Thirst for knowledge drives ongoing education
Gloria King grabs her binder and rushes off to her next class filled with enthusiasm. “It’s so fast-paced and intense it’s all I can do to get from one classroom to another on time but it’s absolutely fantastic. I love it,” she said.
Gloria is an 18 year employee of the NSLC. She’s been a Product Specialist for the past seven years which means once a year she joins her nearly 30 peers and returns to her alma mater – PSU.
Product Specialist University is an intensive two day annual training program at the NSLC’s corporate headquarters in Bayer’s Lake that’s focused on ensuring exceptional personalized and knowledgeable customer service. It’s part of an ongoing journey of learning that also includes education sessions at local breweries and wineries.
Category Manager Jennifer Katona was instrumental in establishing PSU to be responsive to customers’ thirst for knowledge and new experiences by providing a superb retailing experience. “It’s about listening to our customers, asking probing questions and reading body language. This opens up communication between the customer and the Product Specialist and helps us build and keep a strong relationship,” she said.
The first group of Product Specialists was hired in September, 2008. Customers’ expectations have evolved since that time, which means we have evolved too, ensuring our specialists are well versed in product offerings and trends, merchandising, marketing and customer relationships.
With continuing education, informed employees are empowered to address customers’ questions and forge genuine relationships.
PSU offers an extensive range of classes. Last year, employees were given an opportunity to see the big picture as they learned the inner workings of the Distribution Centre. “We wanted to provide insight into how products make their way to the stores. It really was a chance for our Product Specialists to see the warehouse in action. It was exciting for me to see their interest and answer their questions,” said DC Senior Supervisor Kevin Higginbotham.
The ‘students’ learn about specific products, about industry trends locally and globally and develop their leadership and customer engagement skills. When it comes to wines, for example, they have learned about the characteristics of various regions, the traits of various soils and what that means for the grapes. They have also learned about different distillation methods for spirits, the fundamentals of merchandising and promotions that the NSLC offers throughout the year and gained insight into how marketing and pricing decisions are made.
Students don’t just sit at a desk while at PSU. The diverse course content includes enlightening and interactive classes on such topics as the art of blending wine, giving each Product Specialist an appreciation of the expertise that goes into successful wine making, informative and engaging sessions on whiskey and craft lager and on food pairings and organic wines.
“It’s a great learning experience and I love getting together with the other Product Specialists from across the province and interacting with everyone. I really enjoy people so this is a great way for me to learn,” Gloria said.
The relationships she has forged at PSU have led to some wonderful collaborative efforts in which stores in the region work together to promote themed events. They partner with area businesses and restaurants to offer complimentary products and tastings and celebrate special occasions.
PSU is held during the week leading up to the Port of Wine’s Festival in Halifax. It’s a prime time to do this focused education with the RPS, putting their newly acquired knowledge to work at the festival once classes have finished.
“I learn an awful lot and of course the whole point is that I come back to my store in Kentville and teach what I have learned to the team here and share the information with our customers. It absolutely makes me better at my job,” Gloria said.
Product Specialists have become front line leaders in our stores, possessing a high level of product knowledge, coaching fellow employees and engaging with customers.
They get to know the products at PSU, share their experiences with their co-workers and customers and can speak honestly to the products. They open the door for our customers to be more adventurous in their choices, giving them the confidence to experience new products.
For Gloria, there is no greater reward than translating her knowledge into a terrific experience for a customer who walks out the door with a new bottle of local wine in hand that’s sure to make him a hero at the next dinner party with friends.