For the most part, people who purchase outdoor equipment and clothing want to understand how and why a particular item of clothing or piece of gear will help them accomplish their goals in the wild or on the ranch. They want to know how it’s made, why it’s better, and why it’s a good value to them.
Customers expect a sophisticated level of product knowledge from sales personnel at outdoor retailers that is head and shoulders above what is expected at fashion retailers.
Add a breadth of farm, ranch, and home equipment, and sales associates need to become walking encyclopedias to get the job done. That’s why we’re thrilled to highlight a company we believe is ahead of the curve in the retail industry: Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply.
Their training program is above what we’re seeing in the outdoor retail space – thanks in large part to the leadership of Murdoch’s Training Manager, Steven Potratz. We had the opportunity to visit with Steven recently about how specific training efforts have resulted in a clear and direct boost in sales. Equally important, Murdoch’s learning and development program was specifically designed to foster company culture. The result: they boast one of the lowest turnover rates in all of retail (The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average turnover rate in retail is 5%).
LMS Success in Retail: Making the case for learning & development
During our recent interview, Steven Potratz was quick to declare that his ability to enact a fresh and engaging learning and development environment came from the top. He read me a quote from founder, John Murdoch, which is on display in Steven’s office:
This isn’t just a feel-good proposition. Recent studies suggest 23 – 25 percent of employees are leaving companies because they’re not developing professionally. At Murdoch’s, they calculate the average cost of replacing an employee as equivalent to their annual salary. For them, choosing Wisetail to power their learning environment was as much about developing their team as it was about providing training to help boost sales. After looking at close to 50 learning management systems, Potratz was not impressed with the landscape.
“All of the learning management systems I researched had a similar utilitarian 1984-ish feel to them. There was no way I could advocate for investing in something that looked and felt out of date,” Potratz recalls. “Wisetail immediately caught my attention.”
The thing that stood out about Wisetail to me was that it had great design as far as ease-of-use and usability in general. It was designed well for a front-end user as well as the admins. So often you see a great front-end that is a nightmare on the backend or vice-versa,” Potratz recalls. “What also sold me was the ability of people to interact and the ability of people to create content that could be filtered before it was released to the entire population. I have a small training team so the more people can contribute, the better. Instead of the two of us in the training department, thanks to Wisetail, I have 1300 employees who can help provide training and get it into the hands of people who need it simply.”
Modernizing Learning For Better Engagement
Was Murdoch’s able to escape the 1984-ish world of outdated learning management systems? Are people engaged and actually using Guest Ranch?
Talk to anyone in retail in December and they are all slammed. In January, they’re typically recovering and revamping for a new year. But something truly remarkable happened at Murdoch’s this year. They had their two highest months of engagement ever in December and January.
“You just don’t see that kind of engagement in retail over the high volume holiday sales season,” says Potratz.
Between their launch date of September 2, 2014 and February 21, 2016, Guest Ranch had 2100 users in the system who completed a whopping 70,617 courses. That means, an average employee at Murdoch’s has completed around 30 courses on their own by far exceeding the handful of required coursework. As Potratz explains, “These numbers exceed what we originally thought possible. It shows us that people strongly desire to develop as professionals and become as knowledgeable as possible in their positions. They’re also going on there and recognizing each other for a job well done.”
Retail Case Study: A direct link from training to increased sales
In addition to professional development, employee engagement and driving culture, Murdoch’s has documented evidence of how training can be directly attributed to increased sales. Triple digit increases in sales.
Last year, they ran a training promotion with a clothing vendor. Murdoch’s asked employees to complete a training course and they would receive a free clothing item upon completion. In the month of training, Murdoch’s saw a triple digit sales increase for that item of clothing in all of their stores. They did no other promotion to increase sales – it was a positive sales increase specifically linked to training. The kicker is, the experiment resulted in a sustained double digit increase for the entire year following the month of training. Did that specific ROI surprise them?
“Yes, absolutely. I have literally worked in retail all of my life, beginning as a kid in my parents’ store. I’ve never seen that kind of training ROI in my life. It was pretty amazing and has inspired us to do even more,” Potratz explained. “It also confirmed with both management and our teams on the ground what a positive difference training can make. Beyond our doors, we are proud to share this story with other members of our buying group because it just solidifies the direct and positive results of great learning opportunities.”
Murdoch’s Winning Advice: Key takeaways from Training Manager, Steven Potratz
1. Let Your People Shape Your LMS
“The best thing we did was go out to all of our team members and asked them what they wanted to see in learning and development – prior to implementing our new Wisetail LMS. A common mistake that happens in learning and development is that management will just pick what they think people should know, instead of asking them what they want to learn. We prioritized what our team wanted to see and our engagement numbers show they appreciated that.”
2. Engaging Employees from Day One: Treat Your First Impression Like a First Date
“You always remember a first day on a new job. Typically, you are excited and eager to impress your new colleagues. You dress your best. You are a bit nervous. Then you sit down and fill out paperwork for hours. You are locked somewhere away from the action reading through a boring manual for hours. It zaps the energy and momentum out of a new hire immediately. We try to take that energy from the first day and build upon it. We have created training modules that new hires can complete at home before they set foot in a Murdoch’s store. We pay them for that time they’re training at home and make sure that all the energy that comes with the first day at work isn’t lost. We think of it like a first date on our part and we want it to leave a positive impression that keeps people wanting to come back.”
3. Think Big Picture About Standardized Coursework
“We are proud of promoting from within. Because we pay careful attention to standardizing our material, we can be more efficient and consistent in ensuring all of our team members the full information. Because of our efforts to standardize coursework, we feel confident when someone is promoted to a new store, they can hit the ground running.”