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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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