Cornwall Farmers buck trend

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Cornwall Farmers, a local agricultural and country stores co-operative that are open to the general public, are bucking the usual trend of cutting training budgets in times of economic recession by embarking on a major training programme, involving its 350 staff.

The company aims to continue its outstanding success by developing the capability and confidence of its workforce, and make it better equipped to come out of the economic downturn in an even stronger position.

Developed in partnership with Cornwall College Business and Cornwall Retail Skills, the programme is bespoke to Cornwall Farmers, and will further develop the business’ customer service, customer satisfaction, staff turnover and customer loyalty. The training involves an investment in excess of £350,000 over 18 months and is funded by the Train to Gain programme, Cornwall Retail Skills and core funding from the Learning and Skills Council.

Tamsyn Harris, CCB’s Head of Business Development said “Training to prepare for coming out of the recession is a refreshing antidote to the many retailers who are currently contracting their operations. Cornwall Farmers are investing in the future, thinking beyond the short term. It is a brave move designed to improve the skill sets of their staff so they can make a wider contribution, rather than pigeon hole them into a particular role.”

Established in 1920, Cornwall Farmers have expanded in recent years, with the number of its country stores growing from five to fourteen, and its product line increasing to over 70,000. Originally selling agricultural machinery and animal feed, the company now supplies outdoor clothing and equipment, equine, pet foods and small-holder products to the general public across Devon and Cornwall.

David Harding, Cornwall Farmers’ training and development manager commented: “In the past any training provided was very fragmented and there was no focus to it. Now we have developed the Acorn training programme as part of an organisational strategy designed to support business objectives. It is an investment on the company’s part to support the professional development of the individual and we hope it will lead to a reduction in staff turnover and absenteeism and build staff loyalty.”

“We conducted a cost benefit analysis on the benefits of training and the overarching response was we cannot afford not to do it. Improving the customer experience is what is going to keep our business strong, and training our staff to deliver that is more important than ever in this climate.”

Most of the training is store based, combined with innovative workshops delivered by national experts in topics such as visual merchandising and management skills. Cornwall Retail Skills have also been instrumental sourcing the expert speakers and advising on the programme content. The programme is wide reaching, giving all staff the skills they need to develop and operate effectively and confidently, and includes improving supply chain management skills, warehousing efficiency, team leading skills, and retail and customer service skills.

Jo Lake from Cornwall Retail Skills said: “We are proud to be working with Cornwall Farmers on their inspirational Acorn Development project.  The company have an outstanding forward thinking approach to company training which is driven by the enthusiasm of their training manager and a company wide sense of pride in their business. 

“The programme is the result of 12 months work with all partners to ensure that what is delivered meets the need of Cornwall Farmers and their staff.  It’s a brilliant example of what companies can achieve when working closely with their sector organisation and a local training provider.  I would encourage all retail businesses to get involved with training and development as it really has such a huge impact on how a business performs in the market place and how staff interact with customers.”     

At the end of the programme managers will have the opportunity to have achieved three nationally recognised qualifications. The programme is multi-faceted including support in developing communication skills, retail excellence, customer service and numeracy. It is a mix of practical and theoretical learning and has also used “mystery shoppers” to establish a benchmark prior to the programme starting.

Dave Linnell, Principal of Cornwall College said: “Cornwall College Business exists to support businesses to grow and develop with expert, quality training. This support is particularly important during times of economic downturn and I am delighted that CCB have been able to work with the sector to develop a tailored programme to help Cornwall Farmers achieve their goals.”