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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Training Basics

By Patrick Donston

Store Owner, Absolutely Fish


I like to hire young, enthusiastic students. I feel they're a worthwhile investment with a high percentage of return on longevity. The downside is young people need more training at the beginning stages—especially if it's the candidate’s first job. They usually don't possess social skills that are up to the standards in the workplace or a retail environment. Preparing a "newbie" to represent your shop is key in your company’s success.

First and foremost, you need new employees to understand your protocol. Time off the floor to read your handouts or manuals is a must. Approximately one hour works best. More than that, the candidate may lose concentration. This will allow time to start showing them jobs appropriate to their shift.

Always have new employees shadowed by senior staff or management for at least one week. Even experienced new staff members should not find this offensive if they understand your superior service policy statement.

Be their first customer. Come up with a number of scenarios your shop experiences and see if they can satisfy your needs. Have a lot of questions you need answered, and teach them to think and evaluate customer concerns.

Next, I like to play: "Catch and Grab." This is a game I use to quiz new employees on their fish “compatibility” skills. It's an easy training method because I can continue to do my own duties while I have them retrieve the right fish to the question. I'll ask questions such as:

  • Go grab four different livebearers. Make sure two of them are male, and female.
  • Get five different peaceful egg layers.
  • Get four different semi-aggressive fish that also make good starter fish.
  • Catch five different bad starter fish you would not use to cycle a new aquarium with.

The candidate learns the skills of catching and where we house certain species in our shop. They'll bring them back to management or me for check off, then return them to their tank.

Another game we play is "Sell me_______." Similar to the above, we'll ask questions where the training employee must retrieve the proper dry goods, such as:

  • Sell me something to get rid of algae.
  • Sell me four different water conditioners.
  • Sell me four products with probiotics in them.
  • Sell me four different chemical filter media.

They bring the products to us and must explain how they are used. They'll learn where the products can be found and we'll learn how well they can articulate the value of the products.

We have dozens of questions we use for each of these "games." We find this training method very effective in evaluating new employees before we set them off on their own. It helps us in providing better service, by making less mistakes, addressing customer concerns and increasing sales.

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