The increasing amount of legislation affecting the convenience sector means training for both retailers and their staff has never been more important.
And while a number of retailers have been quick to realise this, trade bodies and training providers are quick to point out that more retailers must act now to ensure they're not left behind when it comes to gaining the skills that will lead to better protection and increased sales.
Shane Brennan, public affairs manager at the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), believes convenience retailers must be willing to spend time training themselves and their staff in order to progress and stay on top of new business legislation.
"The modern c-store needs to comply with a wide range of legislation which means training is critical," he says. "There are a number of things retailers do in their stores which need specific training such as selling alcohol and age-restricted goods, food hygiene and employment procedures. It's all these things that add up and form the need for a comprehensive approach to training."
Brennan believes there's still a big training gap in convenience retailing. "Some retailers are very aware of the options available to them but there are still those that are lagging behind and they are going to struggle," he explains. "It's really important that everyone works together to plug the gap and improve retailer skills."
And there are a number of options for retailers out there. The introduction of free online skills brokerage services such as the Learning and Skills Council's Train to Gain, has made training more accessible for businesses of all sizes. In excess of 22,000 employers have signed up to the free service since August 2006.
A learning tool set up specifically for retailers is the Retail Academy, which is made up of a partnership of retail organisations and colleges offering training and qualifications.
The ACS is currently offering its online training tool, Retail Detail, set up in conjunction with the Retail Academy, free of charge to new and existing members.
Brennan explains: "Retail Detail is mainly designed to ensure that staff have good entry level standards. It can also work as an extremely useful staff management system where retailers can keep up to date with where they and their staff are with their training.
"It's been made available to ACS members free of charge and has proved very popular. The key to its success is its delivery. A big problem in the past has been retailers not having the time to send themselves or their staff away."
While many retailers opt to spend as little time as possible away from their stores, Brennan adds that for many, face-to-face courses remain an extremely useful business tool. One such example is the association's two-day residential convenience retailing simulation workshop, the next of which takes place between May 13-18.
Brennan says: "Retailers who have taken part in our simulation workshops have raved about how worthwhile they've been. They teach retailers about profit and loss and give them the opportunity to test out new business ideas. It's as close as they can get to actual retailing through simulation. It is also a good opportunity for retailers to talk through situations with other retailers."
Elsewhere, training provider CPL offers a number of training courses for c-store retailers and while specialising in providing qualifications for licensed retailers, can also offer first aid and health and safety training.
Chairman Paul Chase explains: "There's been a big increase in the number of retailers signing up to our training course with things like the introduction of new licensing laws. We offer the Education Development International version of the National Certificate for Personal Licence Holders, (NCPLH), and saw more than 12,000 people through their training last year."
CPL also offers a qualification in underage sales prevention, which focuses on the full range of age-restricted products rather than just alcohol.
"We can offer underage sales prevention training in a very convenient way with an online test, says Chase. "We send out a number of handbooks and then send an invigilator along when the exam is being taken. Retailers also have the option of visiting one of our 57 centres across England and Wales. We're also going to be starting courses in Scotland this month."
Chase believes formal underage sales prevention training should be part of any retailer's induction programme. He adds: "It's a small expense of around £50 per member of staff but it's extremely worthwhile. There is a lot of legislation wrapped round the Licensing Act which has made it very draconian for retailers. We can help with this and after training with us retailers also have access to our legal helpline."
Another organisation offering a variety of retail training is Retail Plus. Its courses include customer service, employment skills and National Lottery management.
The most recent course to be added to the list is a certificate in news and magazine management.
The qualification teaches how to select products and merchandise them in accordance with local demand, accurate ordering skills and how to improve stock control efficiency. On completion of the course, participants receive a Level 3 certificate accredited by the national awarding body NCFE.
Managing director Kevin Maxfield explains: "The efficient management of newspapers and magazines is key within newsagents, c-stores and forecourts.
The new course is a work-based learning one, which we have developed following feedback from retailers. Throughout its delivery, and others within our portfolio, we hope to address many training needs and increase vital skills within the retail sector."
The retail view
Retail training manager at MBL, Kirsty Crowe, explores the importance of training in today's c-store environment
Do you think an increasing number of c-store retailers are willing to participate in training in order to improve their businesses?
Yes, now that the big four are setting the standards, consumers are driving the demand for the c-store retailer to provide a more professional service.
This needs to be driven from the behaviour and knowledge of retailers and their staff.
Has the increasing amount of red tape and new legislation resulted in an increase in the number of retailers taking steps to ensure they and their staff are properly trained?
Yes it has, retailers have become far more aware of their legal responsibilities. As such, they are trying to be more pro-active when it comes to looking for training solutions.
Do you believe training for c-store owners is a real necessity now rather than an option?
Yes, if retailers fail to invest they will get left behind on all levels, not just legislation issues. If they invest they will see increased loyalty from the team members, resulting in increased productivity and profits.
Which of MBL's courses are proving particularly popular with retailers?
The most popular courses have been personal alcohol licensing, maximising your wine sales, an introduction to fresh foods and effective supervising.
Are there any courses that are new for 2007?
The courses I've just mentioned are all new for 2007. Other new courses we're offering our members include 'Train the Trainer' and 'Driving Exceptional Service.' We're also offering a new in-store training tool on employment essentials, which is available as a manual or CD-rom.
Are all the courses handled in house by the MBL training team?
All fresh food courses and basic food hygiene are handled in house and delivered by our fresh food advisors. Our health & safety and consumer law course is also run in house. All other courses are outsourced to experts in the various fields who have been hand picked by us. We believe that running the fresh courses in house ensures that the retailers receive c-store specific information, and especially information regarding MBL products.
Do you feel all MBL retailers have easy access to training?
Yes. All we charge the retailers is the cost to us of running the course. By keeping costs low it means the training is accessible to everyone.