Putting a Paw Print on Training

Pet Supplies Plus has a training strategy that not only ensures that its stores are staffed with knowledgeable team members, but also equips franchise owners with all of the resources they need to be successful with their businesses.



Managing a comprehensive training program for a 360-store pet retail chain is no easy feat, especially when about half of those stores are corporately owned and operated, while the other half are franchise locations. But the executive team at Pet Supplies Plus (PSP) has risen to the challenge by formulating a training strategy that not only ensures that the company’s stores are staffed with knowledgeable team members, but also equips franchise owners with all of the resources they need to be successful with their businesses.

For franchisees, the process begins with a two-week period of immersion training, during which they work inside one of PSP’s designated franchise-training stores, learning everything about store operations from how to work a register and manage inventory to caring for live animals in the store. “We make sure they understand all of our standard operating procedures and how to follow them,” says Heidi Char, senior vice president of human resources. “We show them, then we have them do it. That’s why it’s two weeks long, because we want them to have a full immersion in the store experience.”

During the two-week training session, franchisees—who are also encouraged to bring their store manager—will typically spend 10-12 hours in the store each day. “They may come in in the morning, take a meal break, and come back and close,” says Char. “We want them to do opening and closing many times during this period. There is a full checklist of everything we want them to know, so when they go back, they can easily help train others to operate their store.”

The training curriculum, which has been created and is monitored by PSP’s corporate training manager Jeff Steinhauer, not only covers the nuts and bolts of typical retail procedures, it also includes training on how to properly care for the animals sold in the chain’s stores and teaches franchisees who are interested in offering grooming services how to operate that part of their business. 

For corporate store managers, the training regimen is a bit different. While the curriculum used for these managers covers many of the same areas as PSP’s franchisee training, it also delves into areas such as payroll and the corporate hiring and performance management system —“things that we don’t go into with franchisees,” says Char.

As a result, training sessions for store managers may last up to four weeks, if the new manager was hired from outside the company. Team members promoted from within, says Char, will typically also train for up to four weeks as well. PSP’s new district managers also take part in the company’s manager training program, after which they typically spend another week shadowing a veteran district manager to learn the ropes.

Building the Team
When it comes to staffing its locations, PSP is committed to deploying well-educated, cohesive teams that will play an integral role in the success of each store. This starts with the company’s hiring process, which is carefully timed to make sure that every team member—from the store manager to part-time cashiers—understands and is invested in the store from day one.  

“We share our whole timeline for how far in advance you should hire your store managers, and their team,” explains Char.  “We are very sequenced, so a certain number of weeks out, we want the store leadership team hired because they need to train and then help staff the store with the right candidates, who first and foremost must be animal lovers.”

While training for team members in established stores is designed to take place over a 90-day period and beyond, the training of staff for a new location is much more condensed, through necessity. “It is a three-week-long process where they actually help set up the store, in addition to going through extensive training on dog and cat food, live animals, neighbor engagement—the basics they need to make sure the store is successful,” says Char, noting that it is a process that goes a long way in fostering team spirit among store staff. “It makes a huge difference in terms of neighbor engagement- yes, we call our customers neighbors. The team members are very supportive of one another, and that’s driven by the onboarding they did as a team.  It’s fun to see that kind of magic happen.”

PSP makes training team members at a new store easy by deploying its unique Training in a Box in-store training kit chain-wide. It includes everything needed to get new team members  up to speed on everything from customer engagement to store procedures to product knowledge. “We put everything in there, from training facilitators’ guides to team members’ training guides,” says Char. “It’s very detailed in terms of what needs to be covered including the exercises trainees must complete.” 

District managers serve as a vital support system for franchisees as they open their new stores, so they have been trained how to facilitate the company’s Training in a Box.  They partner with new franchisees before the process begins so the franchisee is well prepared to conduct  the training for their new store team.

One of the creative tools utilized in training store staff is called Off the Leash.  It is a series of interactive, self-paced modules that cover fundamental areas such as how to read product labels, fish care and the nuances of various product categories within the store like cat litter, flea and tick protection and grooming supplies.

“It really helps team members interact with product on the shelf,” Char says about the Off the Leash program, which includes a role-playing activity that the company has dubbed the Agility Test. “We designed it to cover a lot of ground relatively quickly. This type of micro-training works well, particularly with Millennials, who tend to want information they need, quickly.”

Of course, the learning does not stop once staff members are on board. To keep team members on top of the latest products, procedures and pet care science, PSP offers education-based merit increases to its corporate store team members. It is an incentive program that Char says goes a long way in making sure that each store is staffed with employees who are knowledgeable—one of the company’s core values.
In fact, ensuring that every PSP team member—from the highest executive to the newest store staff member—is on the same page with the company’s core values of being “Neighborly, Knowledgeable, Trustworthy and Petcentric” is the most important element of the company’s training regimen, says Char, noting that the company refers to these values as its “Paw Print.” 

As such, the company spends a lot of time and energy on this important subject. For example, part of the on-boarding process for new team members is the Paw Print Workshop. “It’s designed to teach team members about the history of Pet Supplies Plus, our lingo and what our core values mean and why they’re important to our success,” says Char. “The exercise basically involves having team members come up with ways that they are going to commit to living the core values, and they write them on a learning map that we keep in the back room of the stores.”

That visual representation of each employee’s commitment to the company’s core values is then used as part of the store’s ongoing on-boarding program. Each new team member goes and visits the Paw Print, reads it and adds their own personal commitments for being Neighborly, Knowledgeable, Trustworthy and Petcentric. 

“When it’s done well, it’s pretty magical, frankly, because they built it, they own it and a lot of stores will work to make it uniquely their own,” says Char. “It’s pretty cool to see how they make it happen.”


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