GUESS FINDS ‘HYBRID’ TRAINING HIKES SALES

Byline: Denise Power

LOS ANGELES — Sales productivity is up 20 to 30 percent and store manager turnover has plummeted 80 percent in a year, due in part to a multifaceted training and development regimen under way at Guess here.
Through a combination of technologies, such as video/CD-ROM instruction and shopper-tracking software, and interactive group training exercises, Guess is motivating and measuring the performance of sales associates, and the leadership skills of managers.
Andy Romeo, vice president of training operations, said Guess’s strong fashion offerings play into those sales-productivity results, but even the best styles won’t sell themselves. Store staff have to be well educated on the finer points and trained to interact effectively with shoppers.
He eschews off-the-shelf computer-based training packages that pair a trainee with a terminal, alone, for lengthy periods of time. Romeo favors a hybrid approach that is one part customized video training modules, which sales associates view as a group, and one part group exercises, where associates head out to the salesfloor to demonstrate, hands-on, that they’ve digested the training material on delivered via video.
“Because of the environment we are in, I do not believe training alone is good. We need to develop social skills at every level,” he said. “Every day we deal with customers and build relationships one-on-one with people, and so the training needs to mirror that.” Romeo, who reports directly to Guess’s president, co-chairman and co-chief executive officer, Paul Marciano, said many of the new training and development measures were put in place a year ago.
The company has achieved the impressive sales improvements and reversed poor staff retention statistics, by giving store employees the information they need to succeed, delivered in a manner that appeals to their learning styles.
Most Guess store associates are 18 to 25 years old, “and as a population, they hate big manuals and love MTV,” he explained. With that in mind, training initiatives are designed to be “slick, fun and brief, but full of necessary content.” The company has teamed up with Multimedia Plus here, which produces video training for sales associates and CD-ROM-based leadership and management training modules for managers.
A critical component of the training and development process is reinforcement through compensation and performance-assessment systems, he added. Guess tracks each associate’s sales performance via the point of sale and relates it to the shopper-to-buyer conversion rates.
The company is able to calculate conversion rates on a continual, store-by-store basis by monitoring shopper traffic with software from ShopperTrak, Ridgewood, N.J. The system, which integrates with the POS system, takes actual counts of shoppers entering and exiting the store. Guess stores have been using it for about a year.
“But ‘conversion’ is a highfalutin concept,” Romeo said. “Nobody really understands ‘return on investment’ and conversion rates, but what they do understand is how can I add value to the business.” So rather than have managers give employee goals to improve what is an amorphous store conversion rate, managers can zero in on the individual’s conversion rate.
Managers can say to an associate: “My history says you are at five transactions per hour and I would like you to try and hit six.” By continuing to monitor performance in this way, a manager can later approach the same employee and acknowledge the efforts, saying, “Great job. You did seven transactions in an hour. How about shooting for eight?”
Guess calls this “power hour coaching,” when managers encourage sales staff to devote all their time to helping customers during peak selling periods. Sales managers learn about this management technique and others through classroom seminars. The leadership and management training material is captured on CD-ROM, also produced by Multimedia Plus, so store managers can review it later on their laptops.

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