Consistent and ongoing training is essential to making your business operate at its finest, whether it’s the busy season or the off-season
Three years ago, Dan Mulhall, partner at Mulhall’s Landscaping, Nursery and Garden Center in Omaha, Neb., was talking with several other garden center owners when they told him something that would change his mentality on employee training forever. They said that the key to getting your new staff to do things the right way is to make sure your old staff is doing things the right way.
“We bring people in and show them videos on our culture and our thought process, but really what they do is what they see other people do,” Mulhall says.
Ever since then, Mulhall has placed more emphasis on getting his seasoned staff to better understand what the company is all about and the importance of great customer service. And the nice part about it is, since those employees are at the store year-round, there is more time to train them.
“If we can get them all doing things at a certain level, we’re confident that the additional 50 percent we bring in during the busy season will also do it that way,” Mulhall says.
Use hands-on training methods
But that’s not to say that all of the training will occur in the off-season, which one might think would be the ideal time due to the slowing down of business. In fact, Mulhall thinks this would be a colossal mistake. He says that would be like a sports team not practicing once the season begins, telling the players, “Okay, we’ve already covered everything, so go get ’em!”
“We’ve done an awful lot of off-season training and it hasn’t proven to be effective,” Mulhall says. “If you only train during the winter when there aren’t customers, then it’s not like playing the game. You have to train during the season when you can talk about actual events and point to actual customers and then let the trainees go apply what they’ve learned while the customer is still there.”
While some employees bristle at the word “training,” thinking they’re going to be forced to be educated on something they feel they already know, Mulhall says his employees are actually on board with his company’s training initiatives. The hard part is getting them to practice it, which goes back to Mulhall’s belief that training during the off-season is ineffective.
“Training requires more continual or consistent application, which is why I don’t think it’s effective in the off-season,” Mulhall says. “If you have meetings on customer service in the off-season, once the season begins and actual business starts, those lectures are long forgotten.”
Teach the importance of customer service
Mulhall believes the biggest need for training in the garden center business is customer service. There are other procedures that are relatively easy, but it’s getting employees to think like customers that requires constant work.
“We spend a lot of time talking about customers as guests and how to treat them as such, whether that’s a quickness in your step or respecting their time,” Mulhall says. “The customer really doesn’t care what has been going on in your day or that you have been at the store for six days in a row. None of that matters to them in the 15 seconds they interact with you.”
Customer service may be the area that requires the most training for some IGCs, but David Brill, manager of The Farm at Green Village in Green Village, N.J., believes the position that needs the most training is the cashier.
“As simple a concept as it is, it’s also the most important,” Brill says. “You can make or break a $10,000 sale if someone messes something up. It’s where all the money comes in and walks out the door.”
Set expectations early
The Farm at Green Village is currently going through some growing pains, transitioning from what Brill says was a “big small business” to a “small big business.” The change has highlighted the need for more training and standardized processes, and Brill has started by establishing descriptions for each job in the company – something the company never had before.
“I call it a simple ‘scare sheet,’” Brill says. “Before we hire someone, we give them this one-page piece that explains our business, what we expect, the weather, etc., so we can weed out the ones who really don’t want to be here.”
Hiring the right people by eliminating the ones who don’t want to work at a garden center is half the battle, says Brill. In fact, he believes it can reduce the need for intensive training.
“Training is important, but if you hire the correct employee first, there is less emphasis on training because he or she is a better fit for the job,” he says. “If we hire the better employees first, training usually comes easier than hiring someone who isn’t fit for the job, who we have to make fit the mold.”
The Farm also now has a two-sheet checklist that enables them to monitor an employee’s results.
“It allows us to conduct employee evaluations better,” Brill says. “And when there’s an issue and people aren’t following what you specifically intended to hire them for, there’s a way to discuss it.”
Who should conduct the training? It seems there is some debate there, and the answer is not always an outside person. Many garden centers don’t have the ability to spend lots of money on outside resources. Sometimes the answer lies inside the business.
“We have a long-term employee who we’ve charged with developing our personnel,” Mulhall says. “She will often grab different people in different departments to help with specific tasks. We train our own and do the best we can.”