By Dave Workman, ProSource

As specialty retailers fight for survival in an online world, many have turned to an old strategy: reducing expenditures on employees. Over the past decade, U.S. department stores have seen a 10 percent reduction in per-store headcount, and training budgets have been reduced as well.

Let me just say this: understaffed stores and untrained salespeople has never been a good idea.

Following that strategy means you’re sidelining the biggest single advantage you have over e-tailers: a knowledgeable person whom a customer can actually speak with to make an informed purchase. The worst possible situation for a specialty retailer is to have customers walk out empty-handed because they couldn’t find a salesperson to help them with their purchases.

Another key issue I want to emphasize is the quality of your salespeople. An untrained salesperson is worse than understaffing and having no one to wait on your customers. Not only do you need to provide product training, but you also have to invest in sales training. All the knowledge in the world doesn’t help if you aren’t simultaneously trained on how to sell products through qualifying the customer and ultimately asking for the sale.

Obviously, training costs time and money. For product training, look to your vendors for support. When our buying group interviews prospective new vendors, one of the first things we ask is what education and training programs they will be offering our members.

For sales training, there are a host of companies you can turn to. Let me emphasize that sales training is all about how to ask the right questions and how to steer the customer to the right product that fits his or her budget. This is a skill that needs to be learned, but I guarantee your investment in sales training will be a prudent one. Improving the closing rate of each salesperson is like tossing a pebble in a lake: more sales equals more turns on inventory, and more turns on inventory helps you negotiate better deals and terms with your vendors. Plus, more sales means more positive word-of-mouth advertising and exposure on social media.

Understaffing and undertraining have never worked for specialty retailers. You’re only sidelining your No. 1 asset. Budget for the right level of staffing and make sure your staff is the best trained and most knowledgeable in your area. The combination will pay dividends for years to come.  

Dave Workman is President/CEO of ProSource, a cooperative, member-governed, not-for-profit buying group representing more than 550 tech retailers and custom integrators. An affiliate of YSN publisher AVB, ProSource is the largest specialty consumer electronics merchandising group in the U.S. with annual sales of over $5 billion. For more information visit www.prosourceinfo.com.