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No, Thank You. We Are Doing Fine!

What I Learned During My Secret Shopping Mission #65

From the outside of the building, I could tell it was an older Y, but it looked well-maintained and in nice shape. My first impression was good. 

I walked in and was immediately greeted by the front desk associate. “How are you today?” she asked.

"I’m great. My name is Brian, I’m new to the area and possibly interested in a membership."

She had me fill out a very small 4x6 index card with some basic information. After filling out the card she asked if I would like her to show me around.

"Perfect," I said.

The associate was extremely nice and very friendly, but the tour was not good at all. She seemed to be all over the place and really didn’t have any plan or process in place. It was a very sloppy tour with no substance. I kept thinking that it wasn’t her fault: it was obvious that she had not been trained.

As a side note, I am not looking for a perfect tour. I understand that the front desk people wear multiple hats and are not professional tour guides. However, I do training with YMCAs across the country and within a day of training, I can turn any front desk employee into a solid tour guide.

We concluded the tour at the front desk and she asked if I had any other questions. I asked about membership prices; she slid a price sheet over to me. There was an awkward silence as we were both staring at the price sheet. I didn’t say anything because I wanted to see what she would say next.

As she and I were staring at the prices, I kept thinking, “who is going to speak first?” I waited and waited and waited. Nope. Nothing. It seemed like we were at a stalemate for at least 3 minutes, which is a long time to stare at a price sheet with no words being exchanged. It was getting weird, so I spoke first.

"OK, I have a confession to make. I work as a consultant and have worked with 120 YMCAs doing training and sales," I said.

I handed her a business card and talked with her for a few minutes about what we do and how she did a great job offering me a tour. I asked her how much training she got on giving tours, because I was impressed with how friendly she was and her great attitude. Her reply was that she has worked there for a few years and didn’t have any training.

"I made up my own tour," she said.

What I loved about this associate is she was all about learning and improving. She was very interested in what I had to say and seemed like she would apply the information that I gave to her.

I asked to speak to the Executive Director to share my secret shopping experience and offer some free advice. The ED came out and greeted me with a firm handshake and a smile. I explained what we do as a company and how I was willing to give him some free advice from my secret shopping experience. He seemed interested and invited me back to his office.

After explaining the pros and cons of the tour, he seemed content with the fact that there was no system in place and made excuses for not doing tour training.

"I am going to be in the area for a few days and I would be willing to do a few hours of training for free with your front desk lady. She is super nice and really seems to want to learn. Based on my 20 years of experience, I can promise you the training will make a big difference in your conversion ratios," I said.

He thanked me for the offer but declined. I was frankly shocked that he wasn’t interested in a few hours of free training. He walked me out and said he would keep my card, and that if he is ever interested in our services, he will give me a call.  


The Critique 

Our team has been hired to train YMCA staff and teach them our tour process to convert a much higher percentage of walk-in traffic to memberships. The fee they pay is a small fraction of the lifetime increase in conversion rates due to training. Beyond that, it helps the YMCA to look much more professional and informative to guests who inquire about memberships.

I have given tours to thousands of people at YMCAs across the country, and I tell every single one of them the difference between a for-profit and not-for-profit. Why, you may ask? Because it is a huge selling tool, and by sharing all the great things the Y does for the community, we help people understand why our higher rates offer a greater value than that $10.00 a month gym. I help them see how they are part of a movement, not just a gym, when they join the Y. This is a cornerstone of my tour and should be just as important to every Y.

I get thank you emails and positive feedback from Ys all the time telling me how our tour training made a big impact. Having a standard tour, asking questions, being genuinely interested in the guest, gathering information, giving the proper information, building rapport, should be standard. Our process isn’t hard, but it has to be practiced and maintained, or it will fall by the wayside.  

This was the first time I have offered free training, and it may be my last.

Stay tuned for more secret shopping missions.


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The Prices Are Over There on the Wall!

What I Learned During My Secret Shopping Mission #64

Our company is currently working with YMCAs in Montana, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, and Missouri to drive membership sales. Before starting every campaign, we secret shop the Y to gather information about the location.


I secret shopped my 64th YMCA in Missouri today.


From the outside of the YMCA, I would guess this was built within the last 10 years. It's a very nice-looking YMCA with an outdoor kids' play area and soccer fields within view. This Y is connected to a college on the opposing side of the building. 

As you walk down a long hallway to get to the front desk, there are windows to the right so you can see the entire fitness area. I really like the layout, which lets you see some action with people working out immediately when you walk in the door, rather than a “stale” front desk with no one around.   

I said my opening line: "Hi, my name is Brian, I’m new to the area and possibly interested in a membership." One of the two front desk associates, from their comfy front desk chair, pointed to a wall tray to my left: “Just grab a price sheet and that will give you all the information you need,” she said.

I walked over and grabbed a price sheet from the stack on the wall, read over the prices and minimal information on the sheet. After looking it over I asked a few questions about the facility to try and prompt someone to offer me a tour or even get up out of their chair. No such luck! As I left they returned to their computer screens and I didn’t get even a “have a nice day” as I walked out.


The Critique  

This is a major problem! The average customer has no idea what makes the YMCA different and unique. I am very surprised that this type of low energy, low motivation and frankly, laziness is allowed in any customer service industry, let alone the YMCA. This is unacceptable. It's the perfect example of what not to do.


My advice for this Y is obvious:

  1. Get out of your chair and greet potential members with a smile.
  2. Don’t point to price sheets on the wall and say “go get one.”
  3. Ask the customer some questions. Make them feel welcome.
  4. Ask if the customer would like a tour
  5. Explain why the YMCA is different than the other fitness centers in town.
  6. Make customers feel like you care if they become a member or not.


Stay tuned for more secret shopping missions.


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No Tour for You! Let's Look at Prices!

What I Learned During My Secret Shopping Mission #63

I've toured a variety of Ys across the country—everything from the big, beautiful, new, expensive Ys, to the not so nice Ys, in a variety of demographics. Our company is currently working with YMCAs in California, Missouri, New York, Tennessee, Iowa and Pennsylvania to drive membership sales. Before starting every campaign, we secret shop the Y to gather information about the location.

Today I secret shopped my 63rd YMCA. It looked amazing from the outside. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see past the front desk!

When I pulled into the parking lot, I could see a play area for kids that put McDonald’s to shame. The front of the building was all glass windows, and I could see nice, new equipment was being used by lots of happy members.

I walked in and looked around the beautiful front desk area. There was a pool to the right and a glass partition to the left with a lot of cardio equipment in view.

I said my opening line: "Hi, my name is Brian, I’m new to the area and possibly interested in a membership." One of the three front desk associates said she would be right with me. She returned and asked what kind of membership I was interested in.

When I said I wasn't sure, the associate pulled out the price sheet and started to go through every membership—and I mean, every membership.

She started with the Individual membership and worked her way down to the senior membership before I stopped her and said, “Do I look like a senior?” She smiled and said, “Oh no, no you don’t – sorry.”

I then asked about the household membership, and if my kids could come in with me. I was hoping to prompt a tour. Instead, the associate explained all the amenities for kids, and said they could stay in the play area as I worked out. I commented that the play area was beautiful, again trying to get a tour. She responded by saying that I could keep the price sheet and that they will be doing an enrollment fee discount next month. I thanked her and headed for the door.


The Critique  

There is a big problem at this Y based on the information above. First of all, there are at least five really nice fitness locations within a 5-mile radius of this Y. The average customer has no idea what makes the YMCA different, so a tour is essential. Some Ys can get away with not giving a tour and being sloppy because they are the nicest facility in town. This isn’t the case in this area.

Second, there were there people working the front desk. There is no excuse for not having one of them offer a tour. I have no idea how well this Y is doing financially, but I am confident if they gave tours it would be much more successful.


My advice for this Y:

  • NEVER give price sheets out at the front desk until the guest has a tour.
  • When you do go through price sheets, don’t just go down the list of membership types. Based on the guest, recognize what type of membership they might need—it’s a waste of your time to go over the senior membership with someone who is middle aged.
  • The goal should be to sign the person up when they are at your front desk. You should have a minimum 75% closing ratio with walk-in traffic. The hardest part is getting potential customers in the door. I came in on my own, inquiring about joining. I should be a new member, if the situation were handled correctly.
  • Don’t tell me to come back when you are discounting your joiner fee. There is an old saying: 'the b-back bus doesn’t come around very often.' There is a good chance I will go down the road and find a better price—or maybe just get some attention with a tour person that is interested in getting to know me and helping me make that buying decision.

Stay tuned for more secret shopping missions.


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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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