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How About a Scholarship Membership!

I Secret Shopped my 62nd YMCA today.

I walked in and said my opening line: "Hi, my name is Brian, I’m new to the area and possibly interested in a membership."

The front desk associate said she would get a "membership representative" to help me, and asked that I sit in the waiting area. After a few minutes, a friendly fellow in his late 20s greeted me and asked if he could help. We went to his desk near and he asked if I knew what type of membership I wanted.

"I'm not sure, probably a single membership for myself," I said. *1

Just when I thought he was going to whip out the price sheet, he surprised me and asked if I'd like a tour. Brilliant! I wanted to give him a high five but I resisted – I'm on secret shopping mission! :)

He started the tour by telling me that two other Ys had closed recently, which is why this location was so busy. He then said he had a tour card, but would have me fill it out later. *2

He first directed me towards the cardio area and proceeded to share the rules with me. *3. One interesting rule that he shared with me, twice, was, "You have to wear shoes." After the second time, I asked, "Do you have a problem with people not wearing shoes?"

"Not really, but we want to make sure everyone wears shoes," he said.

"Um, okay," I said, smiling.

We moved on to the free weight area, where the rep went through a ton of unnecessary information. I feel like he just didn't really know what else to say, besides the weight range of the dumbbells. He mentioned the "fitness staff" and pointed to a young guy that was standing around, talking to his buddies. He wasn't wearing his staff shirt, and I couldn't tell he was a YMCA employee *4

After the free weights we went into the "fitness area," where there were a variety of different machines that the rep glossed over. We then moved on towards the youth room. *5 Before talking about the youth room, he did mention the chapel and the fact that the Y is a Christian organization. This was the first tour, ever, that someone has said anything about the Y being different than just a gym.

"The prices may be a little higher than other gyms around here — well actually they are a lot higher," he said. But more about that later. *6

We spent a long time in the youth center. He discussed it in detail and said that they had lots of video games and other fun things for kids, but it would be too loud to do homework or read a book (interesting comment).*7

He then took me through the locker rooms and into the pool area, where we also spent a lot of time. He seemed to know everything - the temperature, depth, open, close, steam room and sauna cleaning schedule, whirlpool capacity, etc.*8 After the pool area he showed me the aerobics rooms, class schedules, basketball gym, climbing wall, racquetball, and then looped me back around to his desk.

"Can I ask you how much you make per year?" he asked. I asked why he needed that information, and he said he may be able to get me a lower price, since they base their membership rates on income. He continued by saying their regular prices are high but if I could show a lower income that I would get a lower rate. *9

I said, "What if I am retired and can show on my taxes that I make a very low amount, but I have two million in my bank account. Could I get a discounted rate?" He said yes, and I commented that it seems like a lot of people would abuse that kind of system.

"Probably, but our regular prices are really high compared to the other gyms in town. We do scholarship memberships to get you a lower price," he said. *10

I said no, I will pay the regular rate if I join. After showing me the prices he said that every year I can get a free day pass to the Y. I said, "Sure, I'll just use my yearly free pass and let you know."

He seemed relieved, shook my hand, and told me to have fun with the free pass. *11


What could he have done better:

  1. I wouldn't ask what type of membership the customer wants in the very beginning of the tour. They have no idea what you have to offer. It is your job to determine what type of membership will benefit them most.
  2. The tour card must be filled out before the tour so you can use that information during the tour. The tour card should give you valuable insight and information on the potential member.
  3. Instead of focusing on the rules of the cardio area, why not focus on the benefits of doing cardio. Maybe something like this: "Brian, doing regular cardiovascular strengthens the heart and lungs, decreases blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces body fat and so much more."
  4. If you're going to highlight the fact that there are fitness staff, make sure they are wearing a staff shirt and helping members, not sitting around talking to friends. Also, the majority of the population has tons of misconceptions when it comes to free weights. It is very intimidating for the average member, so you have to educate them on the benefits of doing free weights and lower the intimidation factor.
  5. Instead of just quickly touching on the strength training area and saying, "Here are a bunch of machines," why not tailor the tour to me and say something like: "Brian, you said earlier that you want to lose weight, right (based on the tour card)? Strength training is a key component in losing weight. Let me show you a few machines so you can get a feel for what you will be doing."

    One other big point I always touch on is the Y cares, wants you to succeed, and is committed to helping you see results. Share with them your commitment and tell them they will have help when they first get started.
  6. Don't ever discuss price in the tour, especially how expensive the prices are. The tour is about building value based on all of the amenities the Y offers.
  7. If I am only interested in a single adult membership, why spend so much time talking about the youth room? Definitely show it to me, but we don't have to spend 5 minutes talking about it when I didn't indicate that I wanted a family membership.
  8. Why spend so much time talking about information that doesn't matter to me? If I want to know specific details of the pool I will ask. Don't spend so much time on irrelevant information, unless of course they are asking specifics or have a high level of interest in the pool.
  9. Assume everyone can pay for a regular membership. If they can't, then you can always talk about the scholarship later. At least wait until I say the prices are too high for me before presenting the lower income option.
  10. Scholarships are the most abused membership out there. You should know that, and focus on regular prices. You will get a "gut feeling" and be able to figure out who is really in need and should fill out an application. This isn't a membership for everyone.
  11. Do you want to sell memberships? Do you believe in the Y? Do you think it will help your community if you have more members? Then don't tell me I get a free pass. Tell me you think the Y would be a great fit for me and you would love to have me as a new member. At a minimum, ask if I want to join. Don't just tell me about a free pass and send me on my way.


I hope the above information will motivate you to work with your staff on touring and building a rapport with potential members that visit your Y.


Your Y could be next. Stay tuned for more secret shopping visits.

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How to Give a Mission-driven Quality Tour

What is a “quality, mission driven tour”?

The first, most important part of a tour, is to offer to give one. Many of the locations that I visited said, “Here is a price list” after inquiring about their facility. I was frankly shocked by this. With the over-saturation of fitness centers, and a lack of understanding about the difference between a Y and a for-profit fitness center, a tour is a MUST.

A mission driven quality tour has several parts to it. Here are a few essential parts of a tour:

  • A front desk SYSTEM for guests that come in and inquire
    • Tour Card
    • Guest / Visitor data, entered into the computer to follow up on
  • Greeting
    • Having a big smile and shaking their hand
    • Introducing yourself properly
  • Information gathering
    • Proper use of a tour card
    • Gathering what the potential member is interested in
    • Learning specific information about their past and goals they may or may not have
    • Explaining what the tour will consist of and approximately how long it will take
  • Proper touring techniques
    • Mapping a tour ahead of time
    • Being very confident in your tour (because of all the practice tours you have done)
    • Subtly overcoming common objections (time, thinking about it, spouse, convenience, sticking to it, trying it, past failed attempts, etc.)
    • Educating the potential members on the benefits and advantages of fitness
    • Eliminating the many misconceptions about health and wellness (strength training is only for body builders)
    • Explaining the difference of a non-profit compared to a for-profit
    • What information is important to give on a tour and what is a waste of your breath and the person’s time (our floors are waxed every Saturday for 4-hours….)
    • Giving a DETAILED YMCA HISTORY and why the YMCA should be joined even if they don’t “workout there”.
    • Fun facts about the YMCA
  • Transition from tour to showing prices
    • Sitting them down
    • Answering any additional questions they have
    • Learning from the tour what membership you will be presenting
    • Creating urgency
    • Having confidence in the transition
  • Presenting prices
    • Having a price presentation sheet
    • Practicing the presentation
    • Believing in what you are selling
    • Being honest and sharing why you feel the Y will benefit them
    • Using information gathered in the tour to motivate them to join
      • It is OK to ASK FOR THE SALE. Sales doesn’t have to be “shady” or “high pressure”. You MUST believe the Y can help them and your community. You are not selling them an upgraded vacuum when they already have a nice vacuum. You’re SELLING HEALTH AND WELLNESS. You’re SELLING a BETTER LIFESTYLE. You’re SELLING LIVING LONGER, HAVING A BETTER QUAILTY OF LIFE and MUCH MORE!
      • If you don’t ask for the sale, hang up your touring cap and do not take tours.
      • Unfortunately most people default to “I’m not a sales person”. Sure you are. You sold your wife / husband on the fact they should marry you. You sold your kids on how to clean their rooms or they get a punishment. You sold your boss on why you deserve a raise. Well maybe you were able to just sell them on why you SOULD KEEP YOUR JOB.
    • Efficiently filling out the paperwork
  • Welcoming them into the Y
    • After the member joins they should be properly greeted by the front desk staff. Everyone should shake their hand and make them feel like they are special.


Asking for the sale

It is OK to ask for the sale. Selling doesn’t have to be “shady” or “high pressure”. You MUST believe the Y can help them and your community. You are not selling them an upgraded vacuum when they already have a nice vacuum. You’re SELLING health and wellness. You’re SELLING a better lifestyle. You’re SELLING living longer, having a better quality of life and much more! SELLING is not a bad word; it is something you believe in and can be very satisfying. You are simply giving customers the information they need to make the best possible buying decision.

If you don’t ask for the sale, hang up your touring cap and do not take tours. You should allow someone that believes in the Y enough, to ask the customer for a sale.

Welcoming new members into the Y

After the member joins they should be properly greeted by the front desk staff. Everyone should shake their hand and make them feel like they are special. This is another thing that really surprises me. Very rarely do I encounter a YMCA front desk staff that greets a new member properly. I usually pass the ball to them by saying “here is our newest member!” Most of the time they give a halfhearted smile and start the computer entry process. Some of the really good ones will say hi to the member and acknowledge that they just signed up.
The front desk staff should be the most welcoming, friendly, “smile happy” people at your YMCA. They should be greeting everyone that walks in door whether it’s a member or guest.

Teach your front desk staff to treat everyone like this:


How do I start developing my staff for touring success?

One of my favorite quotes that I use all the time is:

The first step is making a plan and sharing that plan with the staff. If the leadership are not firmly committed to a new touring plan, the staff definitely will not be. The leadership has to lay out the plan and set up a system to make sure the plan is executed properly.

What happens after you make your plan? Check out our future blog posts to find out.

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Secret Shopping a YMCA: What I've Learned

Why am I qualified to critique a tour?

I started Y Membership Solutions in late 2005. It took me almost 2-years to get into my first YMCA. Nobody wanted to be the first to work with a company that had no track record in the organization. After countless presentations, a YMCA that was in a challenging financial position, and in desperate need of a membership boost decided to give my company a chance. I’m proud to say that our team played a big part in saving that YMCA from closing its doors. Not only did we generate hundreds of new members, we helped them succeed and grow in many other ways. They are now a thriving YMCA in a stable financial position, with systems developed by us, still in place today. That is one of my most favorite accomplishments and one I will never forget.

Since working with that first YMCA over 9-years ago, I have worked with over 100 YMCAs, generated over 17-million dollars in new membership revenue, and donated over $180,000 to individual Ys that I have worked with. After working with everything from the “not so nice Ys” to the “big, beautiful, new Ys” I feel like I am qualified to critique a YMCA tour.


My experience with YMCA tours.

After secret shopping over 60 YMCA’s myself, I could tell you a few horror stories that I’ve experienced; but for the most part, I’ve met a lot of nice people, with a smile on their face, that were happy to show me around their Y.  The problem is, after taking 60+ tours at different Ys across the country, I have not once taken a quality, mission driven tour. Not One Time - in 60+ Tours!

In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges the YMCA faces, going into the “fitness over-saturation movement” happening right now in our country, is that unfortunately they give some of the worst tours I have ever experienced in my 20+ years in this industry. Again, I have met a lot of nice people that didn’t “turn me off as a potential customer” but they definitely didn’t “turn me on”. These tours are not necessarily bad in the sense of the personalities of the people, just in that they did nothing that specifically ever made me want to join. I want to be clear that I am not “bashing” any specific Y and never will. I love the YMCA and the mission they are focused on spreading throughout the world. I am a member and a believer.  The purpose of my secret shopping missions were to expose weaknesses in the YMCA, learn from them and apply the information gathered, to improve our business model and help Ys that I work with.

I've always wondered why this isn’t something that is a main focal point of staff training and development. This has to be engrained in the staff, and is of the utmost importance. If you have any chance of motivating your staff to “embrace” the Y tour - as it should be, it takes regular training, weekly goal setting, mapping a tour, building staff confidence, tour card training, proper information gathering, roll playing and practice, practice, practice until they are perfect.

Most Y’s seem to overlook the fact that their staff just hands out price sheets to inquiring guests. They don’t greet potential members properly. Most staff I see are not even motivated to take tours, they look at it as an inconvenience, taking them away from their comfortable front desk seat and so the tour is quick, non-engaging, and flat. Simply just a quick, “here is this, here is that” type of tour, with no substance, no energy, and no new member at the end. They are waiting for the “walk in” that says “I would like to sign up please”.  



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