New Orleans Jeweler Creates Sales Training Program

Aucoin Hart Jewelers has a five-level training program that takes roughly one year to complete. The goal: to ensure the best jewelry buying experience possible for customers. In a two-part blog, Retail Details will examine the history of the store’s five-level sales training program and how it has benefited the Metairie, La.–based jeweler for more than two decades.

In the late 1980s, Tommy Aucoin’s father discovered the customer experience people were having at Aucoin Hart Jewelers was “in jeopardy,” says Tommy Aucoin Sr., the store owner. “Back then our sales associates were selling high-end watches, loose diamonds, and bridal jewelry with varying levels of product knowledge, which wasn’t giving our customers the optimal jewelry buying experience.” 

In 1990, Tommy Sr. developed a five-level, mentor-based sales associate training program that pairs new sales associates with more senior sellers as part of a team-selling store policy. In the 21 years the training program and team-selling practice has been in place, Aucoin Hart Jewelers has realized numerous benefits including a steady growth trend in sales and profits, increased word-of-mouth referrals, and better sales staff retention.

Left to right: Ryan, Tommy Sr., and Tommy Aucoin, Jr.

Left to right: Ryan, Tommy Sr., and Tommy Aucoin Jr.

When Tommy Jr. joined the family business in 1997, he went through the store’s sales training process himself. The sales training program undergoes a formal review every two years (the next one coming up in January 2012), but the essentials of the program haven’t changed much in more than 20 years: 

  • A news sales associate will draw a salary until they’ve completed all five levels of training, at which time they go to a commission-only salary

  • As sales associates move from level 2 to level 5, they are limited to certain price points and products they can sell

  • Sales associates are free to sell any and all products in the store once they’ve completed the training

  • A refresher course on the training must be completed every two years.

Level 1 is the non-selling phase of the five-level program. Regardless of the new associate’s sales or industry background, they must go through the first level of sales training to learn the basics of the store’s corporate culture—namely the team-selling policy, a practice that seeks to seamlessly hand off a sale to another sales associate who is a better match for the customer.

“This isn’t always about product knowledge,” says Tommy Jr. “There are times when customers prefer to be sold by someone closer to their age or the same gender. Part of the team-selling approach is constantly watching and observing how a sales presentation is going anywhere in the store for any sales associate, new or senior, to ensure the best jewelry buying experience possible for the customer.” 

On average, a news sales associate can complete level 1 in as few as 60 or as many 90 to 120 days. Each new sales associate is assigned to a mentor to shadow during this time. Over the years it takes about two weeks for this newbie/mentor relationship to solidify.

Level 1 training isn’t simply months of shadowing. New sales associates are able to take in repairs, which helps them garner much-needed experience in working with store policies, practices, and paperwork, as well as interacting with customers while building on or accumulating product knowledge. “It’s all about achieving a comfort level and confidence at this stage,” says Tommy Jr.

Mark Vinsanau and Michelle Cutitto

Mark Vinsanau and Michelle Cutitto assist customers with a pearl jewelry sale.

There are also assigned duties a level 1 trainee can perform, such as morning setup, light maintenance work, organizing displays, and closing the store in the evening.

As part of the sales training program, trainees also have a number of books on sales and customer service to read during work hours or on their own time. No Thanks, I’m Just Looking: Professional Retail Sales Techniques for Turning Shoppers Into Buyers by Harry J. Freidman and The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story of America’s #1 Customer Service Company by Robert Spector and Patrick D. McCarthy are two reference-library staples.

As a trainee moves from level to level, they go through a three-step evaluation process: general observations from the store owner and the staff on the trainee’s interaction with customer and fellow employees; evaluations from the assigned sales mentor; and, knowledge and practice of the store’s core corporate culture and philosophies.

In next week’s blog, Retail Details will examine the remaining four levels of Aucoin Hart Jewelers’ five-level sales training program.

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