Keep on Training: Franchisor Approaches to Lifelong Learning
Printed in USA Today
by Nancy Rathbun Scott
Sitting in a car outside the client's office isn't where most franchise owners would expect to get valuable training, but that's exactly where Baltimore-based Sandler Systems does some of its best work.
The company, which provides corporate training and development, retains a coaching staff for new franchise owners. Like an athlete gearing up for the next big challenge, Sandler knows the value of having a mentor available to offer last-minute guidance and inspiration. They know effective training is a continuous process.
Sandler Systems isn't alone. Many franchisors realize that they keys to success often lie in a comprehensive instructional program that supports owners beyond the orientation modules. It takes many forms, from formal classroom instruction to a pep talk from a veteran who has "been there."
"Our franchise owners can call the coach from the car outside the client's office just to review," says Jim Sebastiano, Sandler Systems' vice president of operation.
Sebastiano says the coach goes through a brief checklist of reminders before the owner heads into the sales call. After the meeting, another call to the coach debriefs the owner. In that call, they talk about what went right and what could be improved. "That's incredibly valuable, especially to a new franchisee who's trying to learn the system," says Sebastiano.
The scoop on Val-Pak
Val-Pak Direct Marketing Systems, one of the nation's largest coupon distributors, has also found value in training that's just a phone call away. Franchise owners and their sales staffs have access to Val-Pak's Scoopline, a sales support system. The direct marketing company employs an office of professionals whose sole purpose is to support sales representatives and franchise owners.
For instance, if a hardware client carries several manufacturers' lines of product, Val-Pak staff can call Scoopline to find out which of the manufacturers offers matching funds for advertising and how the client could access them.
But Val-Pak's training goes well beyond the telephone and Internet-based Scoopline. "We believe our training programs provide a competitive advantage for our company," says Joe Bourdow, Val-Pak president.
Sales representatives have a series of training programs available. Beyond that, they matriculate at the Val-Pak academy and high achievers can move on to Coupon University and the Graduate Symposium.
In addition, Val-Pak offers training continually throughout each year, at the International Business Meeting, the annual convention for franchise owners, Advanced Sales Rep Training, and the annual Val-Pak sales training convention.
Precision offers training tune ups
Precision Tune Auto Care places such a high emphasis on continuous learning that they provided 84 weeks of training to their franchisees last year. As if that wasn't enough, add almost 50 one-day seminars taught around the country.
The market leaders in automotive maintenance and engine performance have divided training into two modules: management and technical. For technical training, the franchisor offers six one-week level courses, which are regarded as some of the best in the industry. From basic engine performance to domestic and Asian fuel injection systems, students dissect the automobile in 50-hour segments. Ultimately, technicians earn a certification, which they are required to renew every five years.
Owners usually take a product knowledge class called Center Manager Retail Sales. "It teaches managers and owners leadership skills, time management and product knowledge," says John Wiegand, vice president of operations for Precision Tune Auto Care and Lube Express. The management track also requires certification.
In planning a training curriculum, Wiegand says they realized that many owners couldn't spare key staff members for a week, so the company developed a program called Precision Direct. The 20-minute video training series comes with a written supplement and ends with a test, usually administered by the owner. "We've mirrored our Precision Direct training to go with our monthly marketing calendar," he says.
In November, the company advertised a cooling system special, so they produced a video to enhance product knowledge and reacquaint technicians with the procedures for performing a cooling system flush. Retail salespersons also were provided with sample scripts to use.
For a more interactive approach, the company will launch satellite training modules with a chance for students to engage instructors with questions and answers. "Precision Direct is our first opportunity to provide training on a more frequent basis," says Wiegand. "Ultimately, we are trying to establish a virtual university."
Not just the students are committed to training. Precision Tune introduced a district manager class last year and has since trained 42 of their senior managers. Another 15 are slated to take the class this month in Precision's train-the-trainers philosophy. "We make sure the trainers who represent our brand are delivering the most current, up-to-date, quality tools to help the centers perform better."

® copyright 1999 Nancy Rathbun Scott
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