Bottlers face intense competition for retailer mindshare and shelf space. Margins are tight, and new products are proliferating across a variety of beverage categories. The 2,600 employee-partners at Buffalo Rock, headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., are the front line for the brands that the company bottles and distributes in Alabama, Georgia and Florida. It’s the job of these “Team Rock” employee-partners to ensure the parent company products are optimally merchandized in retail outlets, schools, offices and restaurants.
Their goal is to persuade consumers in stores to choose the beverages Buffalo Rock bottles and distributes over other brands. The competition is waged in coolers in convenience stores and gas stations, as well as on displays and shelves in grocery stores. The objective is to boost sales and profits for Buffalo Rock’s customers by driving customer traffic and transaction size.
The knowledge and skills that these employee-partners need to be successful constantly are evolving — they have to be acquired through training, reinforced on the job and refreshed with courses that can be taken whenever needed.
Buffalo Rock provides a diverse range of sales and operations training: sales and negotiating skills, merchandising strategies, how to represent the various brands the company distributes, defensive driving skills, proper use of hand-trucks and, whenever a new product is introduced, specialized product training.
In 2004, Buffalo Rock decided taking its delivery employee-partners out of the market to attend classroom training was no longer viable. The company realized its training needed to be a process, not an event. Consequently, Buffalo Rock transitioned to custom online training, developed by ej4, so it could ensure its delivery employee-partners could benefit from on-demand and highly targeted training developed by experts with decades of soft drink sales experience.
The new training was introduced in early 2004 and consisted of 26 courses delivered through an online learning campus. Courses can be delivered on-site at dedicated kiosks, or employee-partners can take them at home. Today, based on this initial success, the company now offers more than 200 courses.
The training Buffalo Rock deploys to its employee-partners differs considerably from custom training that is popular in corporate America. Recognizing the fast-paced schedule of these individuals, the courses are short — often fewer than 15 minutes long. Each module is delivered in a format that appeals to a wide range of ages and doesn’t presume familiarity with computers. Buffalo Rock uses “instructor over PowerPoint” streaming videos that feature a professional trainer in front of a backdrop of high-impact text and graphics. This enables the company to engage its employee-partners using a style and tone that “speaks their language” and is fun to take.
Employee-partner training activities (viewing and testing) are tracked within the online campus with detailed reporting available to senior management to ensure each division and department is keeping pace with corporate employee-partner development guidelines.
The campus handles 2,500 to 3,000 views per month, and it reaches many more employee-partners because of its extensive usage during sales meetings. Voluntary weekend viewership runs from 5 percent to 10 percent of overall usage.
Employee-partner training and development is playing a significant role in helping Buffalo Rock meet customer expectations and drive the successful introduction of new SKUs. Best of all, the employee-partners enjoy the training.
“Our employee-partners are leaving their training sessions with knowledge they can directly apply in the market because they now have 24×7 access to sales training experts, and they can get this training whenever and wherever they need it,” said Scott Grissett, Team Rock coordinator at Buffalo Rock’s Pensacola, Fla., division. The company’s results include:
The functionality of the program is not only helping Buffalo Rock with its training methodology. It also is allowing the company to explore a future spectrum of education: mobile training through the use of handheld devices. If and when a decision is made to begin mobile learning for Buffalo Rock, the company’s familiarity with the architecture of this program will make the process seamless.
Matthew Dent is the vice president of Buffalo Rock Co. in Birmingham, Ala., a beverage and food distributor that is one of the largest independent Pepsi bottlers in the nation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.