I work with a number of wholesaler and independent showrooms every year and I’m amazed (and disappointed) that very few companies have formal written training programs for their showroom personnel.

Pretty much the routine is: hire someone, show them the vendor catalogues, give them a quick tour of the showroom and wish them well! Almost all the training ends up being on-the-job and a few minutes with the various manufacturer reps that come into the showroom. Very few folks have a well thought-out, written training program. In my opinion this is inexcusable. Why would you go through the entire hiring process, hoping to find the very best person possible, and then not spend the time, energy and money necessary to help make the new hire the very best they can be - as fast as possible?

Training is something we all know we should do - but we never get around to doing it - or at least doing it as well as we should. Every employee, in every position, deserves to have a written job description that tells them what’s expected of them. Likewise, every employee should be given the advantage of regularly scheduled job performance evaluations. They deserve to know how they’re doing.

One of the main responsibilities of every manager and supervisor is mentoring, coaching and training the people that work for them. I believe that training starts day one and never ends. Let’s see if in the next 1,500 words or so I can outline what I believe would be a good training guideline for a new showroom salesperson. Certainly whether the person has any previous experience or not would need to be taken into account - and the training customized to that individual.

Let’s break out the training into time periods.

Orientation Period (The first day or two)

  • Start with a warm, sincere welcome by the “boss.”

  • Introduce the new employee to all the members of the team - by name, title and job responsibility.

  • Give an in-depth tour of the facilities, including where the coffee pot is located, lunchroom and restrooms.

  • Have the “boss” sit with the employee and go over in detail the following things:

    • The complete compensation package, including paydays, overtime, deductions, benefits, start dates, etc.

    • Work hours (start/end), lateness policies, etc.

    • Vacation, sick leave, holidays

    • Dress code, smoking and drug policies, etc.

    • The probation period - length and conditions

    • The grievance procedures

    • Any and all other important company procedures

  • Give the new employee a copy of your Employee Policy Manual (I hope you have one). Ask them to review it in the next couple of days and bring it back to you, signing off on each and every page - indicating they understand each item. Answer any questions they may have.

  • Allow time to complete all “New Employee” paperwork. Have the package ready. Explain what’s needed and set a time to get it back.

  • Be sure the new employee work area is clean, neat and properly supplied. Show them how to replenish supplies.

  • Give the new employee an organizational chart of the business - showing all the names, titles and responsibilities. Be sure they know and understand who is responsible for what and to whom … and where they fit in.

  • Review in detail the new employee’s job description and responsibilities. Explain your job performance evaluation system.

  • Review the company history.

  • Explain your company’s products, services and position in the marketplace. Tell them what makes your company different, better and more unique. Talk about your competitors. Tell them why your company is the best.

  • Describe in some detail this employee’s role in the chain of operations. Show them where their piece of the work fits in and why it’s an important part of the whole.

  • Set goals for the first week, month and 90-day period. Tell them there will be regular evaluations on how they’re doing.

  • Show them the written schedule for their training (day one, week one, month one, etc.).

  • Explain that your company utilizes a “buddy system” to help accomplish the training - and that there may be more than one “buddy” involved.

  • Plan to have lunch with the new employee on the first day and maybe once or twice during the next two weeks. Invite other workers to join you. This is a great opportunity to make them feel welcome and to see how things are going.

I can’t stress strongly enough how very important this first day of employment is. If you are the boss, don’t pass this responsibility off to someone else. Make sure day one is a great one! How many opportunities do you get to make a great first impression?

The First Couple of Weeks

  • Begin teaching the company “paperwork” and flow. This may be all electronic or a combination of electronic and hard copy. Be sure the mentor is well experienced and qualified.

  • Start teaching products. This is accomplished in several ways:

    • Give the new person manufacturer catalogues (one at a time). Go through each one with them. Have them study on their own.

    • Set up scheduled meetings with all the main product reps. Don’t just wait for them to come in. Set a date, time and how long. Do it one-on-one - in a quiet place.

  • Do regularly scheduled (at least twice a month) product knowledge (PK) meetings with all of your main product lines. These need to be during quiet time (before or after showroom hours) and should be for at least one hour. Develop a schedule and follow it. All sales consultants must attend.

  • Have the new employee “shadow” an experienced sales consultant. When working with a client, introduce the new person as a “trainee.” The trainee should have a tablet and pen and should make notes on questions they may have so they can get clarification after the client leaves. If there is more than one experienced salesperson, the trainee should shadow each one. They will pick up things from each person.

Selling skills training must start right away. Too many companies do okay with product training (although most of it is informal OJT) - but very few teach selling skills. This is a BIG pet peeve of mine! Get the new “Essentials of Profitable Showroom Selling” workbook from ASA. It is a great tool for ALL showroom salespeople … experienced or not. So, right away, week one you’ll be introducing both product and selling skills training.

First Six Months

In addition to all of the above, you should incorporate all of the following into the new employee’s training:

  • Regular performance evaluation sit-downs. This is your opportunity (and responsibility) to tell the new person exactly how they’re doing. You will stroke the good things, point out the weak things and spell out a plan on how to improve the weak areas.

  • Provide a floor plan of the total showroom. Show specific wall and floor areas. Break it out into individual sections. Show every item that’s on display (no model numbers or prices). Then have the new employee systematically identify the products one section at a time. Have them write in the full model number, description and price. Over the course of 2-3 months they will have made a list of every item on display. They can use this as their “Showroom Bible” when they begin selling on the floor.

  • You should look seriously at becoming a member of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA). It is an organization of showrooms (both independent and wholesaler), manufacturers and manufacturer reps. The group has grown to over 500 members in just six short years. There are a number of reasons to join, but one of the most important is education. DPHA has developed a product training manual that consists of 19 chapters. It’s generic in nature (doesn’t push any certain brands). It’s only available to members and only available online. I urge every one of you to make this great learning tool available to every one of your showroom sales consultants (new and experienced). Have them do one chapter and test at a time. Have a small reward for completing the entire manual. Now, I may be a bit prejudiced here since my wife wrote the majority of the chapters in the training manual, but a lot of it is what we used in our business and I know the tremendous benefits it offers.

  • A number of manufacturers offer plant tours and educational experiences at their facilities. I endorse these. Frankly, I don’t believe you can do too much training - so take advantage of what’s out there.

Here are a few training tips:

  • Don’t underestimate the learning power of new people.

  • Some folks will learn quicker than others. Learn to adapt to their speed … within reason.

  • Show more than you tell. “Do as I do” is more effective than “Do as I say”!

  • Review often, but be sure to allow time to practice what’s being learned. Take it one step at a time.

  • Work one-on-one as much as possible. It’s much more effective than working in groups.

  • Utilize “role playing”; practice in front of each other:

    • How to meet and greet customers

    • How to qualify clients

    • How to SELL individual salesperson values

    • How to SELL company value points

    • How to SELL features and benefits, etc.

    • How to SELL and achieve the best gross profit margins

  • Reinforce your training with practice, positive feedback and praise.

  • When earned, give the person recognition. Telling them they’re doing a good job is a terrific motivator.

  • Put as much as possible into writing. Create a training manual for each position.

  • Build a library of books, CDs, videos, articles, etc. Encourage your staff to use them. Reward them for their accomplishments.

  • Don’t be afraid to empower the new members of your staff to take hold of their jobs and run with them. Some folks may not do things exactly the way you would, but that’s okay. It’s the end result that counts.

Well, I wish we had more space because I have some tips for those responsible for training and some ideas on training methods. But, we’ve covered a lot in these few pages. Please - take training seriously! You need it! Your employees need it! And, your customers and vendor partners will appreciate it.

As always, if you have any questions, thoughts, ideas or concerns, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. Good luck!