SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - When you attend a training seminar you expect to learn a few new things about your particular business. Maybe you'll find out about a new product, or how to become a better manager, or ways in which to provide superior customer service. But would you expect to play Monopoly? Put together puzzles? Wear blindfolds?

Those activities are all par for the course at the Masters I and II classes that are held several times a year for Totaline parts store managers. While the information that is taught is very serious, the tone is light-hearted, and participants have no choice but to become involved in every aspect of the training sessions.

That's definitely by design, said Jim Flynn, Totaline training manager, Syracuse, N.Y. "I want it to be hands-on and engaging. I don't want people sitting in a dark room for eight hours watching a PowerPoint presentation. Whenever our students can become participants rather than just sitting there and watching, they remember more, and it makes their day go a lot faster."

Groups at the Masters II class embarked on a game of Monopoly and had to answer questions about Masters I before moving their pieces around the board.


Alex Grimshaw, CEO, PPS International, Fulton, N.Y., definitely acts on Flynn's directive to have fun when he teaches the Masters I and II classes. He and fellow presenter, Mike Bensley, vice president of marketing and sales, PPS, intersperse necessary information, such as how to write a performance agreement, with fun activities, such as wearing a blindfold and trying to draw a 21 inch line.

The parts store managers who attend Masters I and II may groan a bit when presented with these activities, but they all jump in and have fun. Of course, there's a point behind each activity, as many have to do with managing, coaching, and working together - something the participants do on a daily basis back at their stores.

The Masters series is part of Totaline's extensive lineup of training classes that are offered to all employees of its wholly owned and independent parts stores. Employees who are new to a parts store are encouraged to start the training process by taking a six-module correspondence course, which will familiarize them with inventory systems, as well as the fundamentals of air conditioning.

After completing the correspondence course, employees have the ability to enroll in Totaline University, a four-day course in Syracuse, N.Y., that covers product basics, as well as customer service skills. "We bring in 24 students at a time to teach them the fundamentals, show them the new products, and then give them selling skills," said Flynn. "We try to have fun, that's definitely part of the program, but the purpose for training is to make the students more comfortable selling the product."

Totaline also hosts four regional conferences a year - in Indianapolis, Anaheim, Calif., Orlando, Fla., and either Baltimore or Philadelphia. Distributors are encouraged to send their counter people, managers, purchasing managers, and sales managers to these events in order to learn about new products and hone their selling techniques. The conferences involve breakout sessions on major product groups such as compressors, thermostats, motors, and refrigeration, then various suppliers display their products in the evening.

Flynn estimated that approximately 70-75 percent of Totaline distributors send at least some of their employees to the various training opportunities that are offered around the country.


The Masters I class has been around for about 10 years and came into being after participants at Totaline University asked for a class that would be geared directly toward parts store managers. The class consists of three 2-1/2-day classes, with one session being held in Scottsdale, Ariz., one in Orlando, Fla., and the final one in Syracuse, N.Y.

Some of the techniques taught at the Masters I classes include coaching skills, performance management, personnel management, and team building. As Grimshaw noted, "Masters I is really for the new manager. It's all about managing people in a parts store and is basically geared toward those who are new in their positions."

Judging from the feedback at the most recent session, participants are looking forward to putting what they learned into practice. Sven Fransen of Werner's Totaline, Sudbury, Ontario, manages three people, and said he enjoys the camaraderie of the training classes, as well as learning how to better manage his employees.

"I learned that half the battle of managing people is really listening to them," said Fransen. "I also learned that including others in my decision-making process will only help me to make better decisions. The goal is to not just have employees conform, because then they'll just give the bare minimum in terms of performance. If they're involved, then they really become part of the team."

Masters II is a brand new offering, and the class in Scottsdale was the first one that was taught. It consists of two 2-1/2-day sessions, located in different cities around the country. In this class, participants use what they learned in Masters I and take it a step further. As Flynn noted, "Masters II revolves around operating results and customer results. In other words, revenues, cost, profit - how do you increase revenue, reduce cost, and increase profit. On the customer side, we teach how to hold onto customers."

It was at Masters II that the Monopoly game was hauled out and played, but it wasn't that simple. The participants were divided into two teams, and they first had to put the puzzle pieces of the Monopoly board together. One team had a definite advantage, as someone on their side collected Monopoly boards in her spare time, so she knew the correct location of Park Place and Baltic Ave.

The questions asked during the Monopoly game reflected what was learned in the Masters I class, so it was a good opportunity to meet the others in the class, as well as have a fun refresher on previous teachings.

The entire Masters II class revolves around a six-step plan, which asks: Where are we today? What are our current strengths and weaknesses? Where do we want to be? What do customers want and expect? What do we need to change? What is the plan? By working through these questions, participants should be able to go back to their stores and have a plan to grow their businesses.

Training is a crucial part of any job, and Flynn stated his whole goal is to give people the tools they need to do their jobs well. "If you don't train up front, you're looking for a disaster somewhere down the line," said Flynn.

"I hope that with all the training we provide, we're able to give people the tools they need so they can use them immediately when they return to work. Ultimately, our purpose in training is to make them more comfortable, so they can make more money and be more profitable for their owner. However, we also want them to take what they've learned and use it every day."

Publication date: 11/20/2006