Everyone looks forward to the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, with an emphasis on crazy for spa retailers. In the pool and spa industry, summer is the busiest time of year which means hiring extra help to keep up with increased store traffic. Enter the seasonal spa salesperson. More often than not, this is a junior or senior in high school or a college student on summer break with little, if any, retail experience.
How much time should you invest in training these employees who will be gone in a couple of months? As it turns out, training seasonal employees is about quality, not quantity (sound familiar?). Whether your seasonal staff numbers two or ten, these tips will ensure they are ready for the summer sales floor.
Tip #1: Start Early
According to Aqua Magazine, when it comes to hiring summer help, spa retailers often find themselves in a Catch-22 situation: “Seasonal staffers are hired to help with the busy season but the busy season is too hectic for adequate training.” One solution is to provide training before the season begins. Since many summer hires are students on break, start interviews over the winter break then do a training session over spring break. For the holiday season, train in late summer and early fall, and remember to give summer people first shot at holiday jobs and jobs next summer, as well.
Since many summer hires are students on break, start interviews over the winter break then do a training session over spring break.
Aqua Quip General Manager John Antilla says, “We try to [line up summer help] over the winter holiday season. They can come in and interview over the holidays and we’ll try to get the job lined up at that point so they have a plan. Or sometimes we bring these kids in during spring break and get a week of training under their belt before the season starts.”
At the very least, you can provide summer hires with training materials in advance to help them prepare for their first day on the job. Resources like training checklists to track the skills they’ve learned, store maps of product locations, and calendars with busy dates, store promotions, and the like help them prepare for their first day on the job. Furnishing them with as much written information as possible in advance gives seasonal salespeople a picture of what the job looks like when the store is busy so they can be ready.
Tip #2: Basic Product Knowledge
Take a minute to teach them about the job and the company. Start by giving seasonal employees the low-down on who’s who in the store, what products are offered and company ideology, mission and goals. They don’t need to know everything, but they do need to know the fundamentals such as the anatomy of a spa and water chemistry basics:
- This is a spa
- This is how a spa works
- This is how filtration works
- This is how chemicals are used to balance the water
Kirk Jenkins at Pool and Spa Center in Rapid City, SD emphasizes the importance of understanding product options as well. For instance, “Many people don’t realize that they have options other than chlorine, such as bromide, for conditioning water.” Simple details like this are important aspects of product knowledge.
Jenkins also recommends utilizing manufacturer resources. They often offer training programs and webinars you can use to train your seasonal staff. Jenkins and Antilla use the One Source Connect online training program offered by Bioguard. It introduces the employee to Bioguard products, covers basic water chemistry and provides quizzes to test product knowledge. It’s something the seasonal hires can do on their own which means managers spend less time in training while employees still gain the necessary knowledge to do the job effectively.
Seasonal salespeople don’t need to know everything, but they do need to know the fundamentals such as the anatomy of a spa and water chemistry basics.
Jenkins says that there is an additional benefit of the online training in that it keeps employees on the same page so that “customers aren’t hearing one thing from one employee and something different from another.”
Tip #3: Basic Sales Techniques
Basic sales techniques are another important part of training seasonal employees. These are easy skills that rely a great deal on common sense, and because seasonal workers are often the first face a customer sees, it’s important those workers know how to interact with the customers:
- Greet customers within 30 seconds of store entry: “Good Morning,” “Good afternoon,” “How are you?” and “What brings you in today?” are good options.
- Observe the 10-foot rule: Whenever an employee comes within 10 feet of a customer, they must acknowledge that customer. It could be something as simple as saying “hello,” making eye contact, and smiling or giving a head nod. Friendly gestures show customers that they are important to you and make them feel more comfortable approaching you with questions.
- Show don’t tell: If a customer asks where something is, take them directly to that product rather than just saying “back in the corner” and pointing.
- Listen thoughtfully: Jenkins teaches listening and giving thoughtful responses as key skills when training seasonal staff. He cites a recent example in his store of a customer who came in for bottled water (a service his store provides). The salesperson listened to the customer’s needs and asked appropriate questions (water source, pool/spa type, why they were using the bottled water). The customer ended up purchasing a reverse osmosis machine, which not only meant they would no longer need to lug around huge water bottles, but it also translated to future sales for Jenkins’ store. Granted, a seasonal employee may not have the skills to complete a transaction such as this, but they could have the necessary product knowledge to make a recommendation and then bring in a more experienced salesperson to secure the purchase.
- Ask the right questions: Teach seasonal staff to avoid asking customers if they need anything else. Instead, train them to suggest a sister item they might need or an upgrade they might appreciate: “This cover is a great choice for your outdoor spa. You can get it with an automatic lift feature as well.”
- Demonstrate the right way: Many spa retailers believe hands-on is the best way to train their seasonal employees. Jenkins does this through job shadowing and mentoring. He pairs seasonal workers with more experienced employees for on-the-job training. Following a salesperson through the process of greeting a customer to making a sale or watching a water test from start to finish a few times lets them see how to do the job correctly. When they do it themselves, their mentors are there to observe them and offer advice to ensure their success.
Tip #4: Promote Excitement and Enthusiasm
Jenkins wants his seasonal employees to be excited and resourceful. His goal is for them to come across as the person a customer can to go to for advice and assistance and feel good about the experience. How do you, as employer and trainer, generate that excitement and enthusiasm on the job? You can start by gamifying your training. Here are a few simple games to make training more fun:
- Product Jeopardy: Create a Jeopardy board with categories like prices, features, specifications and so on to help develop product knowledge
- Unique Products: Trainees are each given a color, a letter of the alphabet or some other intangible item which they must sell to fellow trainees. They have to explain why their unique product is a better buy than the others. The purpose is to develop sales pitch and think creatively.
- Product Pursuit: Each trainee is given a list of products and trainees race to see who can find them first and fastest. It’s a fun way to teach store setup and merchandise locations.
For college students, another way to build enthusiasm is to give them a chance to incorporate their career goals. Let management majors spend time working with the store manager, marketing majors with the marketing manager, and so forth. This is also a great way to keep them coming back for another season.
More Than Seasonal Help
Antilla says “a lot of people tend to view training as a necessary evil and so they stop short. If I look back at the most successful summer people we have, managers really invested in those people early and often.” One way to value your seasonal employees is to stop thinking of them as just “summer help.” Train them right and treat them right and they’ll come back next season. You can create “seasoned” seasonal help with small bonuses, involvement with company activities, and simply treating them like part of the family.