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Implementing training in luxury stores – I

You know the importance of training sales personnel in your store. Now learn how to make and execute training programmes.

You know the importance of training sales personnel in your store. Now learn how to execute training programs.

Continuing from where I left off in my last column, the quality of sales ambassadors and their development through training and education are major factors in determining long-term profitability of a luxury business.

Although there are different types of training depending on the size of your boutique (the number of staff), there are five key points which should be kept in mind. However, this month, due to space constraints, I shall explain only two points.

1. Deciding the Trainer
The boutique manager is the person in charge of training. There is nobody else responsible for training, even in a large store. You can have an internal trainer, mentors, professional trainers, but the boutique manager is the person in charge. He/she is the one who will give direction to the training exercises.

Who conducts the training depends on the type of training needed and who will be receiving it. On-the-job training is conducted mostly by supervisors; off-the-job training, by either in-house personnel or outside instructors.

In-house training is the daily responsibility of supervisors and sales ambassadors. Supervisors are ultimately responsible for the productivity and, therefore, the training of their subordinates. These supervisors should be taught the techniques of good training. They must be aware of the knowledge and skills necessary to make a productive employee. They should be taught as a trainer to establish goals and objectives for their training and to determine how these objectives can be used to influence the results of the store. They also must be aware of how adults learn and how best to communicate with them. Small luxury businesses need to develop their supervisors’ training capabilities by sending them to courses on ‘Train the trainers’. I often suggest companies to organize a specific session to train the trainer. This investment will pay off in increased results.

There are several ways to select training personnel for off-the-job training programs. Many small businesses use in-house personnel to develop formal training programs for employees to be delivered offline from their normal work activities, during company meetings or individually at prearranged training sessions. I organized a training academy recently for one of my customers, and the results were immediate with little investment, because I developed the program and content of a two-day sales techniques session with them. I trained the trainers, followed by a coaching of the trainers. The trainers developed the program right after for the whole company using different meetings opportunities they had, and creating some short modules adapted to their needs.

There are many outside training sources, including consultants, technical and schools, continuing education programs. Selecting an outside source for training has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that these organizations are well versed in training techniques, which is often not the case with in-house personnel.

The disadvantage of using outside training specialists is their limited knowledge of the company’s product or service and customer needs. This is why, in the luxury business, it is important that the outside trainer knows the business. Another disadvantage of using outside trainers is the relatively high cost compared to in-house training, although the higher cost may be offset by a real increased effectiveness of the training.

Whoever is selected to conduct the training, either outside or in-house trainers, it is important that the company’s goals and values be carefully explained as mentioned in my first article.

2. The Training
The first thing that should be implemented is making sure of newcomer induction. The first days are crucial to the success of a new sales ambassador. Don’t think that you can train a newcomer within one or two weeks. A proper induction program in the luxury business should last for 2-3 months. There are a host of subjects that need to be covered to ensure the smooth induction of a sales person into the store. Some have to be carried out immediately, while others can be dealt with at a later stage. The key points to include in your induction are:

a. A warm and sincere welcome

b. Alternate sessions of face to face training, with outside training if available, with on the floor observation first and on the floor sale, and coaching by the manager. The newcomer should be on the floor rapidly – not to sell immediately, but to observe and comment.

c. Select a mentor, a senior sales person, who will be in charge of explaining the many details of the job, and give information to the newcomer. The mentor, for example, can have lunch once a week with the newcomer during the induction process and explain the process during this time.

d. Prepare a newcomer handbook. It should include a binder which has all the necessary information for the newcomers, and a small notebook in which they will find the different steps of his induction program, with enough pages to take notes, and to write down the different steps of his personal action plan. In this book you can mention the required ‘image’ of the sales ambassador, what you want them to look like, to act like, to sound like, and behave like. You can list the simple rules you want them to follow.

e. The various topics to be covered during induction include: understanding luxury; understanding the culture and history of the brand, the designer, the market, the competition, the products (materials, features and benefits), the collection, the customers, sales techniques, customer experiences, handling challenging situations and customers, after sales service, cash machine and registering a sale. Some ‘personal’ agendas to be discussed are policies and procedures on uniform, grooming, health and safety, security, job description, performance management, discipline and grievance, pay, holidays, and so on.

I will discuss about the next three points on On-going training, Coaching of sales ambassadors on the floor, and Mystery shopping by sales staff, in the next column. In the meanwhile, I hope you will recognize the importance of training and get a grip on how to start the process…

Jean-Claude Roustant is a consultant on training in the luxury business – probably one of the very few providing this expertise. He has worked as the retail training director at Louis Vuitton for 13 years. Today he provides expertise to luxury brands like Caran d’Ache, Relais et Chateaux, Sofitel Worldwide, Maurice Lacroix and fine watchmaking businesses in Switzerland.

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