Love it or not, the Disney empire knows a thing or two about business and a big part of its ethos is customer service - something independent retailer Jenny Wynne-Jones learnt first hand.
When the 25-year-old - then 18 - went to work at Disneyworld in the US, she discovered the importance of training. She also developed a passion for customer service, which she's passed on to her team at the Spar store in Connah's Quay,
"Disneyworld is very strict on training," says Jenny. "It has its own university and you have to spend a week doing training before you start work, so that if someone asks you a question, you always know the answer. It's helped me here because it highlighted the importance of a positive attitude."
Jenny was one of the first retailers to adopt Spar's Sparkling Service training scheme last year. She attended a course to learn how to train her staff, and through a series of classroom discussion sessions, has trained 31 members of staff at the Connah's Quay store and the
forecourt store in nearby Flint, which is run by her dad.
"It's all about attitude," says Jenny. "It isn't teaching anything the staff don't already know. But it has boosted morale, and we've had better marks in mystery shopper visits, which we have every three months. Before we started the training scheme, our score was around 70%, then it jumped to 90%, and the last one was 100%."
Conducting the training also gave Jenny the chance to get a bit closer to her staff. "I was petrified when I did the first one. I felt like a teacher. But we have 17 members of staff in this store so it's not often I get to sit down and talk to them.
Training staff from both our stores meant we could mix people who hadn't met before and they got the opportunity to voice their opinions and ideas."
Jenny has also achieved some unity between her store's team and that of the Flint store. "Because we mixed up the Connah's Quay and Flint staff for the training sessions, and the Flint staff all had nice uniforms, we noticed how scruffy our team looked. So we ordered everyone new uniforms. Afterwards, customers would come in and say how smart everyone was. We bought about £500-worth of uniforms, but it was well worth it as we now look far more professional."
After working at Disneyland and then as a nanny in the US, Jenny came to work at the Connah's Quay store in March 2003, and has never looked back. "Dad had just bought the shop and I came down on a Thursday to help out. Five years later I'm still here. I've always worked in shops since I was little."
But the store wasn't always the happy place it is now. When the Wynne-Jones family took over, the mood among staff was low. "The previous owners didn't give the staff any trust or responsibility. Staff morale was really low. They weren't even allowed to give out carrier bags or get cash for the till. They were very timid, and there was no one locking up, so dad had to do everything to begin with. The owners didn't even tell the employees they were selling. We changed the security arrangements and started giving staff some responsibility. I was only 21 and had no management experience, but I always believed in the importance of training."
And so they started to transform the store and foster an ethos of learning and customer service. Now, as a requirement of their employment, every member of staff undertakes an NVQ in Retail Operations. The qualification is run by the college next door to the store, but all the training is done in the workplace.
"They don't have to pay anything and they don't have to go to college, because they're assessed in the store," explains Jenny. "Everyone here has at least done Level one, and many have done Level two, as well as extras such as customer service and food hygiene on top of that."
But it's not just the staff that have the benefit of training. Jenny has just embarked on an apprenticeship in customer service. "We've got a really good relationship with the college next door and they approached me to be a guinea pig for the new
apprenticeships. It's meant to take 18 months and you get paid £200 at the end of it. At the same time, you can do any other course at the college free of charge. I've taken a 32-week evening class in computers and in the autumn will enrol in an accounts course.
"When I've completed my apprenticeship, I'll ask some of the girls if they want to do it. Some of it is quite difficult, so I want to get through mine first. Then I can help them, if they need it."
The college also invited Jenny to join them on a fact-finding trip to a college with which they're twinned in Holland. "We went over to see how they do training there. We visited a top hotel firm, a department store and a men's clothes store. We also went to a supermarket, and the standards there were amazing. The visit highlighted the fact that store standards are extremely important, and so is training."
Staff at Connah's Quay have clearly adapted well to Jenny's training regime. "People who work in shops might not have received any
education for a long while, so we expected them to be apprehensive about it. But everyone has done it and they really enjoyed the Sparkling Service scheme, which I was a little bit surprised at. People's attitudes have changed, it's really made a difference. We get a lot more positive comments from customers. The staff are thinking like a customer now so they look at the store and see what needs doing. The shop is looking better as a result. People come here because they get good service and they keep coming back."
Training has a positive impact on the team as well. "If staff are happy and the atmosphere is good, it makes a big difference. We're able to retain staff, which is a huge advantage because it costs so much to take on new staff. Our staff don't leave, so morale is great. We have nights out together and we do a staff newsletter so everyone is kept up to date with what we're doing, as well as staff birthdays, weddings and so on. It's important to have strong communication between the staff and us."
Jenny is now on the lookout for the next big thing. "You have to train continuously, but it's been nine months since we did Sparkling
Service so we'll have to do something else or the staff might lose interest. But I don't know what yet. I hope Spar will bring something else out."