Product Knowledge Training
By Jeff Olson, Art Education Director
A love of art materials is one of the primary reasons many of your associates are attracted to the idea of working in your store. Feeding that passion and encouraging continued learning not only rewards their enthusiasm but helps to build your business.
1. Literature and videos are important, but hands-on is always best
There is an abundance of excellent support materials available for most products in your store including manufacturer brochures, books, online resources, and YouTube videos. Nothing however replaces the importance of hands-on experience. Get product into the hands of your staff whenever possible. Whether it’s a demonstration in the store or samples you can give out, the experience they have first-hand with the product will build interest and enthusiasm.
2. Make product knowledge training part of the daily routine
There are many effective ways to incorporate product knowledge training into your daily schedule. Where products are located in the store and knowing the scale of the store’s assortment is the first step for new associates. Assign product knowledge tasks in your daily action plans. Have staff keep a log of both common and unique customer product questions.
3. Staff meetings should always include product training
Making product knowledge a part of every store meeting is essential. It’s something staff will look forward to and encourages better attendance and participation. You can introduce new products and go over promotional items being featured in the upcoming month. Assign a different staff person to present a product at each meeting. Make it fun and engaging, use a trivia game format, give out prizes of product samples, or hold a “White Elephant” exchange.
4. Seek out vendor/manufacturer support
Good vendors are partners in your continued success. All have excellent product information and support materials. Many have a team of artists who can be part of your store demo and workshop events. They are often more than happy to attend store staff meetings and provide hands-on training with your teams. Create an ongoing dialog with your vendors that includes product knowledge support.
5. Host a regular demo/workshop program
Holding regular events in your store creates an exciting and inspirational environment for your customers. It gives you an edge over online sellers by providing an engaging shopping experience. It also gives your staff an opportunity for product training. They see the product in action in the hands of accomplished artists. When they are encouraged, hearing about products from a diverse group of professionals inspires them to learn more and feeds their own artistic ambitions.
6. Set up try-me tables
If your store space doesn’t allow for larger demos, or even if it does, creating small product try-me tables or work stations can encourage both staff and customer engagement. They should be visible, place them in an engaging space, not in a corner or out of the way. Assign a different associate the task of setting up the table each day. The product assortment should change daily. Keep it clean, a messy or neglected space isn’t inviting and only gathers dust. Include sampling on sales event days or for featured promotional merchandise.
7. Focus on Features and Benefits
While it’s great to know all the specific details about a product, customers want to know what it will do for them, or more specifically how it will help them achieve their goals as an artist. Staff need to know how each physical quality or feature of a product translates into the benefits for its use.
8. In your own words
Rather than give your staff a script of responses to product questions, its best to encourage direct experience with product and product knowledge tools that encourage associates to use their own words. Not only does this increase retention and memory, but it makes for a more meaningful interaction for both the associate and the customer. During training sessions, whether it’s one-on-one or in a meeting, have associates translate material information into their own words. Encourage them to share their own experiences with the materials. Have staff role play with each other at meetings.
9. Designate product knowledge gurus
Every store has a product guru, the person that everyone goes to for product knowledge questions. Reinforce these roles and encourage diversity. While everyone should have a broad understanding of your assortment, it’s also good to have “experts” for each category. Creating a zone offense reinforces product knowledge in this way. Create a mentoring program in your store with assistant managers and senior staff.
10. Feedback is essential
Reinforcing what is shared is essential to any type of learning and leadership. Give positive feedback timely and often, don’t just wait for a review. When you see a successful interaction between an associate and customer, let them know. Post the names of your product gurus and their area of expertise for staff and customers to see. Poor or inaccurate information will ultimately result in customer dissatisfaction. Encourage questions, staff should feel comfortable admitting they don’t know something.
11. Incorporate Social Media
Most of your staff are on social media. Encourage them to post information about the products they use and learn about. Share pictures of the materials with their art work. Create hashtags (or use established ones) that promote your store and the product. Sharing their experiences builds upon their product knowledge, encourages dialog, promotes your stores, and helps them to establish themselves as serious artists in the community.
12. Product training never ends
No one knows everything, and everyone can learn something new. After 20 years in the art material industry, a master’s degree in fine arts and a decade of university teaching experience, I’m still learning more every time I engage artists about their passion for materials. The retail art materials store environment can provide a tremendous amount of learning, often beyond what is learned in a formal educational setting. The reason for this is not only the availability of a wide assortment of materials, but the interaction you have with other store team members, vendors and manufacturers, and especially with customers. The sharing of information between artists, both aspiring and professional, is a genuinely unique and special environment for learning.
Benefits of a Successful Product Knowledge Program
· Product knowledge builds staff confidence
· Improves add-on sales and increases the overall average sale in your store
· Staff gravitate toward products they know most about when making recommendations to customers
· Staff with good product knowledge develop better overall customer service skills
· A knowledgeable store team strengthens and builds long lasting customer relationships
· Staff who find value in your educational programs become strong advocates for your store
Jeff Olson is a working artist exhibiting for more than 25 years. He taught university studio art and art history for almost a decade. He has been working in the arts material industry since 1998 with Utrecht Art Supplies as a Store Manager, Regional Manager and VP of Store Operations, and with Blick Art Materials as a District Manager. He has been working as the Art Education Director for Royal Talens since January of 2017 where he supervises the Art Education Program and the Ambassador Program.
Royal Talens Art Education Program provides retail partners with in-store staff training, customer demos and workshops, on-campus lectures in support of school outreach and sales efforts, participation in local and regional store sponsored events, support for store promotions, product samples, and product resources and literature. For more information, contact Jeff Olson at email@example.com.