By Ken Ryan
It’s no secret that retail training is critical to maintaining a competitive advantage in flooring. That certainly holds true during heady economic times but especially now when face-to-face training opportunities may be difficult to execute.
However, thanks to the multitude of digital formats available, online training in all its permutations has allowed industry manufacturers, associations and buying groups to stay connected with flooring retailers.
Following is an overview of the various alternative training initiatives the industry offers.
Alliance Flooring, Inc.
With its biennial Summit canceled this summer due to COVID-19, Alliance Flooring staged Connect 2020, a virtual buying and networking event for members (see page 3). The conference was held over a two-week period and featured live presentations from suppliers. Content was also made available on-demand for those dealers who were unable to watch the event live.
“Connect2020 provided a way for our members to feel plugged in to the group, take advantage of some great buys, and acquire some education and training on new products,” said David Ellis, Alliance Flooring marketing director. “Members saw value in being able to stay connected during this unique and challenging business environment.”
CCA Global Partners University
An educated sales professional can be the No. 1 asset in your business. That’s according to Nicole Harding, vice president, CCA Global University.
Harding explained that while product knowledge and selling techniques are typically CCA’s main focus, during this pandemic the group added essential skills to the mix and focused on different audiences.
- Safety training. “We put an immediate emphasis on safety for all staff, showrooms and in-home personnel. We make sure our team is able to stay up to date and comfortable in an ever-changing environment. Safety training for our installation teams has been critical.”
- Business consulting. “We have always offered a host of business engagements from small one-on-ones to onsite collaborations. This activity has ramped up tenfold with focus on local and state regulations, business preparedness, staffing, etc. Keeping the business open and flourishing for the team and the customer is vital.”
- Virtual approach. Selling, showcasing, purchasing, designing and training on all online platforms. “Our RSAs have adapted so quickly and continue to learn and share successes in this arena.”
- Mobile outreach. Keeping all of its training within reach and in bite-sized chunks, CCA has equipped its teams with Mobile Online University and added video to the mix.
The Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA) is an international association of distributors, manufacturers and allied professionals of ceramic tile and related products dedicated to connecting, educating and strengthening tile and stone distributors. CTDA said it believes education is vital to the success of the workforce.
To that end, the association offers several educational products and programs available at special member discounts. The range of CTDA educational programs include: webinars, Certified Ceramic tile Specialist certification (CCTS), online education sessions, Tile Training in a Box and informative brochures.
Whether you’d like to introduce a new employee to the tile industry or educate customers on the color/shade variances found in tile, the CTDA can provide the right tools for success.
Onsite dealer trainings, which were scheduled to return to Mohawk University in 2020, were delayed due to COVID-19. But the show will go on. “We had great interest and sign-ups,” said Brandon Leslie, director of sales training and development. “We are in the process of planning for it to go virtual next year.”
The trainings will allow flooring dealers to spend valuable time with Mohawk personnel virtually, enabling retailers to gain in-depth knowledge of Mohawk products. “We will give them personal attention,” Leslie explained. “We have a lot to offer and will be as thorough as possible.”
NWFA University, The National Wood Flooring Association’s online learning platform, offers comprehensive training for wood flooring sales associates to give them the information and knowledge they need to sell real wood floors with confidence. The sales curriculum includes 38 individual courses organized into nine different learning paths. Each learning path leads to the earning of a digital badge, which is what distinguishes NWFA University.
Digital badges are graphic images that represent a learned skill, but in NWFA’s case they also contain metadata verifying the recipient’s proficiency with that skill. These digital badges can be shared publicly on social media platforms, websites and emails to market the sales associate’s expertise.
Arming RSAs with the tools needed to properly educate consumers on the benefits of real wood is key in today’s market, given the fierce competition from look-alike products.
“There is a tremendous amount of consumer confusion about what is vs. what is not a real wood floor,” said Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO. “Consumers often are lured with promises of water- proof or maintenance-free floor- ing options that look like wood, but are not wood, then are surprised to learn that the imitation floors they purchased do not offer the long-term value or durability of real wood floors. Quite simply, the vast majority of flooring failures could be avoided at the point of sale. In many cases, it’s a matter of sell- ing the wrong product for the wrong environment.”
Shaw Floors has created a product consulting role to contribute to the success of its dealers. By possessing a thorough understanding of Shaw’s products, dedicated product consultants for each residential brand are tasked with training retail customers on how to most effectively sell Shaw products to consumers. Shaw is doing this by utilizing the latest technology and video platforms.
“We’re also offering tutorials and suggested best practices to any customers who need education or assistance on how to leverage this technology for their own in-house training or even contact-free customer consultations,” said Morgan Obey, digital engagement manager, Shaw Industries.
The product consulting team is also responsible for creating original video training content that Shaw dealers can access 24/7 on ShawNow, in addition to hosting monthly (and complimentary) “LIVE Learning Workshops” that customers and their staff can attend.
According to Obey, Shaw to date has hosted 117 LIVE learning workshops with well over 22,000 registered attendees. “We’re committed to the success of our customers, and we’re constantly seeking new ways to provide engaging, relevant and meaningful con- tent to support their business.”
Earlier this year, the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) offered free membership to all primary members (professional flooring dealers, inspectors, cleaners, designers), with the goal of uniting industry voices to combat the installation crisis. WFCA now offers a tiered-membership format for others that is more conducive to their individual business needs.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the WFCA quickly pivoted to focus on the emerging needs of its members and the industry as a whole. It has led the way in providing a crisis communications effort offering guidance and resources on how to best navigate the complicated terrain. This includes leveraging its unique position in the industry and long-standing relationships in Washington D.C., to ensure that its voice is heard as relief legislation is crafted.
The WFCA has hosted a series of timely retail survival webinars this year whereby attendees can hear from some of the industry’s leading retailers on how they are achieving success as well as preparing for the future in a COVID-19-altered world. What’s more, every Friday during the pandemic WFCA CEO Scott Humphrey hosted a leadership forum geared to retail management. As well, WFCA continues to offer training modules on its websites, with 154 sessions dedicated to both sales and management—at no charge. In addition, WFCA training consultant Tom Jennings has continued his popular “Tom’s Tips” videos on sales training.
“We’re doing what an association is supposed to do,” Jennings said. “I’m proud of the work the WFCA has done.”