For years I’ve watched an industry where scores of seats in educational seminars aimed at retailers have been left vacant. Realizing that there is no shortage of first-class instruction in this industry, the fact remains that there is a greater need for instruction today than ever before.
To gain some insight into this situation, we invited Brian Gracon of Brian Gracon & Associates to talk about education in the flooring industry. Gracon has been in the training business for 22 years, designing training strategies, consulting, managing training projects and in the process designing and presenting more than 75 training programs. You can listen to this conversation in its entirety is available on floortrendsmag.com/media/podcasts. Following are excerpts for that conversation.
TF: What’s your take on why more retailers don’t take advantage of the training offered to them?
Gracon: I have heard many reasons over the years, such as they can’t afford the time away from the sales floor to go to a training program, or maybe they question the quality of the training program, thinking it was just a lecture, where they feel they can read a book on the subject. Many times, it’s a vendor product knowledge session, and only about the product and not about how it translates to what it does for the retailer, the salesperson, or most of all, the consumer. There are good reasons why they don’t go, but there are really bad reasons if it keeps them from improving and eventually making more money.
We’re at the beginning of the football season again, and I recently read about two NFL players, one a receiver for the New York Giants who signed a contract for $95 million with a $41 million guarantee and the other one was Aaron Rogers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers who signed a contract for $134 million with a $102 million guarantee. If they were in the flooring business, I wonder if they would say, “You know, I’ve been doing this a long time. I’m the best at what I do. I don’t really need any more training, so I’m going to stop going to practice. I don’t really need to listen to my coaches to try to improve. And, I’m also going to use the same game plan and call the same plays that we ran last week because they worked for me in the past, so I really don’t need to go through the sweat and bother of going to training and have the coaches yell at me and all that sort of thing. In addition, I’ve got all of that guaranteed money. It’s time to relax.”
If you think about that perspective, they don’t do that. The reason for getting those contracts and being the best at what they do is because they do train every day and try to improve every day because the competition is improving every day. They are going after it to get even better in spite of the big contracts and guaranteed money. In the retail flooring business, people have lots of reasons why they choose not to go to educational programs, work on training and improving their skills, but that’s a prescription for failure eventually, because the competition can be getting better every day, but you’re not. Using the football players as examples, I think it’s incumbent upon retailers to sponsor salespeople to go after education to help them get better because that’s how they can make more money. Not staying the way you are.
TF: Do you think the floor covering industry is unique in not taking advantage of educational opportunities?
Gracon: In my experience, the flooring industry is not unique. Across many types of businesses large and small, most people have to be dragged to educational programs. It’s either, “We’ve just installed new software and everyone has to learn to operate it,” or it’s substantively good marketing that is done to convince those people that the training will be valuable. That even includes using new and different technologies to deliver educational programs rather than having to sit in a classroom and listen to something.
TF: How would you peg the actual reason many turn their backs on education events in the industry?
Gracon: There is a very large need out there, and in many cases, an unrecognized need. If you don’t know what you could become or how you could be better, it’s easy enough to say, “I’m good enough.” You may not see the competition at play every day. It’s the customer who does not buy from you after walking into your store. You are not sure if they bought from somebody else, or they just chose not to buy, or if they bought a widescreen TV.
TF: People seem to take advantage of seminars at TISE but not after. Why is that?
Gracon: TISE educational events take place in conjunction with a much larger show, and there are lots of reasons to be at that show, including its location, the opportunity to see new products, to network with other retailers, and the educational program happens in conjunction with all this. It’s very convenient for the people who would be going to the show anyway to participate in the educational program.
It you think about what is good about the program, it’s because it curated. We normally think of museums having curators—the ones who select what is put on display for the people who go through the museum. The programs at TISE are curated in terms of the topics that are selected, who the speakers are, how the sessions are presented and if they are interactive.
They focus on the attendees, not on the speaker or the speaker’s products. In essence, that has earned the trust of attendees, so they are well attended and have great impact. That is an element that is missing with many programs.
TF: What is your vision of where we are going with training in the future?
Gracon: The classical model educational programs offered a central location, and everyone travels to that location for training. That will be less attractive as we go forward. This is true because technology gives us different options: live webinars, programed e-learning, which can be done at the student’s convenience. There are platforms available which offer subscriptions. The subscriber tells the service what types of information they are interested in and the service will send links to topics of interest.