Innovative approaches to training spur growth

Training: the second leg of the hiring, and retaining triathlon so many operators struggle to complete every day. Area Developer asked experts at three brands - Regis Corp., Little Caesars, and PuroSystems - about their training programs - and how an emphasis on a high-quality training program, incorporating innovation and technology, remains a cornerstone of their growth strategy.

White collar pizza

At Little Caesars, a renewed emphasis on training has played a critical role in the brand's rejuvenation over the past half-dozen years. After a slump in the late 1990s, the company implemented a five-year plan in 2001 (see page 20).

Training was a key component of the plan and included the introduction of a Basic Operations Certification program. Basic Ops begins with 12 hours of pre-training, followed by six 50-hour weeks of in-store and classroom The last week focuses on business training (marketing, architecture, human resources, recruitment, etc.).

After a store opens and is operating smoothly, Little Caesars offers extensive ongoing training, including Advanced Certification. "Booster Shot" training is an annual update on fundamental store operations. Maintenance 101 teaches preventative maintenance in the stores to reduce franchisees' repair costs. There also are programs for multi-unit operations.

"Supervisor training is offered to any franchisee or their supervisors who go into multiple where they'll interact with our corporate store supervisors and take away best practices and the best way to oversee multiple units," says David Scrivano, president of Little Caesars. Offered several times a year, the training shows franchisees how to train and communicate with their mangers and crew. A recent supervisor training class in Las Vegas drew about 60 people.

"I think it's critical that we continue to offer ongoing training to our franchisees," says Scrivano. Before coming to Little Caesars in 1999, Scrivano had spent eight of his 10 years at Domino's Pizza in operations.

After being named president in January 2005, he introduced Corporate Colleague Training. This program sends everyone in the company's Detroit headquarters and regional offices into a store for a week or so. There they learn every aspect of store operations, from making dough, taking pizzas out of the oven, slicing them, and working at the front counter with customers. New corporate employees also must participate before starting their office job.

Now in its third full year, the program has been "phenomenally well received, both from corporate colleagues and from the field colleagues. The interaction has been great," says Scrivano.

"Corporate colleagues come back with an understanding of what the store colleagues do and what the customers feel. And that gives them insight into how to improve their job in their corporate role. Reciprocally, the store colleagues get to hear from people at headquarters, what they do every day, and how their job impacts the people in the stores. It really builds appreciation both ways, and allows us to put in place better policies, procedures, and protocols to improve store operations and customer service."

When store managers and franchisees who have hosted corporate colleagues visit Detroit to meet with the accountant, for example, they immediately want to see the person they trained, says Scrivano. "It builds some rapport, and then they're excited about exploring the office more." And once the office folk get a taste of working in a store, it can get their own entrepreneurial juices flowing, too - which is all part of the plan.

"We've had a number of people from corporate become franchisees over the last couple of years - and we're very excited about it because it provides opportunity for people who work in the corporate environment to expand on their careers and advance themselves and become a business owner," says Scrivano. "It's a testament to how much people believe in our brand. They'll put out their own money and build their own store and become a business owner and make that their long-term life's goal." It's also great for recruitment, he adds.

As for how Little Caesars' training program stacks up in the wider world of franchising, "From what I've read and seen, I think we have a more in-depth training program and ongoing support to our franchisees - although I think there are great training programs out there we model after. And if we see a good idea, we try to put that in our system," Scrivano says. "I don't consider us breakthrough new. But I think we're solid, better than what most franchisors offer to their franchisees."

Now in its second five-year plan, and with a continued emphasis on training, Little Caesars has turned itself back around. "The brand has been extremely hot," says Scrivano. "We've had six consecutive years of sales growth and we're in the middle of our seventh."

And why not? "It's a lot of fun working in a pizza place with customers and dealing with the young colleagues that work in the stores," says Scrivano. "What could be more fun than the pizza business?"

Training as differentiator

Regis Corp. spends $16 million a year on and training. That's serious money, even for a company expected to generate $2.7 billion in sales this year from its more than 11,600 salons worldwide. In its 85-year history, Regis has added more than 8,000 locations through 330 acquisitions, growing nearly tenfold from 1994 to 2006.

As the company grew, finding methods for creating consistency within each brand became a critical need - and its success in this endeavor has become a key differentiator in the industry among its growing roster of brands.

To achieve this consistency, Regis combines a hands-on, personal touch approach (including 160 artistic directors who train and assist stylists directly) with an extensive library of high-quality instructional DVDs. Regis introduced its DVD program for training and continuing education in 2003, and it continues to be an essential in maintaining quality standards.

"We were one of the first, if not the first, in the industry to implement DVDs into our education process," says Melanie Ash Peterson, senior artistic director for Supercuts. "We started off utilizing them in our training studios because it was so efficient. If a stylist was having a challenge in one specific area, we could go to that area in the DVD." And for any stylists thinking of dogging it while they watch, in the DVDs quiz them on what they've learned, "to make sure they're really watching what they need to be watching and getting what they need to from it," she says.

Ash Peterson, who started with Regis as a stylist 20 years ago, oversees Supercuts' nearly 90 artistic directors. Her role, she says, is to uphold the creative end of the education for the brand's 2,070 franchised and corporate salons in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico.

Education and training at Supercuts is "huge," she says. It's our way of advancing the stylists' knowledge of what's current, what's happening in the industry." And, of course, it's the way the brand ensures consistency. Any service offered within the system - styles, color, waxing, tree oil facials - is supported with a DVD. "It's always at a hand's reach for a manager to implement in educating their stylists," she says.

Mandatory training and recertification for stylists is also part of the program. Before setting scissors or clippers to customer, all stylists must attend Hairstylist Academy, an intensive 40-hour, 5-day training. Once certified, stylists also must participate in advanced training seminars in the salon a minimum of twice a year.

And once a year, every stylist must be recertified on the classic technique and the fundamentals of the Supercuts haircutting technique, says Ash Peterson. "This allows our stylists to stay efficient and accurate with their cutting skills and have a solid foundation and a higher understanding of haircutting in general." Annual recertification is required whether a stylist has been with Supercuts one year or 20.

The artistic directors (all 87 of them) also train continually, meeting a minimum of twice a year to keep their own skills sharp - both as stylists and trainers. "We make sure we're all working from the same principles and mission and direction. Again, the DVD program is what allows us as a training team to remain consistent."

Beyond styling, training also occurs at several different levels, depending on how many units a franchisee owns. Connie Boltinghouse, vice president of franchise salon services for Regis Corp., is responsible for providing services and support for all of Regis's six North American franchise brands: Supercuts, Cost Cutters, Pro-Cutters, and City Looks in the U.S.; and Magicuts and First Choice Haircutters in Canada.

"Our mission statement to our franchisees in essence is: ‘We work with you to analyze and come to a consensus on what your potential for growth is as a franchisee." "Growth" includes sales, profits, number of salons, and the abilities of managers and staff, says Boltinghouse. When that consensus is reached, a business plan or a strategic plan is developed, and Regis will provide programs to support the franchise owners in the areas they want to focus on in the coming year. Support also varies with size, of course.

For new franchisees with a single store, the First Salon Opening program includes mandatory attendance at a week-long orientation in Minneapolis; support from a regional manager and a franchise business consultant; everything needed to find, build, and open a store; and regularly scheduled weekly phone conversations.

"We're there at opening, then we're back in 45 days, then we're back in 6 months," says Boltinghouse. "Then we go back at the end of the first year and monitor how closely they're growing, what kind of training they need, what their barriers are, and what we need to focus on with them for the upcoming year."

When franchisees grow to two or three salons, Regis will ask them to attend a Small Business Owners meeting. "We also encourage them to network, because franchisees can learn from one another, from practical everyday experience." And if there are multiple owners in a market, they are asked to send their managers to a training to create additional consistency and synergies among the area's managers and owners.

When franchisees reach their seventh or eighth salon (and most of them do, says Boltinghouse), the conversation changes again: "Are you keeping people in your pipeline? You're approaching [the point] when you're going to need a district manager. Here's how we keep managers in the pipeline. This is how you groom the next manager."

The franchisor also will set up a meeting between the franchisee and a regional manager (there are four in the U.S.), a financial analyst, and an artistic director (or artistic consultant at Cost Cutters or Pro-Cutters). "By the time they get to 8 or 10 salons, they can become pretty self-sufficient. We just need to help them in the area they're going to focus on for the next year."

With even larger owners, she says, "It's more about speaking with the leadership group in that organization about how they're going to move forward. Sometimes it's simply a matter of training the managers and teaching them how to implement what they're learning. Or how franchisees can communicate information down to the managers and shift supervisors."

"The biggest thing is that we first build a strong relationship with the franchisee as they're growing and developing," says Boltinghouse. Over time this develops trust, and confidence in the services the franchisor can provide. "So when we begin working with them as they get bigger, we will do more strategic business planning with them and with their core group of leaders. And we will ask such questions as: What does your business need next year to grow, to keep you forward?" Good direction.

E-learning pioneers

At PuroSystems, new President and COO Keith Gerson is taking his high-tech, high-touch approach and applying it to training, with a focus on distance learning.

The demand for this came from the franchisees, says Gerson, based on surveys, needs assessments, and meetings with the National Leadership Council (or NLC, the brand's advisory council). "They said we did a phenomenal job of giving them the technological training - the things you do in property damage mitigation and restoration and how to use equipment." However, he says, franchisees wanted better systems for training both themselves and their personnel - as well as evaluating their own job performance and that of their staff.

Teaching technical and operational skills is easy, says Gerson. (PuroSystems, with 169 franchisees open and 10 more signed, provides property damage, mitigation, and restoration services to residential and commercial customers in the U.S. and Canada through two brands: Puroclean and Purofirst.) "The part where it's a little harder is where you start leveraging your expertise as it relates to sales process and leadership and culture and values."

To meet the franchisees' needs, Gerson enlisted the aid of executive team members Will Southcombe, vice president of training and technical services; Dale Kern, director of information technology; and Troy Feichter, director of finance, who also heads up human resources.

Southcombe, says Gerson, is an expert on accelerated learning and a self-avowed non-techie whose role in this initiative is to work directly with IT's Kern to find a happy medium - marrying Purosystem's training system and values with the available technology, building on the pros and mitigating the potential cons. Feichter adds the HR perspective (as well as an eye on the budget).

"When we started out," says Southcombe, "we met with the NLC face to face and talked with them about what we wanted to do." From there, he says, they developed the strategic plan and action steps needed to make it happen.

"It's my experience," says Kern, "that with the franchisees their thought is, ‘We're not trainers, this is not what we want to spend our time doing. We want to spend our time making money. They have a core competency - restoration - and they want to get their employees up and running as quickly as possible. And what our job is, and what they're asking for, is how do we do that?"

"Before you can really get into training, you have to be able to identify what are the core competencies and what are the job competencies that are necessary, and how do you measure those things?," says Gerson. To help do that, they chose a Web-based performance management software tool from SuccessFactors.

The software, says Feichter (wearing his HR hat), "allows us - within our own organization or with our franchisees - to identify two types of competencies: core competencies and role-specific competencies."

Core competencies, he says "are what you want all of your employees, managers, or owners to be in line with regard to the moral standings or values you want your company to maintain - whether it's a technician or the president of the company."

Next, he says, "We scroll down to the role of specific competencies, which are identified by job title. Once we identify those, they are then broken down by management level - be it president, managers, and individual contributors, which are your basic employees [at corporate]."

The software has three levels, says Feichter: one for corporate; one for franchisees and their employees; and one for the franchisor-to-franchisee relationship, "where we can set our own core and role-specific competencies and set goals for our existing franchisees as well."

Implemented first at corporate to iron out the kinks, SuccessFactors will be rolled out later this year to franchisees. "I'm not aware of any other franchise organization that's ever done this before. This is really pioneering stuff," says Gerson.

Part B is distance learning, online instruction that connects franchisees and employees with distributed training and educational resources. Video and audio technologies allow students to "attend" live classes and training sessions conducted from a remote location. Franchisees also will be able to go online whenever they want for specific training, or to find answers to common questions in the company's evolving knowledge library.

Kern describes a knowledge library (or base) as "pretty much a rolling Q&A." Whenever anyone in the system poses a question and receives a good answer (for example, how to repair a piece of equipment, or how to perform a specific type of remediation), that answer is added to the knowledge base for all to use. "Now everyone in the system benefits from that research," he says.

Caveat builder

As they work to develop the program and its various components, executive team members are acutely aware that merely creating a distance learning program - even an excellent one - is no guarantee of its success. "You certainly want and need a medium for e-learning, but it's not to be confused with a methodology," says Gerson. "You have to be careful, because what happens in a lot of training systems is that just because training occurs, it doesn't mean people are learning, nor that are they learning the right things."

"We can provide a brilliant system that won't work in every case," says Kern. "Our job is to provide the best resources possible for those who are out in the world and want to take these resources and use them to either teach or learn."

Several areas exist for exercising caution and restraint. First, says Gerson, before starting to develop e-learning technologies, it's critical to have a good training system in place. "If they're built on flawed training systems, you are destined to failure."

Second, even with a great training system and technical success in putting it online, there's the human factor to consider. That means knowing something about how people learn.

"Before Dale [Kern] was allowed to jump in there and take content and apply it, Will [Southcombe] had to take the time to look at the implications of different learning styles," says Gerson. Some people, for instance, prefer personalized attention from a teacher, and will not do well online. On the other hand, he says, studies tell him some will do better online than in a classroom.

And there are expectations to manage as well. "I've been in technology for a while," says Kern. In that time, he's seen many cases of people become overenthusiastic and viewing technology as the ultimate answer to whatever problem they're attempting to solve. "From that approach, I've never seen it work efficiently."

Instead, he says, "We're incorporating technology into existing systems; and improving touch learning by offering online resources for facilitators or franchisees to use themselves, for self-guidance or to teach their own employees."

"A franchisee is not necessarily an expert trainer," says Gerson. "So the best type of system is one where you have training modules that are overseen by a franchisee or designate. That basically takes and marries high tech with high touch."

This approach, says Kern, combines 1) the franchisor's system approach with 2) the flexibility of having franchisees tailor the curriculum to the individual personalities of their team. "One of the biggest benefits of these learning packages is that we provide centralized and accurate materials, and we can easily distribute them," he says. "That's basically what the Web is all about - distributing information in a consistent and standard way."

To achieve their goals, the team plans to roll out individual modules that can be pieced together in different ways. This also provides another benefit: ongoing feedback. "We don't want to spend all this time putting together everything only to have the franchisees come back and say, ‘This doesn't work," says Kern.

Another issue with implementing a distance learning program is getting people to use it. "What do you do with the guys whose learning style requires more personal face time? Where and how do you take a training force or a field force that may not be computer savvy, or afraid of change or new technologies?" Gerson asks. "If you take it out there and they're just not comfortable, or they don't trust answering questions online because there's a stigma that this stuff survives, where - and how - do you bring them in?"

Part of the solution to that is to make going online useful, even necessary if possible. The knowledge library is part of that. So is an intranet site where franchisees and employees can learn and share information by interacting with each other in chat lines or discussion groups.

Right now, Gerson says this initiative is "a work in progress," new at the corporate level and still in various stages of development for the franchise system. And while as many questions as answers still remain, PuroSystems is committed to moving ahead - and perhaps, en route, pointing the way for other systems.

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