Good staff training can be the deciding factor as a business strives to reach its potential says Andrew Kitching

The independent retail sector is widely acknowledged as being in decline, with the number of convenience stores in the UK down 2% on last year. However, actual sales through UK convenience stores are reported by IGD as up 4% to £21.5bn in 2002. This amounts to 20p in every £1 spent on food in the UK, so convenience is still a critical route to market.

To capture this spend retailers need to be investing and developing their whole offering to customers to get ahead of the competition and remain profitable. Every retailer needs to have an attractive proposition - store standards always have to be high with a constantly developing package to keep customers coming back and to attract new footfall.

Retailers need to be constantly thinking about how they can improve their store. There is no room for complacency and this is where we believe that dedicated training for retailers and their staff is an invaluable tool.

Premier, Booker’s symbol group, recently introduced a free National Vocational Qualification assessment scheme for its members. As part of The Big Food Group, which works directly with the Association of Colleges to provide staff training in Iceland stores, Booker was able to arrange this service without a fee being passed on to the retailer. Premier is the first symbol group to offer free NVQ training to its members making it accessible to all Premier retailers regardless of store size, employee numbers, level or experience.

So, why is training so crucial to
the independent retailer? Well-trained staff are just as important to the local store as they are to the major multiple because bad staff can do irreparable damage to any business.

Training is an investment in driving the business forward and helping to deliver high standards. Effective training will undoubtedly empower c-store retailers and their staff to focus upon best business practices, keep up with current legislation, and ensure delivery of top level customer
service standards. This will help give their shoppers the same high standard of service every time they enter the store, giving them the confidence to return, so improving sales and profitability and helping retailers to compete against fierce competition.

The training courses offered by Premier are directly relevant to the convenience sector and are designed to fit around the retailer’s requirements. There is a full range available from a certificate in basic hygiene to advanced NVQs in retail operations and customer service - there is a course designed to suit every level of staff or owner.

A local college assessor will visit the store at a date and time that is convenient to the retailer to discuss the courses and offer full information to the store colleagues.

Once the course begins, the assessor maintains regular contact with the candidate. Course work and assessment is carried out in-store and adapted to the needs of the individual member of staff.

Through training schemes the competence of existing staff is acknowledged because these qualifications are recognised by many national organisations.

Premier believes that good training can even assist in reducing staff turnover. First, by helping to develop the loyalty of existing staff and second, by attracting a higher calibre of employee as the prospect of a structured, recognised training programme may well appeal to those who had perhaps previously only thought of working in a larger retail environment.

So, ultimately training benefits the retail sector as a whole - the independent retailer, his/her staff and the wholesaler. Through increasing standards the store develops, and in simple terms sells more, which ultimately benefits Booker - we can only succeed if independent retailers are successful. The retailer gains a knowledgeable team, who are competent and exhibit the highest standards of customer care, while the member of staff gains a nationally recognised qualification to further their career in retailing.

In today’s competitive retail sector, consumers are demanding ever-higher standards from their local c-store and the retailer needs to be aware of this. A retailer who ignores training is ignoring the full potential of the business.

n Andrew Kitching is human resources director, Booker