- Unpacking a retail training strategy that sets R.M.Williams apart from their competitors.
- Drive behaviour change to always put the customer first and make them the number one priority.
- Sales-focused courses that are 100% bespoke to R.M.Williams.
- Building great leaders with embedded coaching.
- Providing a signature customer experience in an omnichannel world.
R.M.Williams, a renowned Australian premium footwear and clothing brand, has crafted products that can stand the test of time since 1932. With a rich heritage deeply rooted in Australian culture and craftsmanship, the company has evolved into a global icon of quality and style. Over the years, R.M.Williams has expanded its retail presence across Australia and beyond, establishing an extensive network of stores. We caught up with Kirsty James, Head of Training & Development - Commercial, to unpack the retail training strategy undertaken by R.M.Williams that sets them apart from their competitors.
Kirsty's journey began with R.M.Williams in 1996 as a 19-year-old, “I started as the office junior, and then I was lucky enough to progress through various roles in my journey at R.M.Williams. It was predominantly retail focused to begin with - we only had 13 company stores when I started, and we've got 60 now.”
From retail sales and operations to wholesale, e-commerce and manufacturing, Kirsty’s experienced a wide variety of roles at R.M.Williams, “I’ve learnt the ropes of R.M. Williams before coming into this role, which now allows me to tie it all up and tell the story, hopefully, in an authentic way”. Now, 27 years on & 60 stores later, Kirsty is working in her dream role, developing the team & sharing her love for the R.M. Williams brand. “You don't stay somewhere for that long unless you’re passionate about it”.
About five years ago, R.M.Williams’ retail network was getting bigger and bigger. They needed to train their teams quickly and effortlessly without getting everyone together in one place. “We wanted the ability to build really quick online training pieces, and I don't think there were too many content creation tools out there at the time,” said Kirsty. Tools like Teams and Zoom weren’t in common use, so the need to source a digital training space became an absolute priority for the business.
Initially, the business went with an alternative training provider who offered a suite of thousands of existing courses and ticked the box for an LMS and basic build tool. It provided the business with an information source rather than a training platform that influenced behaviour change. Kirsty says, “It was a great introduction to online training for us and served the purpose for what we were looking for at the time.”
“Our Chief Commercial Officer, who joined the business two years ago, has a passion for learning and development, so I didn’t have to try and sell the benefits or ROI of an elevated platform to him. Between the two of us, we said okay, it's time to take the next step in our digital learning space.” Kirsty sent a survey to the existing team & users, asking for feedback on what they liked about the current training platform & what frustrated them. This feedback helped the business determine they were searching for something more engaging and interactive that would drive a positive behaviour change. “It's all well and good to ask the team to complete the training, but if you can't see any change at the end or if people aren't engaged in it, then it's a complete waste of everyone’s time.”
Kirsty thoroughly researched the market, having several demonstrations and conversations with five or six training providers. “We did our due diligence, but when I saw RedSeed, I knew that it was going to tick all the boxes that we needed at this point in time.”
Driving behaviour change to ensure the customer is our number one focus always, was our priority!
Kirsty expressed, “What I love about RedSeed is our ability to build customer-focused courses that are 100% bespoke to R.M.Williams, so it's as simple as watching the videos that are filmed in our own stores with our own products and going out and practicing, rather than first having to translate the content into something that is meaningful to the employee and our business.”
By using RedSeed’s video-based format, with supporting images and interactive activities, Kirsty was able to drive up engagement and retention. “The ability to make the courses a lot more interactive with short videos and a lot less text allows us to accommodate the various learning styles of the diverse employee base within the business” This was fundamental in encouraging behaviour change and creating a learning culture within R.M.Williams.
The second priority was finding a simple, less overwhelming onboarding program. “With our previous training platform, when you started your learning journey, you were assigned every single training piece you were required to do all at once. So when a new employee started, they would not only get around 30 courses in their training inbox, but they also received an email for every course that was assigned to them. It was a really overwhelming experience for new starters.
The training pathways that RedSeed offer was another one that really spoke to us” Kirsty now uses RedSeed’s learning pathways to provide a clear order of courses that no longer overwhelms new hires but provides a much more positive training experience.
The third priority was to find a retail sales training solution built for Australia and New Zealand. “Out of 60 stores, all but three of them are currently in Australia and New Zealand.” Working with RedSeed provided Kirsty with a retail sales programme filmed with ANZ actors and tailored to customer preferences in those regions.
R.M.Williams launched their new RedSeed training platform, The R.M.Williams Learning Library, in November last year. Starting with their manufacturing and distribution teams, who previously only had compliance & policy training but are now working through personal development and leadership courses, “RedSeed provide some great personal and leadership development courses which our frontline supply chain teams have not had easy access to before and the response has been really positive.” In April, the Learning Library was launched to their retail teams, with encouraging feedback received so far.
Like any new system, the biggest challenge is getting buy-in across the business, which has to be driven from the top down. “From a retail perspective, we gathered all our store managers together across three different workshops and facilitated face-to-face learning on the importance of leadership and building a learning culture.
We completed a couple of the leadership courses together and went through the entire platform, then discussed any barriers to success that our Store Managers envisaged and found solutions as a group. They were then able to confidently go back to their teams and get them excited about what was coming. The Store Managers used the platform for a month before launching to the wider retail network.” Kirsty says, “The launch is super important in how your teams perceive and engage with it. The way we launched our Learning Library (RedSeed) was really positively received and proved to be successful, so it would absolutely be how we would do it for all.”
It was essential for R.M.Williams that RedSeed training wasn’t seen as simply a replacement to their previous online training but as a new and elevated platform that provided personal development and built a learning culture within the business.
R.M.Williams also faced challenges with access to technology amongst their manufacturing and distribution teams, “We're fortunate now that our retail teams use handheld devices as the point of sale system; everybody's got an iPhone in their hand, so it makes it super easy for our team members to duck out and find a quiet space to do some learning because they’ve got a device to do it,” however for their supply chain teams, investment was needed to provide the technology & space to participate in training. “The business purchased a number of devices that our manufacturing and distribution teams have access to, which allows them to find a quiet space for 10-15 minutes a week to focus on their own personal learning”.
It’s great to see R.M.Williams taking the lead on providing training for these teams, who are often left behind when it comes to development.
Results & highlights
Although it’s early days for results, Kirsty is excited about the initial wins across the business! “Our supply chain is sitting at around 80% energy, which blows me away given that they are out on the front line with no technology in front of them and have to make time to find another space to do their learning”. Team engagement & retention rates will be strong success measures for the manufacturing and distribution side of the business going forward.
As for retail, with the launch in April, initial feedback has been rewarding. “Feedback that I've received saying how easy the Learning Library is to use and how interactive and engaging the content is has been really positive. In fact, we are getting numerous requests for more bespoke courses, which we are currently working on.” Going forward, Kirsty will be watching team engagement closely.
“We have KPIs that our retail teams are striving for, particularly from a service point of view. We will be looking closely at customer feedback (NPS), along with how conversion, UPT (units per transaction), ATV and sales growth compares to each store’s energy levels. “We are only a few months since launch, but so far, there is an interesting correlation between the direction each store’s KPIs are heading month on month versus their RedSeed energy levels. I love that we can look at energy from an individual store point of view and compare them back to their KPI results.”
Kirsty describes RedSeed as “More than an online training platform. This is very much about having a tool that can not only provide leadership and personal development opportunities for our teams but also bespoke videos and courses that demonstrate what good looks like at R.M.Williams and drive positive behaviour change that puts our people (both employees and customers) front and centre.”
Looking into the future, a core focus of R.M.Williams’ is to build great leaders. In particular, leaders who understand the importance of coaching & developing their people. Kirsty says, “We want to build leaders that have regular coaching conversations with their teams - What did you learn today? How are we going to practise that? What worked well? How can we do this differently? Leadership is a constant conversation, and building leaders that not only role model expected behaviours but those that empower their team and facilitate learning, rather than telling, is our number one.”
Regarding future training, Kirsty says, “Our business is so diverse; we have retail, independent wholesale partners, digital, manufacturing, distribution and corporate; the opportunities are endless!” From a store point of view (for retail and wholesale), we are in the process of building a bespoke course on Signature Brand, emphasising the importance of visual merchandising & brand standards. “Our goal at R.M.Williams is to be known all over the world because of our signature service. Brand representation and product knowledge plays a huge part in this.”
An omnichannel future is also top of mind for Kirsty, “It's no longer just a matter of how do we sell something off the shop floor; we also have an entire digital solution with all commercial channels needing to work together to offer what is best for the customer while remaining consistent in the signature service we offer. No longer will customers be happy receiving a different experience across different channels; they're expecting the exact same experience across every touchpoint, and how you manage that and get that right is the next challenge.”
Another big goal for Kirsty is to showcase the incredible investment R.M.Williams is making in its people through training & development by winning awards. “Being that employer of choice and being able to show that this is what we do to invest in our people” provides an advantage in a competitive marketplace. “You know, when you're weighing up your options, and you've received similar offers of employment, usually, it's a case of what are they going to do for me that will help with my development and future opportunities.” Providing training & spending time developing your team can be the difference between recruiting & retaining great team members or losing talent!
The thinking certainly hasn’t stopped at R.M.Williams, and we expect to see their training continue to evolve to become more effective and better match their needs.
Kirsty says, “We've got some ambitious targets that we're striving for. It's very much about getting out there and observing, listening and having regular conversations with our teams on how it's all working and what our areas of opportunity are.”
Kirsty’s attitude & drive towards developing the people of R.M.Williams is certainly impressive & an asset to the business. She says, “If I could do it all today, I would; there's so much I want to do, but I want to get it right.” We are very excited to work with Kirsty on this journey and can’t wait to see the future results we can generate together!
R.M.Williams's commitment to excellence extends beyond the products they offer. By investing in its most valuable asset, its people (both employees and customers), R.M.Williams ensures the longevity and success of their brand and reinforces its position as a leader in the global retail industry.
Through their bespoke courses & learning pathways, R.M.Williams has set the foundations to empower its employees with the necessary skills and knowledge to deliver their signature customer service, drive sales, and uphold the brand's reputation for excellence.