Progress Retail Helping Industry Players Develop Top Talent and Streamline Operations: Feature

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Retail is about people. It always has been, dating all the way back to the earliest bazaars. And it always will be. The objective, of course, is the transfer of product and services from seller to buyer. But, at its core, it’s about communication and the delivery of information and courtesy in order to support a great experience for the customer. Today, ensuring that stores are staffed with the right talent required to execute superior levels of service and to meet and exceed customer expectations is a top priority for retailers everywhere. Given the challenges that the industry’s faced over the course of the past 16 months or so, combined with a current shortage of in-store retail talent, it’s an element of the operation that is in desperate need of improvement. And, according to Ray Riley, Co-CEO at Progress Retail – a provider of an innovative retail operations and employee experience platform – the solution to the challenge is in the continuous education and development of staff.

“The role of the in-store retail employee is a difficult one,” he admits. “And it’s one that’s only becoming harder. When we talk to retailers every single day, the main issues of front-line empowerment and enablement come up time and time again. From an enablement perspective, there are far too many tools and apps today that make it very difficult to effectively engage and develop store teams and manage store operations. Our platform combines retail task execution, company communications and dynamic learning for all. From an empowerment perspective, retailers of all shapes and sizes are starving for quality content. Through Progress Retail, brands have access to a deep and renowned library of education. Going forward, meaningful retail education and development will be table stakes as retailers refine their physical footprints, and stores continue to evolve in purpose and utility.”

A learning platform for retailers, built by retailers

Image: Progress Retail

Founded in 1989 as People in Progress by current Co-CEO Terry Hawkins, the company has amassed over 100,000 retail alumni who have clocked in more than 85,000 online learning hours. In a 2019 case study, Progress Retail’s approach contributed over a one-year period to a 61 percent decrease in their clients’ employee turnover rates. It’s a mission and resulting success that’s not only driven by the robust nature of the platform and its offering, but by the combined 40-plus years of experience the leadership team has enjoyed working within the industry. Hawkins spent a number of years working within executive roles at major fashion chains, and is a recognized expert in the design of retail education. And Riley, who describes himself as a ‘lifetime’ retail employee, has worked everything from frontline in-store positions to leading Michael Hill’s U.S. stores. He says that experience underpins the fluency needed to relate to retailers.

“There’s a language to retail,” he asserts. “Very quickly you know who’s lived that life in practice and not just in theory. Progress Retail is a platform for retailers that’s been built by retailers.”

Justin Asgarpour

And it seems that Canadian retailers are taking notice. In fact, Clearly of Essilor Luxottica and Kiaro have recently joined Progress Retail in the last few months to leverage the platform that Riley describes as “category-agnostic”, adding that it’s breadth of application speaks to the strength of the platform and educational content it offers. And, according to Justin Asgarpour, Chief Vision Officer & Director of Retail Operations at Clearly, the Progress Retail platform is easy to use, delivering tangible results.

“The platform is intuitive, enabling optimal engagement of staff, and provides insights our leadership team can leverage to further support team development,” he says. “The Progress Retail team has provided a level of commitment that ensures uptake, guaranteeing the needle moving in the right direction.”

Eleanor Lynch

Eleanor Lynch, Chief Operations Officer at Kiaro agrees, adding that the platform also serves as an incredible singular touchpoint from which retailers can manage their teams while properly and effectively supporting their current and future development.

“Retail staff have many priorities,” she recognizes. “Progress Retail allows us to support Kiaro store teams with one convenient platform to collaborate, update their own knowledge-base and find the information they need to complete in store duties. Beyond just the tactical improvements to the employee experience, Progress Retail provides Kiaro store management with a comprehensive training program focused on empathy-based interactions. The team at Progress Retail have provided exceptional value to our retail teams, and we are honoured to be a partner.”

Company-wide development tool

A business tool to be implemented and leveraged by the entire retail organization, Progress Retail’s education platform consists of three distinct retail hubs, including Operations, Learning and Performance. Riley says that he and Hawkins often talk about “the total being greater than the sum of the parts,” adding that the amount of increased productivity and engagement retailers can realize by having a single source of truth for the majority of store communications, operations, and training is quite compelling. He suggests that it represents a much more holistic approach to education and skills development than retailers have been used to. But, more importantly, it helps them modernize the methods by which they administer and manage their training, helping them to address the needs and concerns of the modern retail employee.

“Post-COVID retailers are increasingly looking at new ways of operating,” explains Riley. “They’re shedding their legacy tools and systems, doing away with their homegrown intranets and PowerPoint-style training content, and looking for newer and better ways to meet the needs and complexities of modern retail. We don’t use the term ‘learning management system’ or ‘LMS’. That’s not where we are competing, nor is it where we believe the industry is going. The platform’s full capability helps retailers streamline their employee education and training while enabling them to communicate directly with team members. It allows a clearer view into the objectives of the team and the impact that their training activities are having on the organization’s overall performance.”

Increasing comprehension and performance

In addition to the streamlining of learning and education that the Progress Retail platform provides, it’s also helping retailers to increase comprehension among their teams, resulting in enhanced execution and performance results. Riley believes that it’s a comprehension that has lacked within the industry over recent years, explaining that it’s simply been “assumed” that retail frontline staff have a clear and explicit understanding of their roles and the ways by which they contribute toward the organization as a whole, when, in fact, they don’t.

“For 25 years now, the ‘all-store’ emails have gone out with training information, tasks to be done, and updates from nearly all business functions,” he says “What’s the priority? Who is the intended audience? What got done? And who knows what? It’s impossible to tell. Fortunately, we offer an easier way, representing perhaps the greatest return on investment for any retailer when it comes to leveraging our platform. It provides them with the ability to develop people into the next generation of retail leaders as well as the tools to help support that development. It ultimately leads to a more engaged and involved retail team who feel a renewed value and importance placed on their roles. And it helps to motivate staff, providing them with a clearer view into potential career progression and the path to success. This is a platform that will help them achieve their goals as an employee of the company. With this in mind, learning is not a stop and start process. For retailers looking to cultivate and maintain a culture of learning, education and training should never stop. Employees are constantly developing, transitioning from frontline staff to assistant store managers, to store managers, to district managers and so on.”

Meeting the needs of modern retail

Riley goes on to explain that the platform also helps retailers address the many new skills that are required in light of the shift in consumer behaviour that’s been precipitated by COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing requirements. The advent and growth of buy-online-pick-up-in-store, curbside pick-up and other modes of retail transactions are presenting organizations with new rules and learning opportunities around meeting the needs of today’s consumer and delivering the experiences that they demand. When considering the gamut of talent development needs that the Progress Retail platform helps to address, it seems to serve as the vital talent cog that keeps the retail operation moving forward, smoothly.

“We are seeing firsthand how challenging hiring within the industry is,” he says. “The people that work in stores are beyond essential. The level of empowerment and enablement they receive is what will set retailers apart as an employer of choice.  We’re experiencing positive growth and are looking forward to supporting retailers throughout North America, and executing on some exciting plans with respect to the next generation of our product.

For more information concerning the ways Progress Retail can help improve your organization’s training and development initiatives and streamline your operations, visit

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Article Author

Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry is an experienced writer who leverages his unique storytelling abilities to bring retail industry news and analysis to life. With 25 years of learning, including over a decade as Editor-In-Chief of Canadian Retailer magazine, he’s equipped with a deep understanding of the unique world of retail and the issues, trends, and innovators that continue to influence its evolution and shape its landscape.

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