But that doesn't mean training isn't important. In fact, the busier a store or shop gets, the more important training becomes.
Something's gotta give, and it's not gonna be lunch. Everyone's time is crunched, so if something has to go, it's usually training.
It's an unfortunate lesson of store life: As stores become busier - and add additional hours - training becomes a more important and vital part of the aftermarket's professional development. But when faced with the demands of the 'do more with less' philosophy in today's business world, training is often a casualty.
"In comparing our industry to other store and retail businesses, it would appear that the aftermarket devotes less time and resources to proper orientation and training of employees than other industries," said Mike Phillips, vice president of organizational development for Genuine Parts Co., a member of the NAPA distribution group.
What is your own business' level of training dedication? According to Phillips, several revealing questions will point out a store's commitment to training. Ask yourself:
What percentage of payroll in your store is devoted to training?
Is training an allowable expense in your store's profit and loss structure? Or, is it managed to be minimized?
Are annual investments in training increasing or decreasing?
When was the last time an employee at your store completed a formal training program?
Unfortunately, the answers to these questions will probably indicate that most stores put a low level of importance on training. This situation is not industry wide, with the best run stores putting a heavy emphasis on employee training.
"Thankfully, there are store owners and managers out there who can show the evidence of utilizing a good training program," said Phillips. "They are the ones who prove this generalization wrong and are very dedicated to providing quality training using the training tools and resources available to them. We just need more of them."
Phillips is right - the industry does need more store owners and shop managers who put a heavy emphasis on training. But often it comes down to a matter of time.
Or does it?
When it comes to stores claiming they have no time to train, Mike Sires of Parts Plus University says that's just an excuse.
"We'll do training whenever they want: weekends, nights or days. It's never the right time," said Sires.
Sires says those stores that think they don't have enough time to train are exactly the kinds of stores that need training the most. According to Sires, those stores that aren't good at managing time usually aren't so good at managing other things like profit and inventory.
Nevertheless, even these kinds of stores wouldn't argue that training improves the skills of everyone in the supply chain, from counter professionals, outside sales reps and WD personnel to the technician customers they service. Training helps improve efficiency, customer service and sales skills. It just takes time.
Time, however, can be the issue, whether real or perceived, and finding the time to train can be a problem when everyone is busy serving customers, making sales calls and running a business. Finding the time really rests with the store or shop management.
"Having an emphasis on proper orientation and training requires the owner or manager to be very committed to seeing that the resources are available and that employees follow through with completion of the training," said Phillips. "Management must talk about it, they must encourage employees and schedule time on the job to complete it, and they must follow-up on what was learned. Without management's focus on this, it rarely occurs properly if left to the individual employee's motivation."
Sires agreed, but added that it's also important for the entire store team to buy into the concept of training. Sires says stores can incentivize employees to train, but only if it's tied to real gains in store efficiency.
"Incentivizing store employees is wonderful, as long as it's tied to store profitability," said Sires.
There are many sources of training available in the industry to both the store and the technician, such as through distribution group programs like the NAPA Institute of Automotive Technology (NIAT), Parts Plus University and CARQUEST Technical Institute.
Most national and regional retailers such as Advance Auto Parts and Murray's Discount Auto Parts have good training programs as well. Trainers and training developers within these organizations understand the time crunch everyone is under, so many have put extra emphasis on training programs that can be done in a short amount of time, away from the workplace and at one's one pace.
One of the easiest ways to solve the time shortage problem is through the many self-study programs that are available in the market. These courses are self-paced and can be done anytime and just about any place.
Product knowledge and sales skills often go hand-in-hand, especially when it comes to technical areas. Effective selling starts with effective training. Often these programs are created by the manufacturer. Dayco, for example, has developed self-paced study guides designed specifically for store employees who want to improve their sales skills. The courses, called Power Selling, are available in both paper and CD ROM formats.
"Once a counter professional is done with a chapter, they are better equipped with the knowledge to move more product," said Stacy Griggs, director of sales operations for Dayco. Griggs was instrumental in the development of Dayco's Power Selling courses, which debuted in 1992.
As for the time crunch, store employees and managers will appreciate one rule Griggs considers important for a successful training program: Keep them short and concise.
"You can't make (training programs) really long," he said. "If it's too long, it will turn people off. The CD course, for example, can be completed in just 45 minutes."
A half-hour to 45-minute training program seems about right for those trying to fit training in during the work day or after hours. Dayco's Power Selling series is typical of other manufacturer-provided self-study courses, some of which are listed on pages 28-35 of this month's issue. Ask your field reps about such training programs; they are nearly always free.
Of course, the trick with self-study courses is determining if the employee really did complete the training. Many of these self-study courses include a test at the end. In the case of the Dayco Power Selling series, store employees can take the test and then print out a certificate, which will prove to management that the course was successfully completed.
One of the benefits of program group membership is access to the program's training, which is usually developed for both the technician and the store. Program groups, whether their training is internally developed or outsourced, are one of the best sources for store and shop training, and many offer a wide variety of programs to meet the growing educational needs of its members and customers. NAPA's NIAT, for example, offers self-paced training programs, as well as internet-based lessons that can be completed in less than 30 minutes. For more information on NIAT, visit www.niat-training.com.
Such interactive, web-based learning is a good way to maximize learning in a short amount of time - as long as the employees actually complete the courses. These on-line courses can be done anytime and offer the kinds of interactive features that video or books cannot, making learning more fun and more effective.
NIAT on-line lessons, for example, are fully narrated making learning easier, even for those who would rather listen than read. It offers the kinds of features that traditional paper-and-pencil training cannot. There are additional illustrations, quizzes and video clips that add action to each lesson.
Federated's training program is outsourced and offers a variety of training media (self-study, web-based, video, iCD, CD and the more traditional leader-led) to train, making it easier to fit training into busy schedules. Those interested in Federated's training programs, which are developed by Aspire, should visit www.delphi-iss.com/federated.
As stated, many manufacturers offer training programs for both counter and sale personnel, as well as technicians. Pages 28-35 contain information on training programs and how stores can take advantage of them - as long as they make the time.
Eight Tips to Better Training
If you arrange to offer live, hands-on classroom training for either store personnel or your technician customers, there are some rules to live by. Here are some real-world tips for running a training program everyone
Pre-heat or pre-cool the room. Remember that the more people you have in a room, the warmer it will be.
Set up the room "classroom style." Order any audio/visual equipment the instructor might need. Don't rely on the instructor to have everything, like extra-long extension cords.
Set up tables in the back of the room for literature.
Ask each attendee to fill out an anonymous evaluation form. Read them all, and take their comments seriously.
A representative from the store or WD should be present for the entire class. Interact with attendees during the breaks - this is your opportunity to develop relationships with customers.
Give out door prizes during the breaks.
Distribute diplomas at the completion of the class.
Always follow up with thank-you letters.