HARDI’s Branch Manager Certification Program and Sales Manager Certification Program are both just out of their launch phases and now have a combined 150 graduates between them. As they solidify their positions as flagships among HARDI’s education resources, and with cohorts having just graduated from both programs, it’s time to take a closer look at them.

“The work these managers put in is commendable,” says HARDI Manager of Professional Development Nick Benton. “They’ve all dedicated a year or more to completing the coursework and bettering themselves in their jobs. A lot has been asked of them in order to advance their expertise. “

Jason Bader, a leading wholesale distribution expert, leads the Branch Manager Certification Program. Those in the program start with a leadership assessment that helps determine an e-learning curriculum individually customized to each person’s unique strengths and weaknesses. They then attend a multiday workshop with Bader, which many attendees hail as a paradigm-shifting experience. The final phase of the program involves monthly coaching calls that reinforce the concepts learned in the previous phases, promoting long-term adherence to the program’s concepts.

“I learned more through the Branch Manager Certification Program than I did in 14 years at my previous company in a different industry,” says George Bayze, a branch manager with Geary Pacific Supply. “The program is just so tailored to what we do on a daily basis that it makes a big impact in so many ways, including driving gross margin, managing dead stock and managing time.”

Bayze entered the program fairly new to the industry. This provided the advantage that he did not need to unlearn bad habits. “This program helped me stay ahead of the game instead of learning on the job and making mistakes as I go. From very early on, the program helped me visualize what kind of branch manager I was going to be, which has given me a leg up.”

The numbers back it up. His branch is surpassing its goals and maintaining a high level of performance. “We’re 34 percent over where we were last year,” he says.

Jeremy Willaman, a branch manager with Refrigeration Sales Corp., recently took over a branch after working his way up from the counter. The previous manager is nearing retirement but still aboard to pass along his knowledge and expertise.

“Having a built-in mentor here has been valuable,” says Willaman. “At the same time, the certification program provided a lot of new perspectives that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Take, for example, just how costly mistakes really are: If you ship the wrong voltage compressor and it gets damaged, that’s a thousand-dollar mistake. What you may not realize is that it could take upward of $100,000 in sales to recoup that. Suddenly double and triple checking orders take on new importance.”

Management trainer Joe Ellers of Palmetto Associates leads the other new certification program, the Sales Manager Certification Program. Twelve graduates completed online coursework, attended in-person workshops and underwent months of coaching with Ellers. By the end of the program, graduates had spent months refining their sales plans and implementing coaching strategies to maximize the effectiveness of their sales teams.

“What we’ve been implementing since completing the course has helped our sales force become more empowered,” says Dean Rafiee, director of business development for master distributor Elco Cooling Solutions. “We’ve implemented a CRM system. We share calendars. We use target account lists. We segment our customers. We’ve created a sales manual that clearly defines the expectations of sales reps as well as what the company’s mission, vision and values are. Everyone is on the same page. We’ve done a lot since I’ve gone through the program and we’re still implementing more.”

Certification programs aren’t new to HARDI. The first at HARDI, the Counter Specialist Certification Program, was launched in 2007.

“As an association, we’re always testing out ways to better serve our members or help solve their problems. So, after hearing a lot of the same concerns from various distributors, we responded with the Counter Specialist Certification Program,” says HARDI Vice President Professional & Program Development Emily Saving, who pioneered many of HARDI’s professional development resources.

Since then, HARDI’s training programs have evolved to include the e-learning component, expert facilitators and in-person workshops.

“Distributors tend to encounter a lot of the same hurdles,” says Saving. “We’ve identified those recurring areas of difficulty and designed our certification programs around them, creating a system to help them overcome those obstacles that limit their performance.”

A quick Google search will confirm that ongoing employee training is one of the best things an employer can do to improve overall performance.

“If you want your people to perform at their best for you, you have to take an active role in their career development,” says Benton. “It’s an investment in the truest sense of the word because, ultimately, your goal is to grow the bottom line. Our programs are designed to put your employees in the best position to do just that.”

HARDI members interested in participating in these programs can contact Nick Benton at nbenton@hardinet.org.