Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
February 1, 2013

Question: How do i get my employees to retain information about the products in my store? When I am around, they ask me the same simple questions over and over, and sometimes I resent it, particularly when I’m busy. Any suggestions?

Answer: It’s wonderful that you are a wealth of information for your employees. There is a lot to learn about the products we offer. I also understand you have more to do in your store than answer the same questions repeatedly. I have two main suggestions that might help.

The first is to offer dedicated training periods for your staff. When you hire new employees, take them on a tour of your store and educate them about your products. Create a one-sheet quiz with 20 of the questions you are asked most often. No matter how well or poorly they do on the quiz, give them the correct answers and have them retake the test in a month or two to see if they have improved their score. I do this with a list of authors potential employees have to identify as part of their initial employment application. Then I offer them the same list at their 90-day review. It’s a confidence builder (usually) when they see how much they have learned.

Also, at your staff meetings, pick an area of the store and give a five-minute synopsis of the products in that area. Or play a training game that everyone can participate in, such as asking, “What products do you recommend for weddings? Birthdays? Baby showers?” You then can offer additional sales ideas your staff may not have imagined.

Signage in your store is another area to consider. Customers love to read about the special meaning of each product, and signage can be a valuable sales tool for your employees—and they won’t have to memorize everything! Just start with one shelf or area and give a brief description of each item. It will take some time to cover each area with signage, but your sales likely will increase and with fewer questions to answer, your frustration level will go down.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to