Kitchen & Bath Design News

SEP 2018

Kitchen & Bath Design News is the industry's leading business, design and product resource for the kitchen and bath trade.

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WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST business challenge today? Chances are good it's finding salespeople. For the last few years, this seems to have surpassed the Internet as the most cited challenge showroom owners and managers are facing, and with low unemployment, it isn't likely to change anytime soon. I've attended any number of presentations about finding and retaining good employees where we're told: "Look for employees in service-oriented industries" or "Hire on personality – you can teach plumbing but not a good attitude." These suggestions always sound great in theory, but operating in the real world can be more difficult. How many young people look at showroom sales and see a career? Yes, a number of firms do a great job of training, but we don't, as an industry, project a career path for young people. This may be due to the fact that many of us end up in the industry by accident. We take a summer job or we know somebody and land here. But you don't often hear someone say, "I searched around and identified plumbing showroom sales as a place where I can grow and develop professionally." A good salesperson must possess great peo- ple skills, understand technical details, have an understanding of interior design and be willing to learn myriad new products, codes and designs every year. So there's a lot to engage a young person. Indeed, showroom sales offers many opportunities for personal and career growth. MILLENNIAL BENEFITS Would you prefer to hire an experienced person or a newbie? It can be very tempting to hire an experienced person, even if we know they have some issues, rather than risk the time to train the inexperienced. Experienced sales profes- sionals can hit the ground running and you don't have to do much training up front. The reality for an independent showroom is time. Who will train the newbie when there are so many customers to help? While this is a val- id concern, it may also blind us to the potential of young people. Consider younger people's comfort with technology. We all need to embrace the tools that tech offers for our businesses, and millen- nials, having grown up with technology, are much more comfortable using it. They are also more of a blank slate, without the preconcep- tions and old habits of an experienced person. Young people can be more receptive to change, something we like less as we grow older. Let's face it, we're in an era of change and reducing the resistance is a plus. Sometimes we're forced to change. Last fall, a key salesperson left us to pursue a different career. We had to replace not just a salesperson, but also a top producer – and this was during a busy time. A couple of weeks later, we lost another experienced person. Suddenly, I didn't have the luxury of shopping around for some- one with experience; I needed bodies. It was time to put the theory to the test. Hire a good attitude and teach the plumbing. "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity," Einstein said. I had no idea how I'd find people quickly. Then a staff member, Travis, told me he'd met someone at his local bank who impressed him with great service skills and atti- tude. Travis also identified a young guy working in the warehouse who seemed to have the right skills. In addition, a fellow from our contractor counter asked to be considered for showroom sales. Suddenly I had choices, but they all had little, or really no, showroom experience. I got very lucky. As one of our top salespeo- ple, Travis saw opportunity, both for us and for himself. He enjoyed selling and wanted to continue doing that but had also reached a point where he wanted more responsibility. Travis proposed the he become a trainer/sales manager (in addition to doing sales). He would take on the training and development of these new team members while continuing to work with customers. He was confident that these three could learn quickly and integrate them- selves into the team within a few weeks. It was a risk. Travis was a top producer, and we were already down two people. Did I want to add more stress? But he was also anxious to have the opportunity to prove what he could do with these young staffers. We moved forward and the result has been a smashing success. People learn at different rates, but all three were helping customers within the first couple of weeks; within three months, they had moved on to more complicated quotes and orders. Now that our new team members have a little experience, I'm noticing the difference that these younger staffers have made. First, there's a new energy in the showroom. I've read that millen- nials seek to have "passion" in their work and I think this is a real plus in a sales environment. It has manifested naturally in a deeper engagement with customers and an interest in understanding more about how and why we do things. The technical comfort is certainly there. We're undergoing a software switch, and they have adapted easily to the new system. They also work well as a team, although this often comes out as a tendency to share a lot on social media. This can be a difficult adjustment for older staff who might see it as goofing off or laziness. I'm still working to find the right balance here, but do see a positive in their ex- citement to share what they are doing at work. Dress has not been an issue, but tattoos or the occasional piercing are more common now, and we had to find a way to integrate personal expression into the workplace requirements. This may be more or less of an issue, depend- ing where your showroom is located. Travis has also done well with the new arrangement. He saw opportunity and creat- ed both a solution for our staffing and a new career step for himself. It was a little scary to divert a strong salesperson when we were already short-handed, but Travis embraced the additional responsibility and can be proud of having created an effective team. Taking on young, inexperienced recruits is still a risk and a big investment, but I now know it can yield great results. I think having a trainer is key to getting these team members up and running quickly. Training on product is important and can be accomplished with the help of sales reps and YouTube. Training man- uals from the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association can teach technical aspects. What I think made the difference was the experience and insight our in-person trainer brought to the learning process. I also dis- covered that creating a trainer/sales manager position can be an excellent way of promoting a strong salesperson without losing that person's talents on the sales floor. Finding good people isn't going to get easier, but considering millennials offers a much bigger pool of options – as long as you're prepared to dive in. ▪ Kate Brady is the general manager showroom operations for General Plumbing Supply and DJ Bath & Tile. She also is a past president of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association (DPHA) and currently serves as a member of the DPHA Board of Directors. KATE BRADY " We all need to embrace the tools that tech offers for our businesses, and millennials, having grown up with technology, are much more comfortable using it." Taking a Chance on Millennials 24 Kitchen & Bath Design News • September 2018 DPH PERSPECTIVES

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