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From Home Furnishing Business

Training the Team

By Tom Zollar

Many of the articles you have read over the last decade in this magazine and others have carried a common message. That message has probably also been reinforced by every speaker you have heard at conferences and your own experience at your store. So by now, unless you have been in a cave somewhere, you have pretty much accepted the fact that the consumer has changed dramatically since the dawn of the 21st century. We know through research that the huge impact of increased color home furnishing advertising, home-focused cable TV channels/shows and particularly the internet, has both stimulated and educated our target customers so that they are much more product savvy and confident when they shop than they ever were.

As a result of their pre-shopping research, we know that they are visiting about half as many stores before buying. If we are making it onto their shorter list, then we should have a better chance of helping them find what they want and that has happened as we have seen an increase in closing rates over the past few years. However, as I stated in last month’s edition, even with all the research they do to select where they shop, we are still only satisfying about a third of those we see! So what do they tell researchers is the main reason for visiting a store and walking out without buying? According a Wharton Retailing Institute/Verde Group Retail Customer Dissatisfaction Study:

Over-Cluttering,” combined with a sales associate’s inability to help in finding an item, are the top reasons for not making an intended purchase or simply going elsewhere.    

So the biggest problem for all retail is:

  Confusion in store and lack of proper sales assistance!


• The shopping Experience to not be what the new consumer wants


• Sales Person must be the problem because they failed to connect one-on-one and assist or direct the process in the store.

This has dramatically affected our industry, since many of our potential consumers actually anticipate a bad experience. As a result, as much as half of the home furnishings purchased in the USA this year will be bought through distribution channels that don’t involve salespeople as we know them in the process!

The truth of the matter is that if we have not properly trained our staff to deal with today’s customer by breaking through their fears and resistance to gain their trust, then we, the owners and managers, are really the ones at fault! Indeed, updated and effective Sales and Sales Management training is the answer for most retailers. So here are some ideas about how the Approach, Structure and Content of your program can provide the best training for your staff to deliver the impact you desire.


Historically, furniture stores that have consistently performed the best have also “trained” the best, from the top down. The best larger ones have invested in staff trainers and put in place continuous programs that keep the store management and sales staff informed and invigorated. This same type of effort is needed in any retail organization, no matter how big or small.

Unfortunately, most smaller stores tend to use “event based” training programs. In other words, someone comes to the store and holds a training seminar that usually gives good direction to the staff, sometimes actually reinvigorating or motivating them and as a result sales improve. The problem is that without the proper environment at the store, the improvement is not sustainable and a few weeks later the store’s business is flat again. Training is a journey, not an event!

In any successful performance oriented team, there is always a “coach” that drives the effort. Sometimes it is the owner, the general manager or sales manager who keeps the fires stoked. The truth of the matter is that everyone needs someone with the knowledge, the motivation and the courage to hug them when they need it and kick them in the butt when that is the appropriate action!

Therefore, you must make sure you have the proper “culture for success” in your store that will support and nurture all of the behaviors you train your sales staff to use. It is human nature to stop doing new things if they have not shown immediate results or are not yet a habit. Sales managers must hold their team accountable to provide the experience the store wants for each and every customer that visits, every time without fail. So the starting point for any sales program in your store needs to focus on first training management what to expect their people to do, how to teach it, track it, coach it and make it part of the store culture. Without that, whatever training you give the staff will just be treated like this month’s recommendation, not a way of life they need to embrace!

Once that is done, your sales training program should be focused on providing the service level and shopping experience that your target consumers want when they visit your store. There are many good ones available, but you need to make sure whatever one you choose has been updated and is focused on the needs of today’s customers, not the ones back in the 90’s and before!


The most successful programs utilize multiple types of training in an ongoing process that provides continuous improvement and development for their entire staff. This not only drives growth, but also creates an environment that the best people want to be a part of, which reduces turnover and helps you recruit/hire the most talented candidates available. Below is a list of some elements you can use to augment and enhance your manager led training efforts, plus a graphic that reflects the way each major part of a solid program can layer on to create the maximum improvement possible:

• Methods and Elements You Can Use to Enhance Your Results

– Natural or On-the-job Learning

– Individual Online and Video Self Learning

– In-Store Training Events and Seminars

– Management Training

 Performance Coaching for Managers and Sales Staff



Management Training Program - Your strategy should be all about the customer, not the salesperson. It starts with creating management focus on coaching and needs to include the accurate measuring and reporting of your team’s individual performances. As has been discussed in previous columns, Total Sales = traffic X closing rate X average sale, so at the very least you need to have these numbers to study as you train, coach and manage your staff.

Your program should begin with the following important determinations and discussions:

• Defining the company’s vision

• Creating an understanding of your consumers:

– Their Lifestyles and Attitudes towards the home

– How they want to shop and be treated by your sales staff

• Instilling Principles of Business and a Belief system that works

It then needs to train the following Management and Coaching Functions:

• Measuring performance

• Recruiting - Hiring - Staffing - Scheduling 

• Goal Setting & Management

• Training, Observation, Feedback and One-on-one coaching

• Motivating a Performance Team

• Managing Conflict

• Coaching the coach with ongoing support from upper management

Sales Training Program – All of your sales team’s efforts should be focused on providing the home furnishings shopping experience that your customer desires. Therefore, once you have the proper sales management organization and process in place, you need to train and coach your staff on how to provide a customer driven interaction that helps your visitors fulfill all of their wants and needs. It should include instilling behaviors that will deliver that result in the following critical areas:

• Preparation – Understanding your products and customers

• Greeting – How to break through “I’m just looking” and connect as a person

• Establishing trust – This is essential in order to maximize results

• Determining each customer’s Practical and Emotional needs by using the Sketch as an effective tool for gathering information – the problem is in the home, not the store!

• Presentation - Showing the right products, the right way

• Handling Objections - Techniques to enable the sale to continue

• Asking for the order/Gaining commitment - Timing and Techniques to help the customer make the right decision for their home

• Client Development and Follow Up – Creating Customers for life

Most retailers need some help putting a professional program like this together and there is plenty available. In the long run it is almost always quicker and more effective to hire someone who does this type of thing for a living! Talk with other retailers and find the provider that will make the right things happen in your store for you.

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