By Mario Toneguzzi
Chicago-based Progress Retail, an innovative education platform for the retail sector, has launched an initiative to expand its presence in Canada.
Ray Riley, the company’s Co-CEO, said Progress Retail’s learning experience platform creates a meaningful ‘one-stop shop’ for retail sales training, sales management, product knowledge, and brand communications.
With a strong conviction that brick-and-mortar retail is alive and well, Progress Retail pioneered a human-centered, live in-person retail sales and leadership education program that has been operational for nearly thirty years. With the launch of Progress Retail’s learning technology platform, the company is the exclusive learning and development partner for omnichannel brands such as Mecca, Volcom, Chatters, and Seed Heritage.
The company was founded as People in Progress in 1989 in Australia by Terry Hawkins, Co-CEO. With a strong personal growth and personal development component deeply rooted in empathy, Progress Retail’s professional skills and processes were able to be implemented with considerably more success than the majority of mainstream retail ‘training’. This unique approach led to the company working with numerous high-profile retail brands such as Ralph Lauren and Nordstrom. Since 1989, the company has more than 100,000 alumni globally who have attended in-person courses from its C.A.R.E. Customers Are Really Everything®, and S.M.A.R.T. Superior Management of a Resourceful Team® retail education systems, among several others.
“We are very unique in the fact that retail education has become very stagnant. Many retailers see learning and education as an add-on rather than the core of their business. As such, learning and education isn’t given a high priority. So rather than developing people in a highly effective manner, short cuts are taken. For example, many “buy” experience, or copy concepts, training modules etc. I say, buy cheap, buy twice, ” said Hawkins
“We believe in long term, sustainable development. And our secret sauce is that we have been able to unlock the ability to teach people how to truly connect with the customer, and others, on a very deep, personal level. This has a game changing effect on results,” Hawkins went on to say.
“As a retailer partnering with Progress Retail, you’re able to distribute and manage the most relevant learning and development that exists for the industry, both offline and online,” said Riley. “Learning is our core, and our platform is rapidly developing in areas of performance analytics and retail sales management. We’re carefully building an ecosystem of tools and learning that have a dramatically positive impact on sales professionals and store managers of the future,” he went on to say.
Progress Retail can point to specific, evidence-based results that demonstrate the impact of its unique approach. In a recently published study, Progress Retail’s retail partners from fiscal year 2018 (July 1st 2017 to June 30th, 2018) decreased retail employee turnover 61% in fiscal year 2019 (July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019).
Progress Retail’s roots come from Hawkins’ background in the retail industry, where she commenced her retail career on the shop floor.
“I remember feeling so embarrassed to tell people that I actually worked in retail. When I moved into a training role, I just loved witnessing what knowledge and inspiration could do for someone regardless of their role, whether they were scrubbing cupboards in a cafeteria, or building a rocket ship, it changed how people approached their work,” she said.
“That’s how it all started. I could see the influence of really impactful learning.”
Today, the company’s mission is to “enable every member of a retail organization to connect deeply with themselves, their company, their career, and their customers.”
Jo Horgan, founder of Australia-based Mecca, (a cosmetics and beauty retailer with 100 stores boasting 10 percent of Australia’s $4.2 billion beauty market) said: “We regard Progress Retail as a partner and not a supplier - they are integral to our success. We have seen our dollar spend per customer increase significantly while at the same time dramatically improving our customer service standards and staff retention. They stand alone in retail transformation.” Hawkins and the business first partnered with Mecca Brands in 1997 when the beauty retailer had fewer than 10 stores.
Progress Retail is operating today in Australia, Canada and the United States. The company’s first client and launch partner in Canada is hair salon chain Chatters, which began working with Progress Retail in Ontario in January of 2019, followed by Alberta in June.
Barb Sim, Vice President of Operations and Distribution at Chatters, said, “The reason we’re investing a significant amount in education is because we believe that this will set us apart. C.A.R.E.™ was really key for us in providing our leadership team that structured approach on coaching our team members at the store level, and really making sure we understand the steps to deliver an exceptional experience.”
“In Canada there is no shortage of retail trainers, or consultants. They may dabble in retail training and also do keynote speaking. We don’t rely on a personality - we are performance-based with equal doses of scalable purpose and process that is assisting in transformative outcomes for our retail partners. We’re taking the heavy-lifting out of crafting a powerful, strategic learning journey and meaningful employee experience for retailers,” Riley said.
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Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.