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In the recessionary market, product knowledge and sales skills are more important than ever. All major manufactures know that the training support they give to the retailers directly benefits their bottom line, and the range of training offered at present reflects this clearly. Anna Ryland reports.

Well planned and professionally executed retail training benefits everyone involved in the retail relationship: the customer, the retailer and the manufacturer.

Everyone is a winner

The retailer who knows all the current offers well is able to select and recommend to the customer the product which best suits their needs. Meanwhile “for the retailer, every sale is important and repeat business only happens if the customer has had a great buying experience and product satisfaction,” says Austin Woods, Siemens training centre manager.

As the old adage says: knowledge empowers people. “Confident salespeople are successful salespeople. And given the reluctance of some consumers to spend money during these difficult times, it is the confident and knowledgeable salespeople who make the sale,” sums up Chris Emmerson, Armour Home’s sales director responsible for the Alphason brand.

This is particularly important when there is a downturn in business. “When sales opportunities are reduced, it is of paramount importance to close and maximise every possible sale. Good, motivated, well trained and therefore confident staff simply close far more sales than their untrained competitors,” stresses Glen Harvey, Armour Home’s technical support & training executive.

However, training is also an important management tool. “With money so tight, being able to develop your staff’s expertise through retail training will make your people feel valued. Valued people are less likely to leave, so you get to keep their knowledge and expertise at the heart of your business. It’s a win-win situation,“ comments Liz Barker, Neff training manager.

“The benefits of training to the manufacturer are, of course, selling good profitable lines and ensuring that, if the consumer has exposure to high end products, they are sold the benefits of that ‘extra spend’ on the appliance,” explains Electrolux’s Raymond Laidlaw.

The format is important

Aware of the time and business constraints of their independent dealers, manufacturers offer them training in a variety of formats.

Face-to-face training at the retailer’s premises is the most popular as it can be delivered outside the usual business hours but it is most readily taken when it is given by specialist trainers who have detailed knowledge of the products.

The key benefit of online training courses is the flexibility they give retailers in terms of when, how and to what extent they wish to participate in them.

However, the most comprehensive training and best familiarization with products is likely to be given at the manufacturers’ training facilities, such as the Indesit Company Training Academy in Peterborough, Neff training centre in Milton Keynes, Miele Experience Center in Abingdon and in London or Whirlpool’s ATHOME training showroom in Croydon.

Manufacturers also organize dealer visits to their factories and testing laboratories which although they require considerable time commitment from the dealers, give them not only insights into products’ technology and features but also a good understanding of the company’s heritage and values. Ruth Ferguson, marketing manager at Gorenje, explains: “We organise visits to the Gorenje factory in Slovenia, which are very popular and provide in-depth knowledge of the company and brand. These visits give the retailer a much clearer understanding of what Gorenje represents, and open their eyes to our exciting, innovative brand.”

To encourage participation of dealers spread out throughout the country, some manufacturers, such as Sony or Indesit, organize training roadshows which take place in a number of locations, sometimes over several weeks. The manufacturer’s investment in these events can be considerable. For example during the recent Sony’s STREET 2010 training extravaganza, product and technology presentations, and hands-on product testing took place in the set up of an urban street scene, together with bikers, skaters and street entertainers, which helped to build not only knowledge but also enthusiasm of participating retailers about the latest Sony’s products.

“All dealers should expect their manufacturers to offer multi-level training. Those new to the industry should demand generic training, along with brand training, so that new starters understand the type of product offered, in addition to why that manufacturer is different. A good training session will teach you about the appliance. An excellent training session will inspire you to sell the appliance,” argues Liz Baker, Neff’s training manger.

What’s on offer – consumer electronics

Most of Armour Home’s training is “product based and model or brand specific. For example, we deliver training courses for QED cables, Q Acoustics loudspeakers, including Q-TV, Nevo and RedEye remote controls, Epson projectors, Systemline multiroom systems, Anolis and Lutron lighting to name but a few. However, almost uniquely, we also deliver generic training seminars such as: ‘Specifying Home Cinema Systems’ and ‘Installing and Setting Up Home Cinema Systems’”, says Glen Harvey, Armour Home’s technical support & training executive.

Armour Home is a flexible trainer: “We have two dedicated training suites, one at Wigan near Manchester and one at Bishop’s Stortford, near Stansted Airport. We can arrange seminars at either location at times convenient to our retailers as well as conducting courses on retailer’s premises.”

Sony’s training is delivered in a variety of formats. Some is product related, such as the recent Street 2010 roadshow. Sony’s training team believes in integrating practical sales tips into all of the training courses and the company uses the resources of Smart Circle (including professional trainer Richard Hammond) for more specific requirements. The company also plans to launch an improved online training platform in 2011 and will continue to invest in a field-based support team, visiting its retailers on a monthly basis.

Kevin McNally, Sony’s retail training manager, stresses the importance of multi-faceted training: “It’s important for the independents to focus on providing the customer of the future with effective solutions for their home entertainment needs. This means moving beyond the products themselves, offering service solutions and providing the complete package.”

Philips meanwhile does not differentiate product training from sales training. “The Philips Sales Development Team is responsible for overseeing all training requirements”, says Tom Henderson, Philips trade marketing manager. “Philips Sales Development Team also strives to work with key independent partners on in-store merchandising and category layout to ensure products are easily visible to shoppers, both in store and on the high street.”

PURE’s team of area sales executives visit more than 250 independent retail outlets every month. “Our sales training is carried out on the shop floor and is focused on product features and benefits with a very hands-on approach, says Peter Blampied, PURE’s director of sales. “In 2011 we will launch a new scheme entitled ‘PURE Select’. This is focused on finding, signing up and then working closely with a small number of locations where we can send consumers for the best possible demonstration and experience of PURE products in their geographic area.”

Realising that many retailers were short of time to run their own training, or visit the supplier

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