For Integra Tire & Auto Centres Ltd. dealers, school is now in session.
The Edmonton-based tire buying group, which has about 65 associate stores and operates six company-owned outlets, is putting a greater emphasis on training in 2010 with the launch of an in-house training program for both its corporate stores and associates.
At its annual meeting Feb. 17-19 in Kelowna, British Columbia, the focus of the event was on training in an attempt to generate interest from the company's associate dealers. The strategy, according to Matt Matlock, health and safety/training manager for Integra, is a big change for many of the dealers that were part of the former Tirecraft Group Inc., which collapsed in 2008. New owners have revived the Tirecraft name and program.
Mr. Matlock, who held the same post for Tirecraft, said that before that dealer group entered bankruptcy, only about 25 to 30 percent of its dealer base participated in company training programs.
It's surprising how a lot of people out there still look at training as an expense and don't look at it as an investment in their business, he said.
Part of the problem is that it's often the case that owners and store managers are the only ones receiving direct training, Mr. Matlock added. Integra's goal going forward is to focus on getting it to everybody in the store.
The most important people in the business aren't necessarily the managers or the owner, he said. A lot of times, the tire technicians themselves get overlooked. Those are the people putting these wheels back on the vehicles. If they don't do it right, the consequences can be pretty bad.
At the meeting, Integra President Darrel Sept told dealers the company would be providing travel credits to those who participated in day-long group training sessions, which the company will hold in March and September at several hotels located in western Canada. In addition, Integra plans to send instructors to its stores throughout the year for in-person training sessions.
In one hand, we're asking them to come to us for the training, and the ones who can't get to us, we'll go to them, Mr. Sept said. He added that he is confident Integra will begin to see more participation in its training programs from its associates as time moves forward.
Certainly the appetite for training is there from the dealer level, he said. I think that the downturn of the economy in the last year and a half has really had guys refocusing on their business and refocusing on the basics of how they can get things turned around.
Mr. Matlock said unlike the original Tirecraft system of just getting people to buy tires and sell tires, the whole concept has changed from that to now where our purpose is to get people into those stores. One of the best ways to do that is to have people training so we can go out and thump our chest about that.
Integra will offer instruction for its dealers in areas such as technical training, customer service, sales and health and safety. While a portion of Integra's training will be handled online via the company's Intranet, Messrs. Matlock and Sept agreed that in-person training is best.
Online training is great and certainly needs to be there, but in some ways should be complementary to classroom, and we really need to return to the classroom, Mr. Sept said. It's much better for team building, it's much better for interaction amongst the participants . Online is pretty much one way.
At its corporate stores, Integra invests about $300 to $700 per person for training materials on an annual basis. The training programs are taught in-house by qualified Integra employees, a strategy that helps to absorb some of the costs associated with training.
It used to be that the manufacturers used to put on all kinds of product knowledge courses, and over the years they cut back in their representation and it became sort of the responsibility of the distributors, Mr. Matlock said. Well even the distributorsfor the same type of reasonsthey're not doing it as much, so we're taking it upon ourselves.
While Integra is asking its associate dealers to budget about $500 per employee for training materials this year, Mr. Matlock said he expects that investment to increase, because there are all kinds of areas where people are starting to realize they do need the training.
In addition to its technical and customer service related programs, Integra has rolled out its Small Business Management Certification program, offering training specifically tailored to managers and store owners.
The first two programs under that umbrella will focus on business evaluation and succession planning.
Mr. Matlock said that members of the good old boy network are starting to get out of the business, and we're trying to teach young people how to work with their parents or their fathers who own the business and how to let the fathers kind of ease off.
It's hard for a guy working in the business for 35 or 40 years to suddenly just step away, he said.
According to Messrs. Matlock and Sept, several other programs will follow, focusing on subjects such as budgeting, forecasting, human resources and inventory management.
We're going to build a whole menu of different items that will be certainly attractive to different audiences, Mr. Sept said. Not everybody's in the exact same situation, and we'll be offering those on an ongoing basis.
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