Reaching the masses

The allure of technology is that it is supposed to reduce time, improve efficiency and create cost savings. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always deliver.

But when Ernie Hawk turned to technology to tackle KraftMaid Cabinetry’s problem of disseminating training information to more than 3,000 representatives nationwide, the solution worked exactly the way it was intended.

KraftMaid, which manufactures built-to-order cabinetry out of its Middlefield plant, sells its products through a nationwide network of dealers, including home centers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. Representatives at each organization must be trained about KraftMaid’s products and certified in numerous areas in order to effectively sell.

Methods included in-field training, which consisted of a lecture, lecture-based paper materials and a book of overhead product configuration slides presented by one of KraftMaid’s 150 sales representatives or a member of its training staff.

This led to many challenges, says Hawk, the company’s director of training.

First, there were profitability issues associated with producing multiple training courses for each of the company’s product lines. Then there was the problem of regulating consistency among trainers. Finally, training methods failed to ensure the information stuck in the dealer representatives’ heads.

“We simply didn’t have the resources to effectively meet the demands of our customers,” Hawk says.

So Hawk collaborated with Cleveland-based Fathom Interactive to develop a series of computer-based training courses to replace KraftMaid’s lecture-based efforts.

“CBT overcomes many of the challenges faced in traditional training methods,” he says.

The first version of the software was aimed at kitchen fundamentals and took about 90 days to get into the field. A second version, designed to instruct dealers in design principles, followed shortly.

In a nutshell, the CBT application transforms KraftMaid’s basic training materials into a self-paced, highly interactive course that allows students to take the class at convenient times and repeat and review it as often as they require. When interrupted, the student can mark the course and return to it any time to review and continue. When the student passes all eight modules, Hawk certifies him or her.

Hawk says in its first year, the program has:

* Produced greater knowledge and sale of value-added options through deeper understanding of dealers’ roles and value in cabinetry applications.

* Improved consistency of training materials and delivery.

* Provided a quicker response to dealers’ training needs because of standardized materials.

* Lowered training costs per staff teaching hour used.

* Increased the scope of in-field training, allowing the sales employees of thousands more dealers to take courses.

* Enhanced student retention of materials.

* Allowed for in-depth training because dealers’ sales employees quickly became well-versed in basic kitchen fundamentals.

Hawk says the company is looking at ways to expand its CBT offerings.

“We’re currently developing a distance learning program that includes live Internet training,” he says. “The first version of that should begin in March.” How to reach: KraftMaid Cabinetry, (440) 632-5333