BrainTrust Query: Do Staff-Wide Training Investments Yield More Sales?

Apr 01, 2011
Jonathan Marek

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is
a summary of a current article from Applied Predictive Technologies’ Food
For Thought

In early March, Church’s Chicken closed all of
its Nashville locations for 18 hours for employees to attend "an intense
customer service training boot camp." While extreme, the "close
and train" theme had
occurred before. In 2008, Starbucks famously closed all 7,100 of its American
stores for three hours to train staff. According to a New York Times article
on the subject, Starbucks employees learned espresso-culture tips such as "without
aeration, the milk screams and lacks sweetness" and the "perfect
milk requires surfing the tip of the steam wand until the sound is ‘shhhh.’"

Starbucks has clearly recovered its mojo since 2008 (the stock has doubled
since the training day), the question remains: What is the incremental sales
impact of the training programs themselves? Do these programs overcome a breakeven
hurdle given the loss in sales (and potentially customer satisfaction) that
results from closing the network and turning away customers for a period of

While some chains made a statement with big ticket programs, all restaurateurs
and retailers make smaller ticket training program decisions on a regular basis
that are also designed to improve service and drive repeat business.

By tracking
training programs, either by restaurant/store or by individual employee, companies
can measure the sales and customer satisfaction impact of these programs. Accurate
measurement requires comparing performance of staff participating in training
events against a set of control restaurants/stores or control employees with
similar characteristics who receive no additional training. By understanding
the holistic impact of a program, unhelpful programs can be cut or revamped.
By segmenting the impact to understand the store/employee characteristics most
closely related to greater program success, the right stores and employees
can be targeted for the next round of training efforts. 

All of which leads
to true return on the large investment of taking stores or employees off-line
for training.

Discussion Questions: What’s the best method for training store associates? When are more extreme measures such as staff-wide, one-day training or even group training during non-store hours useful?

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9 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Do Staff-Wide Training Investments Yield More Sales?"

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David Livingston
10 years 1 month ago

I think the best method of training store employees is the way Publix and Hy-Vee do it. They make employees owners and pay the nice bonuses. You will never see Publix or Hy-Vee close down to have a seminar. Employees learn quickly early on that customer service = higher sales = more money for me. I think when everyone is put on commission, good customer service follows. The only time a company should shut down and hold staff-wide training session is when things have gone so terribly wrong, the company has no choice.

Ian Percy
10 years 1 month ago

The troublesome word is “training.” That’s what you do with seals and cute lab puppies. This is the mechanistic dimension of development and it should have been done in the hiring and orientation process.

If you’re trying to help your team see and reach for its highest possibilities then you need to move to another level of development and consciousness. I’ll resist going into my oft repeated rant about how we’re missing the mark here.

The question is whether or not doing something “dramatic” like closing down operations in order to further passion, performance and profitability throughout your organization is worth it. I’d say by a factor of ten…IF it’s done energetically!

Kevin Graff
10 years 1 month ago

I started my company (we do staff training) back in 1988, and up until about 5 or 6 years ago our potential clients used to ask us about the value of training. Truthfully, we rarely ever hear that question anymore. There is so much evidence that training (properly done, of course) works. Think about it … could anything be more obvious? Whether it’s technical training, product knowledge or sale training, the person with the skills and knowledge will always outperform the person who lacks.

There’s the old adage that says, “What if I train my staff and they leave? Or, what if you don’t train them and they stay?” Cliche, but true.

With consumers becoming more knowledgeable and demanding, the pressure is going to fall on the front line staff to perform better. Those retailers that don’t ‘get it’ yet will see conversion rates, average baskets, and sales fall.

David Zahn
10 years 1 month ago

To put it as succinctly as I can, “developing people is an investment, ignorance is a cost.” There are very real expenses involved in conducting these sessions (be they classroom-facilitated, on the store floor, self-paced electronic or paper-based, etc.). Those costs are dwarfed by the costs of; loss of business, employee turnover, having to “redo” things that were done incorrectly the first time, legal processes for employee mistakes that were avoidable, etc.

How, when, and what to include (and what not to) is both an art and a science. Fortunately, enough clients recognize that and have afforded me the chance to make my living at it!

Mel Kleiman
10 years 1 month ago

Shutting down an entire company for a day or even a location for a day to train your people is more of a marketing move than it is a training move.

On going training is the key to really making a difference and the best training is in small doses and continually reinforced.

Retailer and restaurant that do on going pre-shift meeting seem to get the best return for the investment of time and money.

Fabien Tiburce
Fabien Tiburce
10 years 1 month ago

Training not only boost sales, it is also a potent risk mitigator (think of the risk and liability implications of improper food handling for example). Having said that, the yearly staff turnover in retail, is close to 100%, meaning if you are going to close your stores to train everybody…you need to do this once a year! I think a stringent “continuous” learning program involving in store and online training is just as effective and less expensive.

Ralph Jacobson
10 years 1 month ago

This has more to do with corporate culture than with the amount of time dedicated to learning for employees. Workers must see and live with a continuous environment that fosters the sharing and implementation of industry best practices throughout the organization, not just the stores. Closing down a business for a specific amount of time in by no means a silver bullet to guarantee learning.

There has to be a knowledge transfer strategy articulated from the top and executed consistently with commitment to success long-term, not just for a few hours.

I do applaud these retailers, however, including those mentioned in the comments since they are all trying innovative ways to overcome a decades-old challenge in the industry.

Ed Dennis
Ed Dennis
10 years 1 month ago
Training is fine if your staff is motivated. The most important time and investment should, however, be expended when hiring staff. If the hiring process is done correctly it can minimize the need for future formal training. If you have the right employees they will train each other. They will encourage development and bring changes to management. The best run organization is run from the point of customer contact up. The old adage of selling ice to Eskimos doesn’t even apply to selling used cars anymore. Every employee must be convinced that their only function is to assist customers. That is the only way to build a sustainable business. I believe in the case of Starbucks the retraining was actually a refocus on meeting customer needs. In Church’s case it was the same, considering that making decent fried chicken is meeting the customers need (they didn’t come in to surf the web). If you hire the right people and provide them with the right education, training becomes a day to day event. Problem is most… Read more »
David Zahn
10 years 1 month ago

I would like to propose a contrary point of view to Ed Dennis’–selection is clearly valuable and critical (you can’t fake talent over the long-term). However, it is not a reason to think that training, employee development, or learning need not take place. Every orchestra, sports team, Broadway show, etc., hires the best, most elite, absolutely talented people in their fields…but STILL requires that they train, attend practices, and learn new skills/refresh existing ones.

Training is not a “nice to have” or only for the remedial. Training is an absolute requirement to ensure success. Just bringing people together (even the “best”) and telling them they are to win, sell more, play beautiful music, or any other goal will not ensure that it happens.


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