3point5 promises to take the "yawn" out of retail training

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Paul Kirwin shut down his successful advertising business over a year and a half ago to take a metaphorical walk in the desert. While wandering, he hit on an idea he's since formed into a new company and passion -- 3point5.

"3point5 is the standard distance in feet between a retail salesperson and a consumer when they are having a conversation on the retail sales floor. I believe this distance is ground zero," Kirwin told SNEWS®.

"3point5 program is focused on getting a company's brand messages into retail sales conversations. Retail operations and their salespeople are brand builders and as such they are an essential element in helping a company grow and be successful. The human link has become even more important since 9/11," he added. "People want conversations and they want to talk about what they want and listen to what they need.

"For all we hear negatively about the quality of salespeople these days, I am a believer in them. Retail salespeople want to learn how to sell, and to help customers. They love being the experts and don't like feeling lost or confused when trying to help a customer -- no one does," said Kirwin.

Kirwin also said he believes firmly that rep clinics should be focused on emphasizing the retailer product line, hitting the high points of a new technology, and helping with the broad understanding of the brand. An increasing number of reps only have an hour with retail staff anymore. And that hour becomes little more than a category-by-category fire drill to get the information to the salespeople -- many of which might not even be working for the store the next time the rep shows up to give a clinic.

According to Kirwin, "3point5 lays down a foundation of general knowledge about the brand and the product line with the retail salespeople. This foundation of understanding allows the rep to now focus on the new products, and technologies and gives him/her time to answer questions. Reps that we've shown the program to are all for it in a big way."

It took very little prodding to get Kirwin to open up his Internet-based teaching lab and let us play student for an hour.

Ultimately, Kirwin's idea is that 3point5 will convey the brand story, key technologies, and new products to retailers in a way that is fun, exciting, sticky and results in a more highly trained sales force nationwide.

The site features three educational modules: a brand storyline where a salesperson discovers the story behind the brand's creation, a technology storyline where retailers learn about the technology that makes the brand's products special, and a new products storyline -- like we have to explain that. Each storyline has three chapters and each chapter has three pages.

After spending 30 minutes or so wandering through the story behind Kirwin Communications and what led to the idea that launched 3point5, it was time to take a timed quiz that would test how well we remembered the important talking points about each storyline. With chaotic music booming out of the computer speakers, we had to search for each question, and then find the answer, all with the clock ticking. We only missed one, but can tell you we could take the test again, a week later, and remember what we studied.

Kirwin told us that the study method and then methodology behind the test taking is a proven one that "places positive pressure and tests the knowledge under conditions similar to those on a retail sales floor."

Like a rat in a maze though, there's no point in reaching the end unless there is a reward involved, and Kirwin has designed the perfect angle. Once a quiz is passed, retail salespeople earn a discount off the wholesale price of the brand's products. This discount is determined by the brand. The more quizzes passed, the higher the discount. And a manufacturer or retailer doesn't have to manage a thing because 3point5 tracks the scores and discounts -- in fact, it tracks the whole training program for a store and company brand.

Beyond company brands, Kirwin has components in development that will appeal to retailers too.

"I think its fair to say that general salesperson training on the floor is sketchy. You have three major categories in this training, as I see it: 1. General sales training (meet, greet, listen for the need, present and close.) 2. Category training where salespeople are taught general technologies in a broad category. For example, technical winter wear (waterproof-breathable, wicking, fabrics, fibers, finishes, etc.), and 3. Brand training...handled with rep clinics in which the rep gets too little time and attendance is dropping. This is where salespeople are taught specific brand stories, product lines and technologies."

With 3point5, Kirwin has made it possible for retail organizations to choose which training they want and then choose specific modules inside that training. Perhaps Store A wants the Category Training. And it chooses technical clothing, trekking/hiking boots and climbing. And after its salespeople go through the category training, it wants to hook into the brands in those categories. So, in tech winter clothing a salespeople would go through the category training, understand the fundamentals, and then move into the specific brand training which might include Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, Patagonia, Marmot -- dependent on which companies are participating in the 3point5 program.

Added Kirwin, "And while Company A may opt to handle all the 'how-to-sell' training by themselves, Company B on the other hand may say, 'We want the how-to-sell training, but we'll handle the category training ourselves, and then connect back in with 3point5 for the brand training."

Like Burger King, retailers get to have it their own way, without the sauce.

The way Kirwin has designed the web-based system, the site -- www.3point5.com -- is password protected with the source code allowing participating brands to retrieve test and training data from all retailers and in this way see quickly how training is progressing and what stores might need a little extra love and which stores are just killing the test and, as a result, likely sales. Retailers will also be able to retrieve training data specifically from their individual operations to see which employees are taking which tests, how tests are being scored and which employees might also need a little extra support, or which employees need harder tests.

Currently two manufacturers, Cascade Designs and Head USA, have jumped on board the Kirwin train along with 14 retailers who have indicated they will likely launch various levels of brand training programs with Kirwin including Blue Ridge, Adventure 16, Copelands, Summit Hut and Retail Concepts.

Underscoring the excitement with the program's possibilities, Jeff Bowman of Cascade Designs stated, "Given the staff turnover at retail, training is critical to the success of our brands and products. This is the best training vehicle we have seen and one that has been enthusiastically received by our dealer advisory team."

SNEWS® View: While 3point5 was still being finalized and Kirwin and team were working 28 hours days (Kirwin time you have to understand), we poked and prodded our way around the beta site getting more and more impressed by what we were seeing -- and we've seen a lot of CD-ROM-based and web-based training systems. We even got a chance to play with a rough-cut of the Therm-a-Rest brand training program complete with scripts, sketches and more that was, simply, WOW. What it appears Kirwin has managed to do here is create a community around a web-based training module that inspires regular participation and interaction with the site. Heck, we know much of the Therm-a-Rest storyline backward and forward and still we had fun cruising around, learning, playing, exploring. Even taking the tests were fun. We suspect that as more retailers and brands jump on board, Kirwin will be able to more finely tune the community experience to include product review areas from real experts, brand feedback pages from key retail staff and more. No, the program isn't cheap, but all things considered, it is worth every penny invested to garner an inspired and well-trained staff that can generate increased sales. Home run Mr. Kirwin. Home run!

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