Fully Local: Commercial training sessions based on customer experience visits and customized to local challenges.

Who is United Retail?

I had the pleasure to interview Dirk van der Hagen about the strategy that United Retail follows together with their retail entrepreneurs towards a strong brand in consumer electronics, becoming customer centric. “Electro World is all about you”, is how they call it at Electro World. United Retail is collaborating with Multi-Value since the beginning of 2023 in order to support entrepreneurs in the execution of the brand promise in their stores.

Originally, United Retail is a buyer’s organization for entrepreneurs in consumer electronics and appliances with two strong formulas: Electro World and De Witgoed Specialist.

Even though the buyer’s function is still a very important part of the company, with the extension to category management and marketing, United Retail is on its way to being a more full-service organization for its members. Eventually, United Retail wants to facilitate their entrepreneurs to be able to servce the end consumer (the consumer that visits the store) as well as possible. By, for example, taking over administrative services, so that entrepreneurs can better focus on serving their customers. And through marketing communication, focused on the end consumer and a webshop for online sales, that has the important goal to attract consumers to go into the store for their purchases.

United Retail serves a total of approximately 300 points of sales, which doesn’t only include (137) Electro World stores, and (60) De Witgoed Specialist stores, but also about a 100 buyers. This last group is a heterogeneous group with mechanics that repair appliances, but also sell through their customer contacts. A substantial part of the sale takes place inside the customer’s home. When it comes to appliances, United Retail is the largest mechanics company in the Netherlands. Combined, the entrepreneurs have about 400 mechanics that are certified for one or more brands. They are able to independently sell an appliance or redirect the customer to a store.

Woth 137 stores and nearly 200 service mechanics, Electro World is the bggest Dutch franchise in consumer electronics. The amount of entrepreneurs is drcreasing, but the number of stores is increasing. Electro World and De Witgoed Specialist distinguish themselves by the freedom that entrepreneurs have. United Retail therefore also speaks of “Fully Local” entrepreneurship by ways of a strong Electro World or De Witgoed Specialist formula. The formula takes care of, among other things, company attire, uniform house style, joint purchases and folders. But the entrepreneur chooses their own product ranges, and can carry their own local product range.

Connecting link between entrepreneurs and service office

Dirk van der Hagen has been with the company since mid 2022 in the role of Manager Sales and Operations. Together with a team of 5 regional managers and 5 contact center employees he is the connecting link between the entrepreneurs and the service office in Huizen. On the one hand to be able to explain to entrepreneurs which choices are being made by the organization, and why. And on the other hand to gather input from the country and the entrepreneurs and take this to Huizen, so that the entrepreneurs feel heard and the policy can be tailored to this.

This happens, for example, during the Franchise Council meetings in Huizen that Dirk organizes with the chairman of the Franchise Council 6 times a year. Another good example is also the follow-up that United Retails gives to the DOA (“Dead On Arrival”) procedures for products that are delivered damaged or with flaws. Entrepreneurs used to be very bothered with the web of administrative procedures that had to be followed with several producers, and based on this feedback, United Retail centralized this process in their distribution center in Nijkerk.

Building high customer appreciation with a new brand strategy

Electro World and De Witgoed Specialist can boast about their high customer appreciation. The customer gives Electro World a 9.2 score and De Witgoed Specialist a 9.4 score. With this, the company has a major asset that can be utilized even better. So the goal was to share even better why Electro World is the right party for your appliances and IT products, and thus share even better what they were good at.

The led to Electro World choosing to reposition with new brand values. Brand values, that entrepreneurs could recognize, and that were actively communicated in all commercial messages.

Customer experience reports as a mirror for sales conversations

Besides this orientation on new brand values, there was a long-standing wish with United Retail to start customer experience visits. With this, they couldn’t only see the execution of the formula and POS materials on the shopfloor, but could give entrepreneurs a mirror to see how the sales conversations in their stores went; what was going well, and where was there room for improvement.

“The repositioning and launch of new brand values were the perfect moment for us to start with the customer experience visits, because eventually the client has to feel these brand values on the store floor in all of our 137 Electro World stores.”

We called in the help of Multi-Value for the execution on the floor. Multi-Value was asked to start doing customer experience visits in all stores, and to develop commercial trainings in collaboration with United Retail for all employees in the stores.

Just like with other organizations that start working with customer experience visits, there are still entrepreneurs with Electro World that see these reports as a way to control, to give a score and to look at the report to see what is incorrect. But luckily after 4 visit rounds, there are a lot of entrepreneurs that make these visit reports work for them, and are able to mirror to see what is going on in their stores. Based on this they can help their employees become aware of how they can improve on their sales skills. And then, after a training, they can also see the direct effects of this training.

Regional managers will also take these reports during their own visits to the stores to use it as a base. For example, if an entrepreneur signals that the additional sales on soundbars is low, the regional manager will look together with that entrepreneur at the presentation of the soundbars in the stores, the employees’ knowledge, but also at the sales conversation. And for the latter, the customer experience visit reports are being used actively.

Organizing face to face trainings was something completely new when Dirk started with United Retail. United Retail did offer e-learning, but face to face trainings did not exist yet back then. Coworkers from stores that had worked at other chains, also said they were used to following commercial trainings, so we think that we still have a long way to go when it comes to developing this. When we started with the brand values and customer experience visits, it was just a logical next step to start with this and follow up with a commercial training.

Meet the needs of entrepreneurs with face to face trainings

Multi-Value has developed the training with their trainer Floor van Esch. We started with this from a collaboration between Multi-Value and New Growth, the company that developed the brand values for Electro World. After a dry run with the regional managers we started executing the training with 10 of the Franchise Council’s stores. They were essentially a pilot group for this training, and they came with valuable feedback to improve the training.

“We had created the training too much as a standard format for all stores. From the Franchise Council entrepreneurs, we got the feedback that challenges can differ locally, and those nuances should be present in the trainings.”

The entrepreneurs are local heroes, and thus it is essential that the local aspect is present in the trainings. Based on the experience with this pilot group, we improved the training by doing an intake with each and every entrepreneur beforehand, so that they can make us aware of the challenges in his or her store. This way, one entrepreneur can ask for more detailed attention for additional sales, where the other wants to focus on giving less discounts, or do a better customer needs analysis. By taking this input to the training, you will automatically create better training sessions.

Better sales conversations after following the trainings

We are in the middle of the roll-out of these trainings, that we organize with the help of Multi-Value trainers Floor van Esch and Martin van Duijn. Each and every entrepreneur that has followed the training, is positive about it. You can see that this truly fulfills a need, because various entrepreneurs ask for a follow up training after the first one.

“The feedback we get back from the stores is that people regain their excitement and start trying out new ways of selling right after the training.”

Employees start asking more for the customer’s needs, which leads to a better success rate in selling, for example, a larger screen television. Because they found out that it fits well in their living room, and the distance between the couch and television is big enough. After following the training they know how to consult the client after hearing out their wishes. Of course you can talk about the specifications about a washing machine, which often does not really say much, or you ask about someone’s laundry planning or what their family format is, so you can make a better suites offer.

“We do have some more small steps to make when it comes to service and customer friendliness, but there is always room for improvement on the sales conversations.”

A common thread in the reports is that the needs analysis is often too short. It evidently fit the Electro World formula to be able to give well-suited advice to the customer (“Electro World revolves around you“), and for this you need to be able to a good needs analysis, and we can only get better with this.

What are the next steps?

At this current moment that the article is being written, about 25% of the stores have received a training. United Retail will continue with the customer experience visits and would like to see all stores having completed the training. A logical next step for Electro World would be developing new modules for the trainings. For example for mechanics and fitters, that could use some help on improving when it comes to commercial customer contact. For example for young, new employees that just graduated and for whom a module for junior sales assistants could be of good use. This way we can further expand the generic training with modules.

Besides this, we are also working on a re-orientation of the brand values for De Witgoed Specialist. A logical step for them would also be to start with customer experience visits and trainings over the course of this year.

Written by: Roeland Jacobse, May 7th, 2024

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