Celebrating retail career opportunities: How Pet Valu attracts retail talent


Photo courtesy of Pet Valu

Farheen Visram is director, talent and training, at Pet Valu, Markham, Ont. This specialty pet retailer has grown to over 600 stores, making it the largest pet store chain in Canada.

Pet Valu has to hire very high-quality staff. After all, it faces fierce competition, at often lower prices, from box stores, WalMart, grocery stores, and, yes, hardware stores. Pet Valu needs pet lovers and pet experts on its staff. Visram shared, at a Retail Council of Canada human resources conference earlier this year, how it gets them.

The days of getting hired in a retail role, being handed the corporate folder, then being dropped onto the retail floor to fend for yourself are over, Visram says. “We have to rise to the challenges of long-term growth in our workforce.” That starts with a Pet Valu training program that motivates, educates, and persuades employees that there is a potential lifelong opportunity at Pet Valu.

The company has established a program to develop staff as “ACEs.” They are Animal Care Experts, a designation that is attained by employees after months of study at Pet Valu. Visram explained what the process of training frontline staff involves.

Every employee at Pet Valu who reaches the 180-day mark, with self-paced learning online as well as manager training along the way, has a graduation ceremony. Training involves animal health, animal psychology including problem behaviours, nutrition, accessories, and services.

“We’ve got ACEs that are now owners of franchises,” Visram said.

But one of the things that is most difficult to teach—whether in the pet industry or in hardware and home improvement—is how to sell. “Coaching people on how to sell is not as easy as we thought,” Visram admitted. “We found that managers are saying, “I know how to sell the products but how do I communicate that?”

So Pet Valu has ramped up its personal sales training, to coach the coach. “We start with our managers. We need to make sure they are well equipped to talk about the growth opportunity.”