Interview: How Tomlinson's Feed Empowers Their Store Teams

Jul 11, 2020 4:53:00 PM

Retail | News & Trends

Tomlinson’s Feed is a local store for natural, healthy pet products in Austin and the Central Texas region. Opened in 1946, Tomlinson’s Feed offers healthy, natural pet products with team members trained in animal nutrition and world-class customer service.

Tomlinson’s Feed has been using the YOOBIC platform to empower (or emPAWer🐾?) their store teams through training, employee communication and task management since April 2020.

We chatted with Kate Knecht, Brand Director, about the challenges Tomlinson’s experienced pre-YOOBIC, navigating the COVID-19 crisis, and the impact of store team training on customer experience.


Kate Knecht, Brand Director @ Tomlinson's Feed


What challenges were you running into before YOOBIC that led you to look into retail learning and communication solutions?

Before YOOBIC, we were communicating with our stores primarily through email. We would email store managers, and then trust that whatever information we were emailing out to store management was making it promptly and accurately down the ranks to our sales associates, and that wasn’t always that case.

In addition, our managers were having to spend a lot of time in the back office on their computers. We were trying to do everything we could to push store managers out on the floor - to be coaching their teams - rather than being stuck on a computer in the back office.

We knew we had these issues, but we didn’t really know how to resolve them.


"One of our value points to our customers is having a highly educated and highly informed staff."


How were sales associates being trained before you deployed YOOBIC, and what were the main challenges you experienced with that?

At that time, training documentation was all in PDF form, in printed and digital form that we would send out on a weekly basis. We would ask store managers to print out the PDFs and pass them around to their teams.

I was looking into internal wiki solutions and asking, how can we digitize all of our training documentation?

Previously, store trainers had binders full of printed materials that they would work though with new hires. Now, we’re in the process of transitioning all of that to YOOBIC.

There’s a steep learning curve in our stores, because one of our value points to our customers is having a highly educated and highly informed staff. There’s a lot of training when someone comes on board. That was, and still is, performed by store trainers.

I was actively evaluating different solutions, and I went to NRF this year. I attended a talk by your CEO and thought “Oh, this is what I need, and I didn’t even know something like this existed.”


What role does employee knowledge play within the Tomlinson’s brand?

Employee knowledge is critical for us and it always has been, because we’re competing with big box companies where you walk in, and essentially it’s up to you to help yourself. You have to do the research and find whatever food you’re looking for.

Our goal is for customers to come into our stores, and a sales associate greets them and asks, “Who are we shopping for, what can we do for you today?”

The customer might say “I have a 7 year old dog who’s starting to gain weight, and he’s developed hot spots on his skin and I don’t know what to do about it.”

Sales associates should know how to handle this from start to finish. To get to that level, you have to have a lot of training.

Interview: How Tomlinson's Feed Empowers Store Teams YOOBIC

Source: Tomlinson's Feed


"Your employees want to succeed. Nobody takes on a new job thinking, 'I want to do really poorly at this.'"


What were the main things you were looking for in a solution?

Ease of use. If we were going to be rolling out a training program, we needed to not have to do extensive training on how to use the training platform. We needed something that came naturally to our largely Gen Z and millennial workforce, but was still usable by some of our older employees. That was critical to me.

We were also looking for something that was mobile-first so staff could use it and train while they’re out on the floor and not have to be in the back office.


What do you think is the biggest thing that gets in the way of effective onboarding and training for retailers?

I think what gets in the way is lack of or loss of priorities, and disorganization.

As you grow and as you scale, you develop better processes. As we grew and scaled and became a more professional organization, we wanted to make sure we emphasized onboarding and training because it has such a massive impact on the end experience for our customers.

Your employees want to succeed. Nobody takes on a new job thinking, “I want to do really poorly at this.”

People want to do well, and you have to give them the tools for that. You can’t set them up for failure.


"When [employees] were given this tool, and they saw the gamification of it, they just dove right in. That was a lot of fun."


What was it like to deploy the YOOBIC platform? Did you run into any challenges with getting your employees to use a new tool?

When we rolled out YOOBIC, what was important to me was to make sure we had a lot of content already existing within the app and a lot of training courses already built, so that when people logged into it for the first time, they had something to do, something to sink their teeth into and get excited about. I made sure that we had this emphasized prior to launch.

A lot of our long-term team members are competitive in a healthy way. So when they were given this tool, and they saw the gamification of it, they just dove right in. That was a lot of fun.

One thing I was nervous about as an employer was if I ask people to download this company app onto their personal device, how is that going to be received? We were really cautious about how we communicated that to our staff.

We told them - this app will be downloaded to company devices, and you may download it onto your personal device if you choose to do so, but it’s not required. And that has not been an issue.


What kind of an impact has the COVID-19 crisis had on Tomlinson’s?

We went through the process of getting online in terms of ecommerce in 2018/2019. We invested a lot of time, money and energy in revamping our POS system so we could be ecommerce friendly. We were delivering our orders through a local courier service.

So when COVID hit, our situation was a mix between preparation and luck.

We were prepared to still serve our customers through delivery right when it hit. When it was really in the thick of things, what we were seeing was - we have an entire workforce of employees standing around all day because we don’t really have many customers coming into stores.

At the same time we were shelling out a lot of money to this courier service to deliver our orders.

Very quickly we flipped that around. We descaled on the courier service and scaled our own staff up to deliver these orders, and that was something that we were able to do over the course of 2 weeks.

Now, if you told me a year ago where we’d be today, I would have laughed at you. Now we have an entire fleet of delivery drivers that are our own staff, who are now running orders as a result of COVID.

Interview: How Tomlinson's Feed is Empowering Store Teams

Source: Tomlinson's Feed


"The YOOBIC app was a huge hit. People ate up the training."


Since deploying YOOBIC, what’s changed and what’s improved for Tomlinson’s?

We brought a new brand of food on board right when we were rolling out YOOBIC, so it was our big launch training.

Previously what we would have done was, over the course of 2 days, bring every person in our company through our headquarters for a 2 hour training.

They’d get a full data dump of information about who the brand is, what’s special about them, etc.

Some people learn like that. For some people, the information goes in one ear and out the other.

That kind of in-person training isn’t feasible anymore. You can’t bring the whole company together anymore, unfortunately.

The YOOBIC app was a huge hit. People ate up the training, and they were able to retake it if they felt they didn’t retain something, it’s there and it’s accessible for them to go back to and refer to.

After the training, the brand toured our stores and quizzed employees on the spot about their knowledge of the brand. We got feedback that they were super pleased with how the training had been retained.

It’s certainly a lot easier to build a course in YOOBIC and send it out to the whole company, rather than trying to pull everyone together in one room.


"I don’t think we have ever rolled out a platform or new tech/system that’s been met with such high praise."


What feedback have you gotten from employees since launching YOOBIC?

It’s been a hit. We’ve heard nothing but thrilled responses from everyone. I don’t think we have ever rolled out a platform or new tech/system that’s been met with such high praise.


Looking ahead, what areas do you think YOOBIC will impact the most? What metrics do you look at to determine the success of your training?

My hope is that it impacts the obvious ones like sales improvements. In the next few months we’ll start to review sales for the new food brand and see if they’ve taken off and met expectations, and if they haven’t, we can go back to the drawing board and pull some levers.

That’s typically how we measure success: sales numbers and secret shops. We have secret shoppers go into our stores and ask questions from a customer’s POV that might direct to a certain brand of food.

I also hope it impacts employee retention and employee satisfaction, because we’re giving them something that’s fun to use, and we’re also establishing a method of communication that reaches everyone.

The entry level sales associate doesn’t have to wait for something to trickle down to her before she feels informed, because she has access to this tool that’s right there in her pocket so she can go directly to the source and get the information that she needs. She can ask questions when she needs to.


"We needed something that came naturally to our largely Gen Z and millennial workforce, but was still usable by some of our older employees."


What’s your #1 piece of advice for retailers who want to improve their training?

Make it Millennial and Gen Z friendly.

If you have an employee base that’s used to swiping and scrolling and that’s how they gather their information, and then you pull them into a classroom and sit them down and hand them a pencil and paper, that may not be the way that that generation learns fast, and they may not feel heard, understood and engaged.

You have to meet them on their terms.


YOOBIC's all-in-one platform helps retailers empower their store teams through streamlined store operations, effective internal comms and fun, bite-sized team training. 

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