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Take 5: Employee Training

Beyond beautiful displays and killer discounts, the most effective way to capitalize on sales opportunities is having a knowledgeable staff.

In a retail landscape overrun with clickable merchandise, brick-and-mortars need to stay on top of their game to keep customers walking through a physical door. While beautiful displays or killer discounts are both plausible methods to attract a purchase, one of the most effective ways to capitalize on sales opportunities is a knowledgeable staff. Teaching and reinforcing a sound retail strategy to sales associates is an important facet to building your bottom line and furthermore, creating repeat customers. Want a staff that will ensure the customer relationships of your dreams? Here’s how in five easy steps.

  1. Have a plan for new employees. When hiring a new sales associate without a plan in place, a retailer is simply hoping for the best, according to Bob Phibbs, CEO of the New York-based consulting firm Retail Doctor. “That’s kind of like shooting an arrow in the sky and hoping it lands on the target,” he says. “That just doesn’t work.” Instead, Phibbs suggests a detailed process that can be reinforced over and over again. The formula allows retailers to sell value over price repeatedly, which is particularly important during a time when the threat of online shopping and low-price competitors is so prevalent.
  2. Know how to approach the customer. It’s important that employees know how to hold their body to seem approachable, when it’s appropriate to offer assistance, how to overcome objections and how not to sell with their own wallets. Sonia Peralta, owner of Pastel in Palm Beach, FL, teaches part-time associates in her store not to hover. “I’m always there to welcome them with a smile, but then you let them shop,” she says, explaining that they can later step in if a customer is looking lost. “And make sure you’re not on the phone,” she adds, as the customer should feel like you’re always there for them.
  3. Role play to prepare for every situation. Sometimes it can be hard to predict how much assistance a customer will warrant or if they could be a difficult sell. To prepare, Phibbs suggests role playing, an often underutilized training tactic. Write down a scenario for one employee to act out—such as being a mom with three kids looking for a baby shower gift who has been to a competitor but hasn’t found anything. Then send them into the store manned by an unknowing employee, who should be able to learn about the customer and help them find what they need. “If they don’t find out she’s looking for a gift without asking ‘Can I help you find anything,’ and that she has three kids, your training needs work,” Phibbs explains.
  4. Stay detail-oriented. The store’s appearance can be a vital part of silently selling product, and sales associates can easily take a few minutes to ensure the store’s visual merchandising is making the most impact. To minimize downtime—and boredom—Peralta and her employees will tidy store displays, reorganize racks and clean dressing rooms. “You don’t want to have a messy store,” she says. “It makes it harder to find things.” Every worker should know the correct way to fold clothing and where everything goes in the store.
  5. Understand that training never stops. The most important thing a manager should keep in mind is that training isn’t something you did, it’s something you do. From a five minute morning huddle to a weekly staff meeting to a day-long intensive, those looking to survive the onslaught of brick-and-mortar businesses need to be at the top of their game converting browsing to buying. It’s that simple, according to Phibbs. “You’re either a warehouse asking people what you can help them find or you’re a destination for discovering new items and purchasing them at full price,” he says. “Only you can control what goes on in your four walls.”

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