Heinen's Training Program Drives Sales

Heinen's has driven strong sales growth over the last several quarters in part through a comprehensive sales and service training program, according to Chris Foltz, director of operations at the 17-store Cleveland chain. Speaking at the Food Marketing Institute Human Resources/Training and Development Conference, he said the company has seen comparable-store sales growth above or

MINNEAPOLIS — Heinen's has driven strong sales growth over the last several quarters in part through a comprehensive sales and service training program, according to Chris Foltz, director of operations at the 17-store Cleveland chain.

Speaking at the Food Marketing Institute Human Resources/Training and Development Conference here, he said the company has seen comparable-store sales growth above or near 10% for each of the past four quarters, paralleling the rollout of the program in which employees go though a multi-week training and “Diamond Standards Certification” process to become “retail professionals,” “sales merchants” and “business people.”

The number of “highly satisfied” customers has improved to 78% from 74% in the last two years, he said, noting that such customers are almost twice as likely to return within the next two weeks. “Engage with your customer, and they will spend 26% more in the store,” he said.

The company, which positions itself as a service-oriented retailer, employs a five-week training program for new hires overseen by dedicated HOTT (hiring, orientation, technical training) administrators at each store. These HOTT administrators — who can be store managers or any worker who is “passionate” about the business — are responsible for ushering new hires through their first 60 days.

“We were always nice to our customers, but we wanted to share with our associates that that is not enough. You need to be helpful; you need to be knowledgeable to be able to interact with customers — then you become invaluable,” said Foltz.

Training begins on a worker's first day with a one-hour meeting with the general manager, a custom-produced orientation video and a store tour, followed by more orientation on the second day. Subsequent training — three hours a week for five weeks — covers food safety and other areas of importance to performing their jobs.

“The goal is to get every employee who has been there for three months to go through it,” said Foltz, who noted that training consists of a combination of hands-on learning and classroom instruction.

The company hopes to process 400 employees per year through training.

“It's hard to pull people off the floor,” Foltz explained, but said the company feels it is worthwhile to instill sales and service expertise among its people.

Throughout the “diamond” certification process, managers meet every two weeks with trainees to go over their progress toward certification, each stage of which encompasses various responsibilities associated with the job.