The Forte buying group revealed at its late February conference in Indian Wells, Calif., that it will introduce a new sales training opportunity for sales professionals and principals of Forte shareholder businesses.

The training, to be led by Gerry Layo, a well-known speaker, trainer, coach, author and the owner of Sales Coach International, will take place in July at Forte’s summer meeting in Chicago.

“The premise will be to teach salespeople how to engage, more importantly listen, and how to close the deal and make the sale,” Forte Board of Directors First Vice President Paul Ardente (Ardente Supply, Providence, R.I.) told Supply House Times in a video interview at the meeting. “In our industry everybody has product knowledge but there isn’t a lot of sales training. We’re bringing it to the masses and hopefully it will be successful.”

The four-day event in Chicago in late July will feature two days of training with salespeople of Forte shareholder businesses and the final two days will involve management executives from those same member companies.

Ardente said the idea was hatched during a drive from his home to Ardente Supply’s offices. “Doug Hermance (Forte President, Houston-based Westhiemer Plumbing & Hardware) gave me a call and we chatted back and forth about this and said this is an initiative we really should take on,” he said.

Ardente didn’t mince words when talking about the potential impact of the training. “It’s crucial,” he said. “In our business if you can’t close the deal how will you compete against the chains and the big boxes out there?”

The Forte annual meeting, held this year at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, was packed full of strategic planning and networking opportunities. This year’s conference attracted more than 150 principals operating more than 250 showrooms across North America as well as 61 preferred vendors.

Forte reported a record-breaking 2014 performance with a double-digit volume increase in the buying group’s channel. Forte also reported same store sales were up in 2014 by more than 10%, while rebates and volume reached record highs without the group adding any new shareholders or preferred vendors. The group’s membership ranks remained stable.

“Luxury showrooms are back,” Forte Director of Membership Services Jeff Valles said. “Luxury is where the business is at right now. These guys are the best. When the economy slowed down, our shareholders didn’t stop investing. They fought and came through a nasty storm just fine.”

Steve Berger, president of New Milford, Conn.-based Modern Plumbing Supply, attributes his company’s recent success to the harsh winter weather that has affected the Northeast.

“We’re finding our showrooms are busier than normal this time of the year,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of snow and cold weather and people want to get out and get ready for plans for the spring. They are getting ready ahead of time and want to see the new trends. Our sales in February are up over last year even though business hours have been shorter due to the weather.”

Forte also held its popular peer-to-peer network meetings that provide a forum for shareholders with similar business models that do not compete to discuss challenges, opportunities and trends.

“This conference is great,” Berger said. “We get to see the latest and greatest in designs and get to speak to the principals from the manufacturers and we get to network with our peers across the country. This is a great venue for us.”