueller offered the following advice to the human resources development (HRD) attendees:

  • If it matters, develop a process, measure it and provide training for the employees to perform.
  • Use all of your resources - go to your subject matter experts.
  • Develop job descriptions that identify the skills needed to be successful in any position to determine the training needed.
  • Know when to train - not summer vacation time or fall inventory time.
  • Use technology for tracking training.
  • Pay attention to your first transactions with new employees - how responsive you are to your employees’ needs will determine whether they stay with your organization.

  • Pauline Mueller of Consolidated Supply Co. told how her company cut its employee turnover rate in half through early training.

    Strategic Planning Leads To Training Success

    “The more you understand the business of your company, the more successful you will be in training; the more your employees know about the business, the more successful the company will be,” said Susan Levering, Ph.D., an 18-year distribution human resources expert.

    According to Dr. Levering, the main duty of HRD professionals is to provide a training and development program that is strategic and aligned with the company’s business initiatives.

    “To remain competitive in the world and to be attractive to new recruits, training has to be a company focus,” she stated during her presentation. And, she said, to get executives at the company to give training the right kind of attention, “you need to deliver training so it has value and is seen as an investment.”

    Designing a strategic training program and determining where to spend the training budget are the initial steps, Levering said. She advised the HRD professionals in the audience to “find out what your people need to know about the company in general, how to do their job, and how to do the next job if they are targeted for promotion. Then find out what they want to know for their own personal development. This is how you begin to organize your spending.”

    Then make sure to integrate the training activity with the company’s business strategies, she said. “Your strategic plan needs to be appropriate for you, your company and your company’s plans for the future.”

    Dr. Levering presented a list of planning considerations for deciding on a training program:

  • Identify evidence that the learning activity will add value to your company’s culture.
  • Insist on accountability for a link between learning and performance (through supervisor reviews and testing).
  • Utilize appropriate technology and teaching methods for learning (i.e., hands-on, classroom, Webinars, e-learning, in-home courses, etc.).
  • Seek evidence of wise investments in learning and performance initiatives before you decide to add them to your program.

    She noted that the main issues distributors face in training are:

  • Lack of budgeting;
  • Lack of trainers;
  • Lack of materials; and
  • Lack of time to provide training.

    Regarding the budget concerns, Dr. Levering advised that whether it’s in seminars, classes, hands-on training, etc., HRD professionals need to “know what your priorities will be, and that’s where you spend the budget.”

    Trainers and materials, she said, can come from a variety of sources, including internal trainers (supervisors and managers, as well as good employees that are recruited to train others in how to perform their duties), trade associations, insurance companies, off-the-shelf materials, consultants, local trade schools/community colleges/colleges, and online courses. She advised attendees to form partnerships with their training personnel to find out what they do and how it benefits the employees, then put it all together under one umbrella to make up their strategic training plan.

    To address the time issue, Dr. Levering again referred to the methods of training available, citing e-learning, Webinars and take-home courses as possible solutions, but also stressing the importance of providing time during working hours for employees to take training courses, perhaps in a staggered shift approach. On-the-job training for new employees, where they shadow a “star” employee, was also suggested.

    To further address the concerns of the attendees, Dr. Levering proposed a popular exercise where she asked each person to write down their main concern regarding their own training program. She then asked them to pass the paper to the person seated on their right, who would write down a possible solution to the issue. The paper was continually passed around the table with each person writing down their own idea of a solution, until the paper ended up back with the questioner. In this way, new ideas on the subject were gathered from peers throughout the industry.

  • Dr. Susan Levering advised that to get executives at the company to give training the right kind of attention, “you need to deliver training so it has value and is seen as an investment.”

    ASA's Tools And Programs For Developing Training Plans

    Paul Martin, executive vice president of the ASA Education Foundation, followed up with a discussion of the tools and programs offered by the EF for helping distributors develop quality training and HR systems.

    According to Martin, distributors make money by:

  • Recruiting the right people and
  • Training them to use the
  • Right tools in an
  • Efficient operating system according to a
  • Plan to exceed
  • Customer expectations.

    If any of these are missing, he warned, the training program won’t work.

    Martin said that HRD professionals should identify the big picture “critical numbers” - net income, sales revenue, absenteeism rate - and loss of income issues, then break them down into the smaller picture numbers directly impacted by what the individual employee does. Those, he said, will be the areas that need training.

    In order to leverage training efforts, Martin said, HRD professionals should implement performance management practices such as job descriptions, recruitment programs, new employee orientation, annual performance reviews, ongoing training and competitive compensation packages. The EF, he said, has tools to address all these issues, such as the “Employee Performance Improvement Tool Kit,” with customizable job descriptions and performance evaluation systems, as well as a new employee orientation sample program.

    In addition, Martin said, ASA will soon be launching an online training resource and education center that will provide training as well as the tools included in the Tool Kit. The site will be available free to ASA members in the Members Only section of the ASA’s Web site,

    He also talked about the aspects that distributors need to address in training, such as getting new employees rapidly up to speed on product knowledge, developing a working knowledge of the economics of the distribution business, job training driven by job outcomes, and improving the ability of supervisors/managers to train and motivate the team to reach business objectives. The EF has tools to respond to all of these needs, as well as many others. Just a few of these are:

  • ProductPro Product Knowledge Training Courses: covering topics like pipe, valves and fittings; fixtures and faucets; industrial valves; and residential water processing.
  • Essentials of Profitable PHCP Distribution: Providing basic distribution business literacy.
  • Essentials of Profitable Inside Sales in Distribution: Based on the job description in the Tool Kit.
  • New Essentials programs coming out soon, covering showroom sales consulting, Essentials of Profitable Inside Sales seminars, and a new edition of Essentials of Profitable Distribution.
  • Customer Service: The Path to Higher Profits: Addressing customer service issues.

    For more information on the ASA Training Council and the Education Foundation and its resources for training professionals, visit