Home » Association » Wilco Students Take Home Win, Big-Picture Lessons From NHPA Advanced Training Program
wilco rmcp

Wilco Students Take Home Win, Big-Picture Lessons From NHPA Advanced Training Program

After 10 years and nearly $15 million in ROI, Wilco has seen the impact one advanced education program can make on an operation many times over. 

wilco rmcp
TJ Colson (left), president of Wilco, sponsored Melissa Lucht (center) and Danny Wooldridge for the 2023 Retail Management Certification Program. The students took the award for best business improvement project, a first for Wilco.

Melissa Lucht and Danny Wooldridge attended the 2023 Retail Management Certification Program from the North American Hardware and Paint Association—and in addition to growing new relationships with industry peers and taking home relevant industry strategies, they also are the first students from Wilco who have earned the award for best business improvement project.

The Retail Management Certification Program is an advanced training program geared toward owners, managers and key employees in the home improvement industry, and it focuses on teaching skills to grow store sales and profits in the changing retail landscape. In 2023, the program celebrated a decade of developing the next generation of independent home improvement retailers, with more than 300 students having graduated since 2013. The program features three in-person class sessions with lessons led by university instructors and industry leaders and experts. Students are encouraged to work together for hands-on learning and to gain insights into how to run a successful retail operation. Each student develops a business improvement project based on a need within their company using lessons learned from each class visit. Company leaders serve as sponsors for the student from their organization and are expected to actively participate in the student’s progress.

Wilco operates 26 locations in the Pacific Northwest, and company leadership has been involved in the program since its inception. 

Company president TJ Colson says participating in the program is an integral part of Wilco’s strategic plan.

“A cornerstone of our business is to develop the future leaders in our organization and the industry,” he says. “One of our company principles focuses on evolving human capital through training, education and certification programs. This is one of the programs we use to help us stand out in our marketplace and evaluate how we can do things differently for the benefit of our customers.”

Each year, Colson and other members of the Wilco leadership team meet to discuss organizational initiatives that could become business improvement projects and determine candidates to enroll in the program. 

Colson says Lucht and Wooldridge met the criteria in 2023 and had the knowledge necessary to take on the project—an update to the organization’s delivery program.

“When we’re determining what staff members to recommend for the program, we’re looking for star players,” Colson says. “It’s important for staff to be passionate, humble and insightful, and to have the appropriate business acumen. Melissa is customer facing and involved in operations, and Danny is a systems expert. We knew this project would require both skill sets.”

Read more about the evolution of the program in the December cover story.

Delivering Improvements

Several years ago, another Wilco team member embarked on the first delivery program upgrade for his business improvement project. Since then, customer expectations, employee feedback and Wilco’s capabilities as an organization have evolved. Colson and the other company leaders knew it was time to take on another upgrade, which they called Delivery 2.0.

Lucht is a retail store manager and has made deliveries herself. Wooldridge is part of the training team but started as a stocker. They had crossed paths but hadn’t had the chance to work together directly until they were paired up for the program together. Having knowledge of Wilco’s existing delivery program was crucial to the pair’s success as they took on the next evolution. 

“When we originally rolled out Delivery 1.0, I was working at the pilot location for the first delivery specialist role,” Lucht says. “I was able to set up the process, so going into this project, I knew that experience would be helpful.”

When it was time to dig into their project, Lucht and Wooldridge each came with different perspectives and ideas. 

Lucht says she was focused on improving the work environment for delivery specialists by adding electric pallet jacks to each location and also improving the customer experience with better time estimates. Wooldridge says he saw an opportunity on the e-commerce side, allowing customers to place deliveries online instead of needing to call or go into a store. They also want to explore new compensation strategies for the delivery specialist position.

These improvements all feed back into the company’s overall strategic goal of differentiating Wilco as a key service provider in each community where they operate.

“Now that we’ve completed the program, we’re still fine-tuning all of the details,” Lucht says. “We have a budget for next year so now we need to get all of the other stakeholders involved.”

One component Lucht and Wooldridge agree is necessary for this program to be successful is to plan accordingly for staff training. 

“We’ve got the vision, so now it’s about coming back, setting deadlines and developing training documents,” Wooldridge says. “It’s important that everyone is aligned.”

Program Partners

The relationships that come out of the program are something Lucht, Wooldridge and Colson all say are an invaluable benefit of participating. Lucht says having Wooldridge as a partner in the program allowed her to debrief after each class session and see things from a new perspective. 

“We each had different approaches and perspectives,” she says. “Being able to talk through some of that with Danny and getting his feedback on some of the assignments and training was great.”

Wooldridge says having a supportive sponsor was important to understanding the business improvement project and successfully completing the program.

“The relationship with your sponsor is so vital. Whatever your concerns or questions are, especially early on, it’s important to address those,” he says. “The success and groundswell around this project go back to TJ and our human resources vice president Lisa Smith.”

Colson agrees sponsor support and engagement are critical for the success of students in the program. He says it was special for him to be able to counsel Lucht and Wooldridge through their project and the 2023 program. 

“I realized that for them to be successful, I needed to prioritize the time I spent with them,” he says. “After sending 20-plus students over the last 10 years, I can’t place a value on this program. It really comes down to getting out of it what you put into it.”

While the win that Lucht and Wooldridge brought home for Wilco is certainly something to celebrate, Colson says it’s just a bonus on top of the other benefits the program offers.

“What has shaped Wilco’s success and growth is process improvement, continuous innovation and continuous thirst for additional learning,” he says. “As a result of engaging with this program, we have dramatically evolved our business, how we go to market and how we meet customer expectations.”

Hear From the Students

If you’re interested in participating in the NHPA Retail Management Certification Program, click here to learn more about the application process and download the program guide.

Applications for the 2024 class are due June 1.

About Melanie Moul

Melanie is the communications and content manager for the North American Hardware and Paint Association. She joined the NHPA team in 2016 as an editor for Hardware Retailing and now helps lead the communications team to deliver relevant, timely content to the industry.

Check Also

Home Hardware Dealer-Owner Mike Wilson Stays Focused on People, Community

THIS PAST YEAR, Wilson’s Home Hardware Building Centre in Barrington Passage, Nova Scotia, was honored …