New Orleans Jeweler Creates Sales Training Program, Part 2

In part one of the Aucoin Hart Jewelers’ blog, Retail Details chronicled the history of the program and discussed in detail the first level of the store’s five-level, one-year sales training program. Part two will examine the remaining four levels of the Metairie, La.–based jeweler’s program.

Level 2 begins with a meeting on the transition from a non-selling position to that of a selling one. At this level the trainee is put into the store’s “up system,” a first-come, first-serve customer rotation system for the commission-only salaried staff. At this level, the sales trainee can only sell products priced at $1,500 or less.      

Level 2 trainees are prohibited from selling bridal jewelry, wedding bands, loose diamonds, and high-end watches. “Even if items in these product categories are $1,500 or less, we still don’t want sales trainees at this level selling these products given the competitive nature of these product types from other distribution channels, and the product knowledge involved. Also, at this stage the trainee isn’t quite at that level to where they can formulate a relationship with a bridal customer,” says owner Tommy Aucoin Jr.

A level 2 trainee can still perform level 1 work such as repairs. Aucoin has even developed visual merchandising elements in and around the repair center to establish the “sales area” in which a level 2 trainee can comfortably operate.

On either side of the repair center, there are three display cases filled with children’s jewelry, gold and silver fashion jewelry, lockets, and price-point friendly bracelets and pendants they can sell. Level 2 trainees are also given sales challenges. A recent new hire going through level 2 training was told to sell as many Grand Band money clips in a day as possible.

There’s a lot of flexibility built into how long certain sales associates stay at a particular level, with the main difference between training levels being the cost and product types a trainee is allowed to sell. For example, a sales trainee can remain at level 2 for as little as two weeks or as long as 60 days.  

Ken Landry assists customers with a ring sale

Ken Landry assists customers with a ring sale

Level 3 sales trainees can now sell jewelry up to $3,000. At this stage they’re more comfortable with wedding bands sales. Bridal jewelry sales are allowed, but only with a mentor present. More than likely, the trainee will turn over the sale to his or her mentor. Even with such restrictions, the increased dollar amount opens up many additional sales opportunities for level 3 trainees. 

More importantly, at this level Aucoin and his staff are able to better evaluate not just the trainee’s ability to sell jewelry, but also how they’ll fit into the company’s team-selling policy, which is the foundation of the corporate culture.

“At this stage we’re able to see sales skills as well as interest and even passion in selling jewelry,” says Aucoin. “But getting along in our corporate culture is even more important. We’ve had to let some trainees go at level three, and further into the training process, just for this reason.”

Level 4 sales max out at $5,000 with all rules from the previous level still in place. Bridal still requires a mentor’s accompaniment, but a level 4 trainee has even more flexibility in selling wedding bands.

The most important exchange Aucoin and his staff have with trainees at level four is preparing them for the transition from a salaried position to a commission-only position. Aucoin and his senior staff do this with trainees by demonstrating that commission-only salary offers immediate compensation. “This coaching helps them mentally prepare for the change from the draw salary to the commission only,” says Aucoin.

Aucoin Hart Jewelers at night

Aucoin Hart Jewelers at night

Level five means no more restrictions on sales up to $5,000. For sales over that amount, once again, the mentor or a senior sales person is pulled into the sales presentation. Eventually, periodic evaluations by the trainee’s mentor and other staffers lift all restrictions. Additional investments such as gemological training are assessed at this point.

On average, completing all five levels of training can take as long as a year. Since the training system was put in place in 1990, it has undergone biannual reviews, with little changing in actual training practices and procedures. In the spirit of team selling, pros and cons of the store’s sales training levels are always openly discussed with issues resolved as a group.

In looking back at 21 years of sales training using this method, Aucoin is willing to absorb the costs associated with keeping a sales trainee in training and drawing a salary for roughly one year.

“I’ve never sat down and calculated the actual cost involved in training sales associates this way,” says Aucoin. “But for me the feedback in thank-you cards and emails from customers is priceless. They love to talk about the jewelry buying experience they have here, and that keeps referral business coming in regularly.”