Putting Education First
With a comprehensive curriculum that blends experiential learning, online training and a formal classroom, Pet Food Express (PFE) ensures that all of its sales associates are prepared to help customers take the best possible care of their pets.
With a comprehensive curriculum that blends experiential learning, online training and a formal classroom, Pet Food Express (PFE) ensures that all of its sales associates are prepared to help customers take the best possible care of their pets. Far from merely an employee obligation, education is an integral part of the company’s culture and philosophy.
“Education has always been a dominant focus at PFE,” says Sue Tasa, director of education. “Over time, this has created our culture of curious, caring employees who strive to learn as much as they can about pet products, care and behavior to achieve their personal goal of helping pets and their owners. One of the main drivers of this is a genuine desire to improve the life of all pets and to make every effort to prevent animals from being abandoned in shelters.”
The process for new employees starts with a minimum of eight weeks in a store, during which they complete a set of a dozen web-based training modules and have the opportunity observe their coworkers during customer interactions. After this, with their store manager’s approval, they go to the company’s corporate headquarters in Oakland, Calif., for a five-day class that includes lessons on pet products and how to appropriately recommend them, as well as insight into the company’s larger culture and approach to doing business.
“We found over the years that if we hire somebody and plop them right into that class, they don’t know enough about what they don’t know,” Tasa says. “By giving them a bit of time in the stores, they see their coworkers who really have a handle on it.”
At Pet Food Express, learning is a continuous process designed to keep associates up-to-date in a growing and changing industry. The company’s education department stays on top of current trends and new discoveries in the pet care realm by working with vets, attending industry events and more, then conveys that information to employees through ongoing training.
The training program stands out for the depth of knowledge it seeks to convey to the staff, equipping them to go beyond what’s on the label when discussing products with customers.
“I think when we decided that we were going to have a focus on dog and cat food, we realized that we needed to teach our people something beyond what a sales rep would come in and tell them,” Tasa says. “There are certainly things that are very valuable that can be learned from the manufacturers, but the information needed to go beyond that.”
The focus on education also isn’t just a top-down priority. In fact, Tasa points out that store associates are a driving force behind the company’s emphasis on training and staying informed.
“Our sales associates are very demanding, in terms of being informed so that they can then speak knowledgeably to pet owners,” she says. “Of all the levels within the industry, I think the frontline associates hold the industry to the highest standard. They’re the ones who are demanding that they have as much information as is available.”
From Tasa’s perspective, the company’s level of dedication to its training program sets it apart.
“We’ve had other retailers want to talk to us about what we do and come and observe what we do,” she says. “At the retail level, this kind of consistent, in-depth training is truly unique.”