The quickened pace of fashion trends and technological innovations demands the kind of commitment to continuing education that an industry outsider might more typically associate with the legal or medical professions. Not only must lighting showroom sales staff be knowledgable about both the aesthetics and mechanics of each of the products they sell, they should also be well-versed in how those products could meet a home's general illumination needs.
At Inlighten Studios in Boulder, CO, co-owner and buyer Rhonda Wade says her training budget runs anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 a year, not including travel to various markets where many seminars are held. She invests in some of her associates by sending them to market, and she economizes by having others enroll in the American Lighting Assn.'s online courses. Her goal is for all members of the sales team to receive at least first-level ALA certification.
Unfortunately, many lighting show-room owners find outside training resources to be scarce or inadequate. The shortage prompts them to develop their own in-house system.
"The American Lighting Assn. is a good source for basic lighting knowledge," says Lynne Stambouly, owner of Lighting Solutions in Fort Myers, FL. "But we do a lot on our own. Within three days of starting work, a new hire goes through a fairly extensive light bulb class."
Stambouly teaches this self-developed class herself. She says that in her experience, the onus is on the showroom to administer training programs. More often than expected, vendor reps might not understand their product lines enough to help her sales staff communicate effectively with the end consumer. And while such manufacturers as Cooper Lighting, Holtkoetter and Lithonia Lighting offer top-rated training programs, not all sessions have open enrollment. Stambouly's training starts with understanding the customer's needs.
"When a customer comes into my showroom, we appreciate the style they want, but we wait on that," says Stambouly, who has been in the business for 21 years. "[I am in favor of] getting to know the client's lighting needs before addressing the style. We find out what their lighting problems are: A recessed can with too much glare? A fixture with a bulb shining in their eyes? A room with inadequate lighting? I train the staff to ask the right questions."
Every Tuesday, Stambouly meets for an hour with her staff to discuss lighting pointers. Sometimes she reviews chapters from popular books, such as "How to Win Friends and Influence People." And occasionally she invites vendors to give presentations. But mostly, Stambouly teaches her team what she wants them to say and do when clients come to the store.
Perhaps more important than who provides the training is making sure it's relevant. For this reason, Stambouly takes each inside sales associate to a job site once a week.
"The client comes in, I go to her home, they come back and select product, and we install it," Stambouly says. "If the inside salesperson is along for that entire ride, then they see the process from conception to completion. That does wonders for his or her confidence."