I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m writing this article on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean at the tail-end of a 30-day cruise through the Mediterranean Sea, across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean and ending in Miami. 

Our 3,000-guest, 1,600-employee ship is a year old and the amenities are extraordinary. It’s a “high-end” cruise line, so we expected to receive “high-end” service. The truth is the service is over the top.

Because the showroom business is never far from my mind, I started making comparisons of how this cruise ship is run vs. how showrooms operate. There are a lot of similarities. You have higher-end product, clients and expectations. With my never-ending inquisitive mind I started asking questions of a crew member I had several encounters with.

I asked about the interviewing and hiring process, whether there are job descriptions and performance evaluations and especially how they are trained. Let’s focus on the training aspect here.

All the smiles, good-morning greetings and great service don’t just happen. All of this is learned through an in-depth, formal training program. And then it’s practiced, practiced and practiced some more.

I have experienced this level of extraordinary service at the Ritz-Carlton hotels. When we bought our iPhones and iPads, Apple did it. My personal shopper at Nordstrom does it. Every one of these companies goes to great lengths to train their people so their guests feel special.


Strive for the best

Here’s a personal experience my wife and I enjoyed at a Ritz-Carlton in Hawaii. I had the occasion to meet and talk with the general manager. I commented on how great the service was and asked how they made it happen. He gave me his business card. On it was his name and title with contact information, but the card unfolded and had printed on it the Ritz Carlton credo (mission statement); the 20 Ritz-Carlton “Basics”; the Employee Promise; the Three Steps of Service and its motto: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

The GM shared that each employee could recite everything written on that card. He further stated that every employee met with their respective teams each morning for 15 minutes and went over at least one of the customer-service points listed on the card. Being inquisitive I “tested” several employees during my stay. Each person I asked nailed the service points. These folks not only talk the talk, they walk the walk. If you’d like a copy of the Ritz business card with these items listed, send me an email. Then take it and customize your own set of customer-service guidelines. You certainly can raise your service level to a point your competition will never touch.

Of the hundreds of showrooms I’ve visited and worked with I have very seldom felt the level of service being offered was up to the level it should be. I would even include the business we owned in this statement. We worked hard to train our people and to render a great shopping experience, but we never achieved the level of truly great service that the above-mentioned companies have. 

Let’s go back to the basics. We need to learn to crawl before we walk, trot and finally run. The process of becoming the very best you can be is a step-by-step procedure. It takes planning, hard work and commitment from the top on down.

In the area of human-resource management I submit there are five important areas you must do well if you are to be the very best you can be. You’ve heard me say them before:

  • Hire the best
  • Train the best
  • Communicate the best
  • Motivate the best
  • Compensate the best


What can you do in the area of “training the best” to guide your team in giving an exceptional level of service?

First, you need a well-thought-out, formal, written, step-by-step training program for each employee. This starts on the first day of employment and should never end. It must be all-inclusive, meaning a showroom sales consultant must know your company’s mission statement, its overall philosophy and specifically its customer-service philosophy. They must be trained on product knowledge, your computer, your company policies and procedures, styles, colors, finishes, how to read architectural plans, maybe some basic design skills and the all-important area of selling skills.

When we owned our business we had a formal, written training program and every employee participated in it. We did a weekly staff meeting every Friday from 8-9 a.m. There was an agenda and a facilitator. About half the meetings focused on product knowledge. Many of these one-hour sessions were done by our various vendor partners and some were done by our own staff. Let’s face it, not every vendor rep has the expertise you need or the ability to deliver a first-class quality presentation. About 25% of the meetings were devoted to company policies and procedures and computer training. The never-ending evolution in the field of technology requires never-ending education. The remaining 25% of our meetings were directed to teaching and practicing selling skills. Anyone that had any customer contact (not just the sales consultants) participated in these.


The more the merrier

Over time we built a library of books, magazines, CDs and videos that we strongly encouraged every employee to take advantage of on their own time. We even offered small incentives for using these educational and motivational “tools.”

In addition to all the in-house training offered, we took advantage of as many outside educational opportunities as possible. There were trade association workshops and workbooks and we brought in speakers and trainers to motivate our staff. Organizations such as ASA, NKBA, DPHA, ASID, NARI and several others offer some great and very cost-effective training. Plus, many of your vendor partners have excellent training programs ranging from tours and training at their place of business to beautifully done videos, webinars and newsletters. I have always been guilty of believing that if a little is good, more must be better. Well, I’ve gotten myself into trouble more than once with this philosophy, but in the area of training I don’t think you can do too much of it as long as it’s well-thought-out and well-done.

Every employee deserves the opportunity to become the very best that they can be in his or her position. I also strongly believe owners and managers have an obligation to help each employee achieve to the highest level of their ability. This is all accomplished via the aforementioned five “bests” in the area of human-resource management. Your overall level of customer service starts at the top. If top management is committed to it, it will flow down to the rest of the organization. Time, talent and money must be dedicated to making great training and superb customer service happen.

My observation is that the majority of your showroom training is very informal and accomplished through on-the-job training. A new employee is assigned a mentor or coach — someone with more experience. The coach is supposed to train the new employee with some sit-down sessions, with some “shadowing” and with periodic (and too often sporadic) specific training. 

The mentor is busy doing his or her day-to-day job and the added responsibility of being the coach interferes. This is sad, but true. When manufacturers reps come in, you ask them to go over their catalog, price sheet and products. Too often this is a 15- to 20-minute session because the rep wasn’t advised ahead of time and has six more calls to make that day. As you can see, this is very informal and unfortunately I believe is the norm for training new showroom sales consultants. This isn’t good enough!

Cover all the bases

In my opinion you need a well-planned, formal written training program that takes the new employee through that first day at work and forward. An abbreviated outline of a training program for a showroom sales consultant can be found here:

Timing                                    Training to be Accomplished

Day One

New employee orientation; tour of the work place; meet teammates; complete new employee paperwork; shown to a clean, well equipped work station; review job description

Week One

Start working with coaches; introduction to the computer system; introduction to company policy and procedures; introduced to vendor training schedule (schedule at least 2 hour sessions well in advance); start shadowing the coach; (coaches can be rotated from one experienced person to another)

Month One

Attend weekly staff meetings; introduce to educational library and encourage to start using it; study vendor catalogues, price sheets and websites; continue work on the computer; learn (memorize) all the products on display (using a showroom diagram that breaks the showroom down into several areas); do some easy “backup” work for other team members (with all of this work being critiqued); continue learning the vendors, their products and services.

Months Two and Three

Continue work in all of the above areas; should complete individual sit-downs with all major vendor partner reps (following the schedule); start meeting and greeting clients; work on small projects and replacement sales; start practicing the newly learned selling skills (being learned at staff meetings and through the books and CD’s in the library); should have mastered the computer, company policies and procedures and all products on display; if possible will be working with and “shadowing” a different coach.

Months Four through Six

Continue work in all of the above areas; start working with clients on larger projects and orders; participate in one or more trade association educational programs; continue to master selling skills via learning, training and practice.

Month Seven and Forward

Continue learning in all of the above areas; continue using material in the company library and start building their own library, complete industry association educational program and start a new one; start networking within the industry and in your community.


You only should use the guideline to formalize your own program. Please take the time to expand on it and add to it. Customize it to your place of business.

By the end of six months of both informal and formal training, a new showroom sales consultant should be 90% up to speed. The remaining 10%-plus will be achieved as the ongoing training program continues and the individual gains continued on-the-job experience.

Throughout the first six months there should be a formal evaluation process. The mentor and/or supervisor should do a formal job performance evaluation each of the first six weeks.  This should be followed by a once-a-month evaluation for the next six months. Then these formal performance evaluations should be done on a biannual basis. 

Self-motivation plays a huge role in how quickly and how well a new employee attains a high rate of productivity and efficiency. Doing “homework” on their own, searching out educational materials, studying vendor books and websites on their own all take desire, hard work and motivation. 

Combine a great training program with exceptional communication, above-average motivation (from both the mentors and the individual employees) and a rewarding compensation program and I guarantee you will have the very best team of showroom employees in your marketplace. This all adds up to happy employees, bosses, owners, vendors and most importantly happy customers.

Good selling!