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Solution by Committee

One person does not have all the answers

As the owner or manager of a garden center, you are undoubtedly in that position due in part to your ability to think and act.  The more successful a business is, the quality of the staff is generally better as well.  Yet, I have heard one dealer tell another, "You are so lucky.  You have such good employees." But when you see the "lucky" business with 20 employees, you have to wonder if the owner or manager could have been lucky each of the 20 times, or if there is something he knows.

The "lucky" owner stated. “for the most part, good employees are developed, not found.”  Her belief in this idea would be evident by the extensive training program the dealer has had for many years.  But, this business is also noted for a very unique method of working with customers.  The employees are trained to continually cross check with each other when they are solving customer's problems. The owner called this method a "solution by committee". 

The name of this style was borrowed from Whitey Herzog, the former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.  In the late 1980's, when the Redbirds went to the World Series, a reporter asked Herzog how he decided who would be the relief pitcher on any given afternoon for his team.  His response was that he made a phone call to the bullpen and asked, "Who felt like they were best able to solve the problem." 

Let's take a look at a store to see an example of solution by committee. A customer comes into a store to tell of a patch of his yard that was dying.  The customer tells the employee, Bonnie, that he wants something to kill some bugs that are destroying his yard.  In too many cases the employee will simply direct the customer to the bags of granular diazinon or dursban.

Not only are these two items that traditionally have a very low margin, but also we do not even know if this is the right solution to the problem. In this example, Bonnie, is trained to ask the customer why he thinks he has bugs in his yard.  She will listen to his answer and go on to ask if there is an irrigation system or sprinkler being used, how long has he had this problem, how does the rest of the yard look, and ask if the problem area is growing in size.  Bonnie's explanation to the customer is that the store wants him to go home with the right solution for the problem, and that the problem could be a result of bugs, fungus, or even a lack of water.

She listens to his response, makes her analysis, and then tells the customer how to solve the problem, what products to use, and why she is making that suggestion.  The customer often will ask, "Are you sure?" Bonnie responds, "Yes, but let's check with Gordon just to make sure.  Gordon has a lot of experience with lawns and it never hurts to have a second opinion." As Bonnie and the customer approach Gordon, she repeats to Gordon the situation and her solution. Using this method will result in several things. 

Upon hearing his story repeated, the customer will often remember additional details that may be crucial to the solution.  As Gordon hears the story, he will decide if he feels that Bonnie's solution is correct.  Perhaps he will need to ask additional questions. 

If Gordon agrees with Bonnie, a statement to the effect of, "She has got it solved for you. You will be rid of those bugs in no time." In the eyes of the customer, Bonnie and Gordon are both knowledgeable people and he is not only more likely to return to the store, he will probably even seek out either of these employees.

But, what if Gordon doesn't think this is the correct solution?  The important thing is that Gordon does not contradict Bonnie with the customer present.  Gordon can begin to ask additional questions that are in the direction of his concern.  As he gathers more information he can say, "From what you first told us, I would think you have bugs, but with this additional information, I am leaning towards a fungus problem.  Let me ask a couple of other questions about your yard." From the questions that Gordon has asked, it may now appear that the problem is that of fungus instead of bugs.  The customer would have wasted his money if he had bought the bag of "bug killer" that he had initially asked for.

As the problem is solved, Gordon will ask Bonnie if she can think of anything else they should ask, and if she is in agreement with the redirected solution.  Knowing that Gordon has uncovered additional information, Bonnie can state her agreement with Gordon and then assist the customer in selecting a fungicide.  She will provide the directions for the proper usage of the product and also show the proper type of applicator to use. At this point, the sale is made and again the customer is appreciative of both employees. 

If Gordon is the more experienced employee, he has heard information that he can use to assist Bonnie in gaining more knowledge.  And in a brief moment, he can explain why he was not in agreement with her initial analysis, and why he was asking additional questions.

The important thing for Bonnie is that in addition to completing a sale, she received a brief training session, and was not put in an embarrassing position in front of a customer.  It was also helpful that Gordon had been trained in how to give assistance to a newer employee.

This successful owner is not lucky.  She has demonstrated that she knows how to train employees, not only with product knowledge but also with interpersonal relationship skills. Solution by committee is a great way to develop better employees, appreciative customers that return to your store, and a healthy bottom line.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179