How to successfully hire and train employees for your grocery store

Your employee training program can give your grocery or specialty food business a competitive edge. Read our training tips and ideas to improve customer service in your store. Successful staff training is important for more reasons than you might think.

Your employees are the face of your brand. They are your store ambassadors. It is important to make sure your employees are well-trained enough to know how to handle things when you are not around.

Friendly, helpful, well-informed employees can make a world of difference in customer experience. In fact, 68% of American shoppers contribute a positive shopping experience to the help of pleasant store employees. It is essential to create a welcoming atmosphere in order to compete with larger stores and win the loyalty of local customers.

Make your store a place people love to come back to by hiring promising employees, implementing training programs, and taking steps to keep your staff happy on the job.

Read on to learn all about how to train employees and why it matters.

How do you hire for success?

Skills can be taught. Employees can learn how to use cash registers, how to organize produce, and how to handle money at the checkout. What cannot be taught is personality.

Dan Bane, CEO of Trader Joe’s, encourages employers to hire for personality over skill. He spoke at a 2013 conference at Claremont Lincoln University and explained the hiring techniques of the wildly successful grocery chain: “Generally, if you hire somebody with a good personality they can understand at least ethical behavior. We really look for personality and for people that like people.” Learn from the success of others.

Interview tips for finding the right employee

  • Ask questions that will gauge people skills and the ability to work with others.
  • Role-play scenarios in which candidates need to respond to customer needs with empathy and care.
  • Conduct group interviews to observe how candidates interact with each other.
  • Look for employees who feel genuinely motivated to help others. This is a great indicator for customer service skills.

Hire store employees who will make customers feel welcomed, cared for, and valued.

How do you train employees?

Here are some employee training tips and ideas for new-hires:

Modular Training

Try not to overwhelm your new hires on the first day. Modular training is when you implement short but informative training sessions spread over time.


Pair a new-hire with an exemplary employee who has been with you for a while. You want to encourage good practices so acclimate new-hires with your store’s work ethic and culture by pairing them with an employee you think is doing a great job.

Invest in training materials

This can include training manuals, training videos, before/after hours training sessions, or an extended training course. Spending a little extra time and money on training new employees is worth it. You can continue to use training materials as you hire more people in order to create a uniform way of doing things in your store. Well-trained employees are cost-effective employees, which ultimately saves you money.


Cross-train your employees to maximize effectiveness. It saves you money to have employees who know how to do everything versus having to hire people for each section.

Competency Training

Combine skill and knowledge. It’s not enough to know how to do something. Teach your employees why their work matters and encourage them to problem solve on their own when you’re not around.

What is a training program and how do you design one?

An employee training program can be any step-by-step process by which you implement new-hires into the work environment of your store.

There are online resources for training program templates and courses (National Grocers Association and Qualtrics, for example) but you may benefit from working with new hires one-on-one. Perhaps set up a two-week program with certain days to learn new tasks. Repeat this two-week program with new hires as you grow your business. You want your new-hires to feel comfortable and confident on the job.

The Mercato team, helmed by CEO Bobby Brannigan, believes it is important to create a training manual which includes general instructions and a mission statement. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You simply want to show employees why you’re doing what you do, how to do it, what are your company culture values, and why your product is important to you.

How do you conduct effective training? How do you prepare to train?

People learn in all different ways. Implement different training tools from visuals to hands-on activities to cater to a variety of learning needs. Be patient and understanding. No one is going to be a perfect employee right away. Allow mistakes but offer corrective guidance along the way.

Train on days when the store is not as busy. You want your new-hire to get a feel for the store before being swarmed by customers and unfamiliar responsibilities. Carve out enough free time to devote to the trainee without nagging distractions. Ease into the more busy shopping days as the training process moves along.

Be consistent with your store’s values. Here’s some advice from Dan Bane: “I think it really comes back to having core values that are important to us and my job is to make sure we stay on those and preach those all the time. We are really dogmatic about that. If you live by the values guide, you move up in the company.”

Prepare yourself as an employer in all ways. Familiarize yourself with the logistics of expanding your staff. Matters like minimum wage increases may affect your hiring decisions and change your training program.

Why does training matter?

The importance of training cannot be stressed enough. Your employees have a direct effect on customer service and customer satisfaction is key to a successful business. You want to build a team you can trust. Having a strong, reliable staff of employees frees your time as a business owner to expand into new mediums of sales, like e-commerce and online marketplaces. Knowledgeable and well-trained employees are more efficient, helpful, and productive and will ultimately help build your brand to new levels of success.

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