Modern Training

How Northgate González Market saved half a million dollars with a new approach to training

Posted on: May 29, 2018Updated on: August 10, 2023By: Carol Leaman, CEO

Reduce shrink and safety incidents.
Decrease employee onboarding time.
Mitigate company risk.
Improve profits.

If you work in retail, I know I’m speaking your language. No matter what you’re selling, and no matter the size—these are the kinds of challenges every retailer faces.

Not too long ago Northgate González Market, a grocery store chain with more than 6,000 employees operating in locations across southern California, was in the same boat. It needed to achieve all of these goals to drive real business results. But, like many companies, its current training program simply wasn’t cutting it.

Does your approach to training resemble the telephone game?

When you have a training program that requires sending employees to events at a certain time and place—it limits you greatly in terms of time and resources. Take Northgate’s training program for example. The company brought in experts to train the store managers. Then, the managers would return to their respective stores to pass on that training to their store associates.

This event style training program relied on 240 managers to interpret and deliver corporate messaging and training to associates. “It was like a game of telephone as each manager put a unique spin on the original message,” explains Gary Orona, Director of Training. “The result was 240 different messages going back to our stores.”

Northgate struggled to deliver consistent messaging. And pulling people out of the workplace for training was time consuming, costly, and did little to engage an increasingly multigenerational workforce.

A basic training approach will get you basic results

There’s no way of getting around it—This area of the retail world is subject to a myriad of government regulations, inspection expectations, and compliance requirements for handling food safety. Making sure every single employee follows safe work practices and policies is so crucial to a company’s success. One slip up could not only taint a company’s reputation, but result in costly repercussions. For Northgate, this route was simply not an option.

Orona knew the current training program wasn’t cutting it, and the need for a different approach was obvious. So, he set out to find a solution that would engage his associates and respond to their individual learning needs, while providing consistent messaging across the entire company. As I’m sure you know, meeting compliancy requirements is mandatory in every industry, so finding a tool with robust reporting capabilities was essential. Like any good leader, he did his due diligence and looked at five different learning management system (LMS) providers, but none could provide him with everything Northgate needed. Then, he came across Axonify, a frontline training platform that he knew could provide everything an LMS would “but so much more.”

What do football and training have in common?

As a director of training and a football coach on the side, Orona recognized Axonify’s approach to ingraining knowledge to ultimately influence behavior was similar to what he used in coaching. What happens when you don’t get a play right in football? You run it again until you do. These same success mechanics and focus on continuous progression were now a part of Northgate’s new training program. “If you miss a training question in Axonify, you will the get the same question again until you remember it,” says Orona.

This was a critical win for Northgate since there was little follow through with its previous training approach. Employees would quickly forget what they had learned, leaving the company open to potential food safety violations or injury.

5 must-haves for a new training approach that will drive business results

1. Accessibility

With the right platform, training can be completed in mere minutes a day. Knowing this, Northgate made sure its employees had regular access to on-demand resources and training. The knowledge they gained became both top of mind and an integral part of their daily work.

In fact, Orona shared a story with me about one of his box boys who made an observation to his HR Manager. This associate had seen a fellow employee moving sixteen carts, instead of the recommended six as safe practice. When asked how he knew this information, he replied “from Axonify.” This is because he and his colleagues had been enabled by Northgate to access their new training anytime, anywhere. So they did. It’s as simple as that. Not only did Axonify come mobile-ready, but the company also provided tablets to its employees.

But accessibility also means offering training in a format and language that will be understood without difficulty. If English isn’t a first language for employees, dumping massive amounts of info and reading in front of them isn’t going to get them very far. By using a platform like Axonify, that supports numerous languages, Northgate was able to push out training in Spanish, which is a first language for a significant number of its associates.

2. Accountability

I feel confident that you would agree when I say it’s far better to prevent an accident than to analyze what went wrong after the fact. Unfortunately, the latter is the typical route for many companies. Northgate can relate—but not anymore. Before Axonify, there would be an investigation only when there was an accident, profit or product loss. But now, with predictive analytics and top-notch reporting, management is empowered to anticipate potential issues and address them before they become a problem.

Northgate was also able to get reporting on each employee’s confidence level and align it with his/her knowledge. This provided managers with an accurate picture of which associates had the knowledge but lacked the confidence—or who might have excess confidence that’s not in step with their actual knowledge-base. Deep insights like this not only allows management to deliver targeted coaching, but can be the catalyst for a strategic shift in the company’s overall business approach.

3. Engagement

If you build it, they will come—but they might not remember what you’ve taught. Here’s where gamification is the ultimate driver for engagement. Northgate experienced high levels of engagement right off the bat through Axonify’s built-in games, points, leaderboards, and reward systems, which all tap into people’s natural competitiveness. This helped build both associate knowledge and continuously reinforce that knowledge, while engaging employees in learning and company objectives.

Axonify was an instant hit with young staffers and eventually with the tenured staff who were initially reluctant to participate. So much of a hit, in fact, that 90% of Northgate’s 6,000 associates were voluntarily participating in training several times each week.

4. Consistency

Northgate put a hard stop to the telephone game its managers had to play when communicating training. With training content coming directly from corporate, through one source, and without being subject to the interpretation or teaching skills of various managers, employees were now receiving consistent messages.

More importantly, Northgate had the ability to deliver targeted communication directly to the people who needed to know it—at the time it was most critical.

5. Personalization

Long gone are the days of massive information dumps over finite periods of time for Northgate. With Axonify, the right training targeted knowledge gaps of each individual employee—with ongoing delivery of knowledge, reinforcement of concepts, and remediation when and where necessary. This new approach to training has been highly successful for the company both in terms of bottom-line results and in terms of compliance and safety.

Tangible business results you can count on:

  • $585,000 savings (in one year alone) due to reduced safety incidents
  • 3-week decrease in onboarding time
  • 90% voluntary participation in training on the Axonify platform
  • 68% reduction in safety incidents
  • 18% growth in store associate knowledge
  • 9% increase in associate confidence in what they’re supposed to know and do on the job

Feedback straight from Northgate’s frontline

This new approach to training was huge a success from a corporate perspective and from an employee knowledge perspective—but what did Northgate’s employees have to say?

Gary Orona from Northgate González Market
Gary Orona, Director of Training and Development, Northgate González Market

Once a coach…

“I’m a high school football coach. I coached for 22 years. I saw the power of repetition, doing the play over and over. Repeat it until it’s perfect so that you can execute it on game day. I saw the same mechanics with the questions and games in Axonify. If you miss a question, the system asks you do it again. Same thing with football. If we mess up on a play, we just line up and run it again. The kids knew that they would continue to run the play until it was perfected. I saw the same mechanics and the same progression in the Axonify platform that I used coaching football.”

A clear message

“With Axonify, we aren’t dependent on one person to take it back to each employee. We aren’t dependent on his or her knowledge or how good a teacher he or she is. It has really changed how we do things.”

Reinforce and repeat

“We’re blowing by our budgeted numbers for accidents. I think it’s the fact that employees are more educated. The reinforcement and the repetition is what’s keeping the information alive in the consciousness of our staff so that they don’t make the mistakes they did before.”

And report

“You can access an employee’s knowledge base, or their knowledge scores and you can see whether there’s improvement or see what you need more training on. For example, you can see that there might be a specific subject that people are scoring poorly on, so you know you need to help people better understand it. With Axonify, the algorithm actually figures out who needs what training and when.”

Then reward

“Every month we spend about $3,000 buying gift cards and divide them among our stores. Employees use the points they gain from participating in training on Axonify to bid on the prizes.”

Lead by example

“When I play the games in the platform, it’s like I forget about everything else. You’re doing something fun while you’re learning, so that’s why I like it and that’s why it makes me want to participate.”


“I see a big difference with the associates. When they’re using Axonify every day, they get more knowledge and remember it. Sometimes I will ask why they are doing things a certain way and they’ll say they saw the question on Axonify and that this is the right way to do it.”

Teaching the teachers

“I knew we had to do it ourselves first. I try to use Axonify every day. It’s one of the first things I do in the morning. The questions are a refresher for myself and, when I walk the departments, I am more apt to notice issues such as improper lifting, possible cross-contamination, or potential liquid safety problems.”

It takes a team

“With Axonify, it’s not just the team leaders who are checking to make sure everybody is following the right procedures, it’s every associate checking everybody. It’s an everyday reminder for them.”

Saul Campos from Northgate González Market
Saul Campos, Store Director, Northgate González Market
Roberto Chaves from Northgate González Market
Roberto Chaves, Training and Development Specialist, Northgate González Markets

Time for the small stuff

“It’s freed up my time a lot more, so I can plan ahead instead of having to backtrack. I can focus on my creative process, and even try to mimic what Axonify is doing in my own presentations and training.”

No such thing as a training ‘day’

“They like the fact that it’s a daily thing. The buy-in from employees is there because they’re processing information and using it when they need it.”

Focus back where it should be – on the job

“Axonify is helping us cut down on training costs, including employee travel to the corporate office, meals, and compensation to cover hours outside of our associates’ regular work schedule. The store directors love that employees learn on site now, because they’re never shorthanded due to associates being away for training.”

Who wants to play? Everyone.

“It’s fun, it’s interactive, and it’s very stimulating. I mean, who doesn’t mind playing a few little games before starting their work day? It reinforces the fact that we have a fun environment, and they’re learning at the same time.”

Building knowledge

“We used to have a sign-in sheet that showed who was trained on a specific topic. There was no reinforcement of what the associates learned. It was the old school way of training. Now, Axonify allows us to go into more detail with our training topics and build their knowledge every day. Retention has grown a lot through using Axonify.”

Something for everyone

“They log in, review the training and answer multiple questions during each shift. It’s also great that Axonify is just as easy to use in another language. Our Spanish speaking associates find this so helpful. The severity of store accidents has declined, and we believe that Axonify has helped with that. All of our messaging is now consistent across all departments and stores too.”

And the customers love it too

“We’ve also received positive feedback from our customers. More specifically, the scores from the customer experience survey are higher, compared to before we launched the program.”

Maria Ornelas from Northgate González Markets
Maria Ornelas, Training Supervisor, Northgate González Markets
Carol Leaman, CEO's Headshot

Carol Leaman, CEO

Carol isn’t your typical leader. She’s driving a revolutionary approach to employee knowledge, but she’s also a doors-open, come-see-me-anytime kind of executive. Carol doesn’t just talk the talk—she definitely walks the walk. You can read more from her on Training Industry Magazine, ATD, CLO and as a regular contributor for Fortune.

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