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  • Success by Assignment

    How Training Helps One Shop Stay on Top

    Smart shop owners commit to training their employees, both old and new. When training is creative and challenging, the rewards are many.

    The training program run by Jim Ganger and Don Davis, owners of Countryside Flowers in Joplin, Mo., is a great example. All Countryside employees participate in ongoing floral design training. The process is fun for the employees. And it brings the shop numerous benefits.

    Pop Quiz

    Twice a month, Countryside's five designers find a little surprise on their design tables — sort of a "floral design pop quiz."

    Each quiz contains some sort of design assignment. It might be a simple task, such as, "Make 12 traditional arrangements." Or the instructions might be more specific, requiring designers to use certain flowers, incorporate specific colors or hit defined price points.

    Only one designer is allowed to work on and complete the assignment on any given day. The assignment is his or her main responsibility for that day. The next day, it's another designer's turn.

    The pop-quiz approach may sound like a pretty simple concept. But there's much more to Jim's training program.

    Name Your Need

    The assignments Jim selects aren't chosen randomly — each has a twofold purpose.

    First, Jim uses the tests to provide continuing education for his designers. Second, the finished products can be placed on the sales floor for sale.

    Before Jim plans any assignment, he takes a good look at what type of arrangements are needed in the shop. He might, for example, have a theme, look or color in mind. Or he might need extra arrangements for an upcoming holiday.

    With a specific need in mind, Jim figures out how many designs he'll need at various price points. Then, he simply divides his requirements by the number of designers to come up with the assignment.

    Constructive Criticism

    At the end of each "assignment day," Jim and his designers try to clean up the design room a little early. That frees them for a short, end-of-day training session.

    Jim asks the designer who completed the assignment that day to explain his or her arrangements. Then, Jim and the others ask questions, give praise and offer constructive criticism.

    This session is critical to the designers' learning process, Jim says. Communicating their thoughts and feelings about an arrangement increases their confidence in creating new arrangements and dealing with customers.

    Great Results

    The results of Countryside Flowers' training program are remarkable from a business standpoint. Each assignment yields a wide range of arrangements — at various price points — that are ready to sell.

    Last Christmas, for example, Jim's team created enough arrangements to fill the shop with permanent arrangements in just six days. And because different designers are involved, he can count on getting a variety of looks, even if the assignment focuses on a specific color or theme.

    Straight-A Students

    Jim always looks for the best qualities in any arrangement first. He never makes designers feel as if what they did wasn't valuable, even if he's less than thrilled with their efforts.

    If he started his critique negatively, Jim says, the designers would see the rest of his comments in a negative light — even if he complimented the work. Only after praising an arrangement's high points does Jim move on to gentle criticism, if necessary.

    Not every assignment gets a guaranteed "A," however. On at least one occasion, in fact, Jim flunked all of his employees. The assignment was simple: "Do a traditional arrangement." The designers turned in a variety of takes on a traditional look — all perfectly okay.

    That mediocrity was exactly the problem. All of the arrangements were okay. But none were especially outstanding. They were the kind of arrangements customers could find just about anywhere.

    Jim asked the designers to look around the shop to get a feel for Countryside's standard for traditional design. Their follow-up assignment was to redo their arrangements to fit the standard.

    Despite the rocky start, Jim's designers came through admirably on their second attempt. Jim got the arrangements he needed. And the designers got a better sense of what was expected of them.

    Assignment Ideas

    Jim has developed several other creative assignments that might also work well in your shop. The following topics have challenged Jim's designers while also resulting in creative, salable arrangements.

    Skill builders. Jim asks designers to name their strongest and weakest skills and formulates assignments to target those areas. Designers get the opportunity both to "strut their stuff" and to work on their weakness.

    Limited supplies. Sometimes, assignments are very specific. For a recent assignment emphasizing the use of space, designers received one flower, one piece of curly willow and a bunch of galax. With these meager supplies, they each had to create a design, which they presented at day's end.

    Above and Beyond

    Jim's efforts to increase his employees' skills go far beyond his in-shop assignments. For example, he once asked his designers what their goals were.

    Everyone had a different answer. Some wanted to obtain AIFD status. One even wanted to design arrangements for the Academy Awards ceremony.

    By working closely with his employees. Jim made plans to help the designers reach their goals. Some attended advanced training classes. He helped one get involved in commentating design shows. Others have since entered and won design competitions, for which Jim and the other designers helped them prepare.

    Jim's efforts are good for his designers. Working toward a goal helps them stay motivated and focused on improving their skills. It also keeps them satisfied in their current positions. If designers receive the help they need to achieve their dreams, there's very little reason for them to look elsewhere for a job, he says.

    Countryside Flowers' training program is good for business. Happy, motivated and accomplished employees - plus a shop full of beautiful designs — are the rewards of Jim's innovative efforts.


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