Training for Success

New Pet Store Pro chapter walks you through the process of effective employee training.




Pet retail is a labor-intensive business. As a small independent, you face the same responsibilities as the competition, but you have to do more with less. People shop online and at big box stores for price and selection; they expect to pick and choose brands and products on their own. You earn a profit by providing knowledgeable service that sets your store apart from the competition and keeps customers coming back.

A well-trained, confident staff—one that can answer customers’ questions about pet products and pet care, help them select the right pet food and make your store an enjoyable place to shop—is why people choose your store over a better-known chain. Your employees might be new or change frequently, but your customers expect a consistent experience every time they step in the door.

With all the responsibilities of running a business, many owners can’t find time to train their people properly or don’t know how to start. That’s why the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) developed a free employee training program specifically for independent retailers. Used alone or as a to supplement other training activities, Pet Store Pro is the cost- and time-efficient way to make sure everyone who works for you has the skills to make your store a success.


Ready, Set, Start

Implementing a structured training program requires time upfront but pays off big. Knowledgeable employees need less help, leaving you more time to focus on administrative issues. Sales associates who have been through uniformed training can provide the same accurate information to every shopper. They can explain product features and benefits and recommend solutions to customers’ problems, which drives sales.

Here at this year’s Global Pet Expo, Pet Store Pro is introducing a new chapter, Training for Success, to help you develop a consistent, structured training program using Pet Store Pro. The chapter includes tips and lessons learned from independent retailers, like Melissa Sturm and Marcia Cram, to walk you through the process.

“Our customers are loyal because they know that everyone who works here delivers reliably excellent service,” says Sturm, owner of Agri Feed Pet Supply, with two locations in Knoxville, Tenn. “Professional training gives my people the skills to demonstrate that they understand what customers want and need.”

“Training gives my people a completely different comfort level. They know how to approach and what to say to say to customers without any prompting from me,” says Cram, who owns Just Fur Pets in Springfield, Va. “My staff takes more interest in their work. They realize that the store runs smoother when everyone is on the same page and encourage each other to take the training seriously.”

Choosing Assignments
Pet Store Pro saves you time training because you don’t have to piece together all of the materials yourself. Courses focus on essential knowledge for any pet retailer, whether or not your store sells live pets, while fact-based, industry-specific content covers basic and advanced topics for new and experienced employees. You can assign chapters based on the products and services you sell and the skills your employees need.

Using Pet Store Pro to teach the basics first will reduce the amount of hands-on training required, so you and your managers can get back to your regular duties. Core chapters teach skills that all sales associates need to master. For Agri Feed’s new hires, core training includes Pet Retail Basics, Engaging Customers, Suggestive Selling, Cashier Service Basics and basic and advanced Customer Service & Sales.

Agri Feed’s managers must complete the six core courses too, so they understand the capabilities of the associates in their charge.

“It’s easy to forget that new hires don’t know everything that more experienced team members know,” Sturm says. “Pet Store Pro makes it easier to ensure every associate starts with the same information, rather than relying on verbal training alone.”

Optional Pet Store Pro chapters cover skills that only certain employees will need. Consider assigning any of the animal care chapters that are relevant to the pets and pet products your store sells. Consider assigning the manager courses to team members who are ready to take on more responsibilities.

“When I first started using Pet Store Pro, I quickly reviewed the course overviews and was able to assign chapters based on what my people need,” Cram says. Her pet daycare specialists are required to take Pet Store Pro’s dog pet care and pet nutrition chapters. Not all of her daycare people want to face customers, but those who do must complete the business essentials chapters before they graduate to working on the sales floor.

Cram assigns other chapters as the need or opportunity arises.

“If an associate shows a particular strength or interest in a certain area (such as merchandising), I’ll assign the pertinent chapter and then we’ll talk more about how to put the lessons to work,” she says. “If one of my employees has an issue with another, I’ll assign the Managing Workplace Conflict chapter to help them work it out.”

Establishing Procedures
Routine management for Pet Store Pro includes assigning coursework, setting deadlines and monitoring progress. Whether you administer Pet Store Pro yourself or put someone else in charge, it’s important to set clear expectations.

“I developed our core curriculum and timeline for training, but the store managers at each of my locations are responsible for monitoring progress and reinforcing what their students learned,” Sturm says. “The fact that everything is documented with Pet Store Pro—course content, assignments, deadlines, progress and test performance—makes it much easier for me to delegate because I know all the bases have been covered.”

Courses are completed at the store, on the clock, on a dedicated computer located where there are no distractions. Students begin their assignments on their first day of work and don’t move onto the sales floor until they pass the chapter tests for their six core courses.

“We accommodate for students’ different knowledge bases and learning styles, but because their first few shifts are devoted entirely to training, they rarely need more time,” explains Sturm.

Test results help identify if an employee needs more hand-on coaching.

“We consider an 80 percent or above to be a passing score and go over the incorrect answers to assess what they don’t understand,” Sturm says. “Testing our trainees to see if they absorbed what they learned gives us all a level of accountability.”

Regularly monitoring how employees perform on training activities helps you make sure they are completing and learning from their assignments. Cram’s employees study on a staff computer during paid breaks, so she can see where they are in the chapters and, later, talk about what they learned that day.

“I generate on-the-spot discussions about how to use the training on the job,” she says. “They get a better grasp of the knowledge by seeing it in play.”

These conversations offer Cram the opportunity to add her own expertise.

“For instance, the Pet Retail Basics chapter prompted me to add my own advice, such as: ‘Dogs jump and scratch, so don’t wear shorts or jewelry that dangles,’” she says. “My new hires tend to be students with no employment experience. Pet Store Pro drives home the importance of basics that I take as a given, but they might not.”

A consistent, reliable employee training program makes the most of your labor investment and pays off big for your customers, your store and your entire team. To find out more about using Pet Store Pro to train for success, visit booth 2401 today or visit any time.

Since its launch in 2008, more than 37,000 pet store owners, managers and sales associates from more than 7,000 stores have used Pet Store Pro to train for success. The program has expanded to offer more than 30 associate and management-level courses and remains 100 percent free, thanks to continued full funding by the distributor members of PIDA. Test drive Pet Store Pro at PIDA booth 2401 today or log on to any time to learn more.

Celeste M. Powers, CAE, is president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA).


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