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The Right Training Makes All the Difference

Like it or not, training is an integral part of a companys overall business plan. Training programs at their best can enhance a companys ability to adopt and use advances in technology, build more effective and highly motivated staff, and ensure adequate human resources for expansion into new programs. At their worst, they can create confusion, alienate workers and diminish your customer base by providing poor service.

If you think you dont need some method of employee training, think again. Research has shown that even small businesses derive specific benefits from implementing such programs, including increased productivity, reduced employee turnover, increased efficiency resulting in financial gains and decreased need for supervision.

What model best suits your needs? Made to Measure interviewed several industry experts to find out how they handle training matters, what tools they use and how it impacts the bottom line. We talked with both large and small companies, as well as the National Association of Uniform Manufacturers and Distributors (NAUMD), in the hope that readers will identify a plan that could work for them or choose components from several to come up with their own unique version. We determined whats new in employee training for the uniform industry and what companies should know before they implement any program.

The responses, as diverse as their company profiles, had one common thread: if you have even one employee, you need some form of employee training program. For a look at what companies across the industry are doing, read on:

Cintas Much of industry powerhouse Cintas success is built on executing defined processes and procedures to bring customers value. Training on those processes and procedures starts on day one, as most positions have formal training guidelines outlining activities that must be completed each day during the first few weeks in the position. Training also is viewed as non-negotiable; requirements are tracked, and managers are held accountable.

Who gets trained at Cintas? Everyone. Training is job specific and is focused on providing the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in each individual role.

To provide a few examples, our frontline partners receive training on such topics as safety and how to use the equipment at their workstation, and our executives receive training on such topics as presentation skills and change leadership, says Brigitte Barrett, director of training and development.

The company uses any combination of mediums on-the-job, online, classroom, in-house or external to execute the training process. We even partner with our business suppliers so they can teach our employee-partners how to use and get the most out of their products, adds Barrett.

When developing a program, Cintas uses internal subject matter experts and external consultants, if necessary. Before a program is released, it is piloted and taken by a subset of the targeted audience.

Classroom training programs are taught by trained and certified instructors. Instructors are encouraged to provide feedback on what works and what doesnt in the class. Students, too, provide daily feedback via an evaluation form. This allows for on-the-spot adjustments to the course. Our philosophy is continuous improvement, says Barrett. Training programs are constantly reviewed, and updates are made when necessary.

While all this may sound expensive, there are ways to control costs. Cintas has decided to use in-house instructors for most of its training and uses consultants only when absolutely necessary.

It also has leveraged its online platform, allowing students to move from 90 percent classroom training to a truly blended learning approach. Through the development of comprehensive e-learning programs and a Learning Management System (LMS), employees can get training when it is needed regardless of where they are located. The training even can be accessed at home through the Internet. The primary vehicle for e-learning is a training-on-demand (TOD) course. TODs are text-based, simple to program and cost efficient to produce. In just 60 days, the company transforms its ideas into a live, web-based training course that delivers business results.

According to Barrett, this was done on a shoestring budget by choice. We developed an LMS at a fraction of the standard cost typically spent by Fortune 500 companies, she says.

TwinHill Corporate Apparel A division of the Mens Warehouse, this California-based company specializes in corporate apparel and high-end uniforms. Its president, industry veteran Howard Wecksler, was recruited three and a half years ago to move the company away from its logo-wear roots into the burgeoning identity apparel market.

With approximately 30 employees, many would expect the company is too small to find a formal training program in place. While not as structured as Cintas, TwinHill does provide a significant amount of training, which Wecksler credits to the culture instilled by the parent company.

I never experienced this in my previous [business] life because we didnt have the level of sophistication we have here, says Wecksler, who has a long history of working in so-called mom-and-pop enterprises.

Wecksler says that no matter the size, its a mistake not to take training seriously. It can be as simple as giving scripted advice on how to meet and greet customers, but it should be done. The stakes are too high nowadays.

TwinHill relies on a mix of in-house and online training to indoctrinate workers on effective customer relation tactics. Employees can go to an internal website to locate information on specific job functions, company programs and industry news. Systems training also is done in house, courtesy of a large information technology staff from corporate headquarters. New hires are expected to complete a two- to three-week training course before they start work.

Senior staff meets on a daily basis to review trends, contracts and sales. The sales team, too, is expected to provide a daily general account overview and is trained by Wecksler and Chris Collopy, who serves as vice president. Im not a believer in outside trainers, admits Wecksler.

He also has made a conscious effort to put together a salesforce that lacks uniform industry experience. I hired many industry vets when I first arrived here, but weve since taken a fresh approach to our sales efforts, Wecksler says. Were hiring new talent and have had enormous success. We want thinkers, not robots.

All this is accomplished on a modest budget for now. Were a small company right now, so you have to put it in context, says Wecksler. But the systems weve purchased and the people we train are extremely proficient. We approach training from a retailers perspective but have the uniform expertise. Its a new way to look at it, and it works.

Red the Uniform Tailor (RTUT) With more than 100 employees, this New Jersey-based company may not be your average dealer, but it can appreciate the dilemma all retailers face regarding training cost. The biggest problem we face is when we take the time and spend the dollars necessary to train, and then someone leaves and we have to start all over again, says Harvey Klein, president.

Still, it is a cost Klein is willing to absorb. Poorly trained people cost you more than well-trained ones, because it impacts your bottom line, he believes. Because the pace of business is faster nowadays, training is more important than ever.

Not only is everyone trained at RTUT, but they are cross-trained as well. At each different level, each group of employees can do a variety of different tasks, says Klein. This is important because if someone is out sick, on disability or if someone abruptly leaves, the impact to productivity is minimal.

On the factory level, the company hires line employees who are seasoned textile workers, but they must complete an aptitude test as a condition of employment. They need to know basic English and math and have the ability to follow directions, adds Klein.

While the company has not yet instituted an online training program, it has developed a fairly complex system of hierarchical in-house training, with the top tier employees training the next level under, and that group training those under it. We make a concerted effort to keep senior people out of the training process for the lower levels, says Klein. Weve found that people are intimidated by bosses and do better with peers. No formal training manual exists, but there are written job descriptions and expectations at each level.

RTUT relies on an outside consultant to provide its senior people with the training needed to change and grow the business. This training can take place on site or it can be provided off location in a classroom setting.

The companys future plans include developing a more comprehensive training approach for its sales force. We need to do a better job on the basics, like cold calling and face-to-face presentations, and were researching the possibilities at this moment, says Klein.

Greco Apparel This family-owned business employs 35 people and supplies manufacturing services to the industry, including product development, patterns, cut-and-make, and trim. Because it is a virtual corporation, no formal training program exists; however, its president, Joseph Greco, has taken the steps necessary to move the company from an entrepreneurial to a professional base.

Recognizing that not everyone is good at every task, Greco Apparel utilizes a variety of tools to ensure employees are properly trained, including off-site courses, on-site instruction and professional training for senior staff. It generally recruits personnel with industry or systems expertise and train them to fit the companys business model. To manage employee expectations, it has both an employee and office manual.

Greco Apparel also works with outside consultants. Its important to remain objective, particularly for family businesses, says Greco. And while this and other measures can be costly, its not the companys greatest expense. Whats the cost of not doing it? asks Greco. If you can gain one client or retain several others, its worth it.

Each manager at Greco Apparel is responsible for approximately five employees, and he or she is deemed successful when each worker succeeds. How is this measured? We strive to adhere to our mission statement, which has at its core a goal to delight our customers, says Greco. We do this by listening to them and ensuring on-time delivery. So, to be judged successful, we look to see what percentage of our products was delivered on time.

Greco likens training to growth. No, I dont know of any company that shouldnt be considering a growth plan, he says when asked whether companies should train employees. The world moves too fast now, so you must develop a culture that will develop the company and its people.

NAUMD At the helm of the association for one year, NAUMDs Richard Lerman has the formidable task of preparing his members to deal with a customer base that is dramatically different in demeanor than what was the norm for previous generations. How do you provide service and build relationships with customers who dont want to talk with you? he questions. The Gen X and Y group can come into your store and make a purchase without ever hanging up their cell phone or turning off their iPod. Dealers need to understand thats it a whole new world, and thats why training is so important.

According to Lerman, who serves as the trade groups president, successful dealers will have to service their base in different ways and be open to an arsenal of tools designed to improve the customer experience. Some retail chains have started experimenting with in-store computer stations, much like you would find at your local library, he says. With a few clicks, a customer can find what he wants, pay for it and have it brought to him by an employee.

For its part, the association has tackled the challenges head on, sponsoring regional seminars designed to educate members on new training practices and sales techniques. Plans are also in the works to offer its members customer service training at reduced rates. The onus is on the retailer to provide an experience that is pleasant and different than what customers can find online, reminds Lerman. Training is absolutely imperative nowadays, and were working to find creative solutions to meet our members concerns.

Wisdom from the Field So the message is clear; all companies big or small, dealer or manufacturer, startup or multiple generations old need to develop and implement some kind of employee training program. Can you afford to? You cant afford not to.

What is the first step in designing a training program? Barrett says each company should get to know your business before doing anything. Be a true partner and involve the business leaders and subject matter experts in the process, Barrett says. Be open to feedback and be prepared to change and editand change and edit again.

Greco agrees. Determine where you want to be and where you are now. If youre doing $10 million in sales and just breaking even, then you need to do more. And train everyone. Each employee needs to know what is expected of him.

Klein advises, If youre on a budget, train your customer support people first. They arent necessarily the highest-paid employees, but they get the work done theyre important to your business.

Wecksler offers some advice for those just getting started developing an employee training program. Take advantage of the Internet by doing research, and talk to others in the industry to find out what theyre doing. Good programs dont have to be expensive, but you have to know who you are.

Lastly, recognize that change is not only good but necessary to grow your business. Lerman says, Talk to your salespeople and customer service people on the floor, and remind them not to be frustrated with the new ways of doing business. Provide a script as a guide. Train your employees to treat customers the way they want to be treated, even if its not how you expect to treat them.

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Spring & Summer 2007 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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