Retail Skills organisation the Retail Academy has been relaunched with a new focus on providing effective, business-building staff training for independent retailers.

A new range of courses is available via CD or online so that they can be accessed easily in-store. The modules don't have an assessment exam, and are intended to be complementary to other courses such as NVQs with a focus on practical advice rather than formal qualifications.

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Staff will be able to work through the courses as and when they have spare time, and it will be great for them to learn something that they will be able to put into practice straight away." 

Lesley Brown, Frankmarsh Stores, Devon 

"It's very easy to use, and gets you thinking about what you are doing right and wrong. It should be a great help in getting staff to understand why store owners want them to do things in a certain way." 

Raj Aggarwal, Londis, Wigston, Leicester 

"Any training that will help people view their work more positively is welcome. Happy staff means happy customers, and therefore more profitability." 

Sid Ali, Nisa, Mintlaw, Aberdeen
The six topics available are: visual merchandising; retail security; customer service; marketing; planning your product range; and monitoring retail operations. Each CD can be purchased individually for £19.95, or at a special price of £99 for all six. The website at www.retail-academy.org.uk also features a number of free-to-use tools such as document templates and a margin calculator. The training material is provided by MyKnowledgeMap, which has worked with Tesco and Booths.

The new-style Retail Academy is chaired by C-Store columnist and My Shop is Your Shop (MSYS) campaign founder Alan Toft, and supported by a panel of successful independent retailers including Lesley Brown, Sunder Sandher, Sid Ali, Steve Robinson, Raj Aggarwal and Dennis and Linda Williams. The retailers will be actively involved in developing the programme.

Toft said: "Retailer friends who made a huge contribution to MSYS helped me to see the need for in-store skills learning of integrity, which recognised the pressures on small shops and focused on practical coaching in-store rather than exams."

Independent retailer Lesley Brown from Frankmarsh Stores in Barnstaple, Devon, can't wait to get her staff started. She said: "We've tried NVQs and distance learning before, but we always felt they weren't really geared up for independents like us. Younger staff members in particular will enjoy being able to work online or from a CD, and they can go through the courses as and when they have some spare time."

The National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) is also backing the scheme.