NewKnow hopes its tech will help retail workers become brand experts

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Chances are, when you think technology and retail, your mind immediately goes to ecommerce. But despite the prediction of the demise of brick-and-mortar retail, the truth is that people still like to feel and evaluate the objects they buy, and for many, shopping can be an enjoyable pastime.

Except for when you’re looking for specific answers or products and come upon poorly trained sales staff. How does technology address that problem? For the most part, brick-and-mortar tech solutions turn to a screen. There are a number of apps out there that give sales staff answers, but even less incentive to actually learn about the products they sell. In many cases, retail tech’s solution to brick-and-mortar woes is to help retailers make their front-line staff even less important: all they need is an iPad or computer, and when customers have questions, they can help them find the answers online.

NewKnow, a new Montreal retail tech startup, thinks putting a screen between a sales rep and client is a mistake. While customers want information, NewKnow believes that there’s something magical about a positive sales experience. Given the high turnover in many retail stores, they pinpointed the problem as the challenge of staff training, and created an app that makes it simple to deliver information, and test staff on their knowledge, all while they’re standing around in-store waiting for customers to arrive, on the bus on their way to work, or anywhere else for that matter.

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“As founders who have been on both sides of the coin when it comes to retail — working in stores, owning retail business, manufacturing and distributing product to retailers — we really felt training was the biggest pain point for all parties, and we wanted to fix it,” says Steve Gendron, co-founder and co-CEO of NewKnow.

“This is an industry where employee turnover averages 70 percent, and can be way higher! Every single one of those new hires need to be trained initially, and receive ongoing training. That is an incredibly expensive and time-consuming task that every retail businesses deals with, so we wanted to help ease the pain.”

After almost two decades working in retail, Gendron realized that the ubiquity of the smartphone created the perfect opportunity to change the way retail staff is trained. While this idea may not be unique, NewKnow’s approach to the creation and dissemination of training information is. They’ve created a networked app, whereby retailers give brands access to their system, and brands can create training modules for the on-the-ground sales teams, ensuring that the correct information gets to clients.

“The networked model we built is really designed to replicate how training has happened in this industry for decades, but to leverage technology to do it in a much more efficient way,” says Jaffray Hill, Gendron’s co-founder and co-CEO. “Business partners — in this case brands and retailers — have a vested interest in seeing each other succeed.”

“NewKnow is useful for any business that works with an hourly deskless workforce.”

Hill and Gendron note that historically, brands would go to stores a few times a year, train employees in person, and perhaps leave a manual behind. But because of the high turnover in retail, it’s typically impossible for these brands to reach all employees, or know whether or not those being training are delivering the brand message effectively.

“While we’re not saying we’re going to completely replace in-person training — we still think that it’s incredibly important — with NewKnow, brands can create all of their training materials once, and share with every retail partner they sell to with the click of a button,” says Hill.

They already have a number of major Canadian companies on board, and have had positive feedback both on the ease-of-use of the app, and also on the improved experience that their front-line teams have been able to deliver since using NewKnow’s system.

“For an organization as large as ours, being able to be in touch with all our employees and deliver them training everyday is only achievable with NewKnow,” says Nicolas Stoikovitch, director of training at New Look Canada, one of the biggest optometrist chains in North America.

NewKnow just launched their full app (they were in private beta with a number of customers for the past year), and believe that their solution can have a profound effect on the retail market. During the private beta, they worked closely with “customers across the country, which taught us a lot about their unique challenges and how we could improve our training and communication tool for high-churn, customer-facing front-line employees,” says Hill.

While NewKnow is initially focusing on the retail industry, they have plans to cross into other verticals once they reach their sales targets.

“NewKnow is useful for any business that works with an hourly deskless workforce,” says Gendron. “We have some great restaurant groups using it to train and communicate with their employees, as well as hotels, car dealerships, manufacturing businesses. We’re even launching with the ER team at a major hospital as they were looking for an accountable way to deliver training and communication to their doctors, nurses and residents on a regular basis,”

“We’re really excited about that one!”

Lauren Jane Heller

Lauren Jane Heller

Lauren Jane Heller is passionate writer and storyteller. With a background in documentary film and journalism, she has now found her niche writing for and about the continually evolving world of technology.