This is some blog description about this site

How Much Can We Make on Coffee?

What I Learned During My Secret Shopping Mission #70

I secret shopped my 70th YMCA in North Carolina.

The New Year is always a busy time for our company. I finished setting up our third YMCA campaign and decided to stop at a Y on my way back to Charlotte, NC airport to head home. 

When I pulled up, there were signs all over the lawn about an enrollment fee special. This is such a played out promotion that is done every January at most Y’s. In my opinion, it's a bad idea to do the same promotion at the exact same time of the year. You are conditioning the market to rely on a once a year discount and wait until that time of year to join. Your marketing should be more strategic, creative and thought-out.   

I walk into a reception area with three employees behind the desk. I was greeted and asked if they could help me.

“Sure,” I said. “I’m new to the area and may be interested in a membership.”

The associate introduced me to the membership director that happened to be behind the desk. After a brief interaction, I was asked if I would like a tour. “That would be great,” I said.

After entering through a metal turnstile, I immediately saw a $1.00 K-cup machine (the first and last one I was hoping to see was on a secret shopping mission in PA) vending machine. Is it just me, or does it seem counterproductive to try and sell expensive K-cups at a Y? Do you really make any money from selling $1.00 K-Cups?

You want members to interact after workouts, right? Coffee is a great way to do that. By the same token, if you want seniors to sit and chat before and after workouts, coffee is a great way to get them to interact.

Whether you are for or against the Silver Sneaker program, a lot of Ys offer it. Want to encourage the Silver Sneaker member to swipe their card? Offer a sitting area with free coffee (have a donation box by the cups) in the morning and see a spike in senior traffic. In my opinion, you will make more money that way.

I was working with a Y in MO and they had this “coffee thing” figured out. They had a space in the Y with 6 round tables and chairs with a coffee maker in the middle. I watched groups of seniors every morning, play cards, read the paper, hang out in groups and enjoy each other’s company – drinking coffee. In other Ys I see the opposite side of the slate. They offer no coffee or seating area, and it’s a ghost town.    

Back to the tour: The representative was friendly, but that was about it. She didn’t fill out a tour card or gather any guest data, and she gave me a very basic tour. No substance, no education and no Y history. After the tour she handed me some information, but didn’t ask for the sale. I said thank you and headed out the door.


The critique: 


  • Friendly staff
  • Offered a tour



  • Get a tour card and use it
  • Gather guest data so you can market to me in the future
  • Share what makes you different during the tour
  • Share some Y history and donation stats
  • Educate me on why I should workout with some benefits and advantages
  • Don’t sell $1.00 k-cups. Instead, set up a senior gathering area with free coffee

Stay tuned for more secret shopping missions.


Continue reading
312 Hits

Let Me Take Some Notes on This...

What I Learned During My Secret Shopping Mission #69

I secret shopped my 69th YMCA in Virginia.

I flew from Denver (epic skiing – read blog mission 68) to Charlotte, NC, rented a car, and drove to a Y in southern VA, for an onsite consulting campaign. I arrived early, so I decided to go and workout before the Y closed.

On the walk to the front desk I passed a “synergy zone” room (love the name) with a multi-function fitness station – perfect for advanced PT – and a suspended track with many members actively escaping the winter weather.

I used my YMCA AWAY privileges for a day pass. I was surprised at the lack of guest data they gathered from me. I signed a guest waiver, but what about getting my email or phone number to use for marketing in the future? I could be a prime candidate for a membership. Maybe I’m moving to the area. No one asked any questions or gathered any information from me.

This was a missed opportunity for a proactive marketing effort, that could be targeted specifically to “warm leads” – people who purchase a day pass, use an AWAY pass, a member guest, parents of a child in Y programs, etc. These are valuable leads and potential future members. Most guests are interested in fitness and paid a high day fee to work out. Every Y should have a database with basic contact information and the ability to easily download and use that data wisely.

I headed downstairs to work out. The first thing I see in the strength training area is weights scattered all over the place. Weight plates leaning up against benches, dumbbells lying unorganized on the floor near the rack. It was a mess. I finished up my workout and looked around at the rest of the Y. The cardio equipment was crammed in a room with the circuit training machines. It looked like a maze of equipment that you had to squeeze through. If you get 10 people in that room it would be chaos. I immediately thought of a few ways they could improve the “flow” of the wellness space. The rest of the Y was laid out well, though, with a beautiful viewing area of the pool and nice changing areas.  

The next morning, I secret shopped the Y and it was the same tour I have heard many times. The tour representative was friendly, but that was about it. They didn’t fill out a tour card, gather any guest data, and gave me a very basic tour. Not one word about what makes them a cause-driven organization. They did however, take time to show me the prices, instead of handing me a sheet and sending me out the door.

Later that morning I had a staff meeting to discuss the upcoming membership drive. After the meeting, I was pleasantly surprised by how many staff members came up to me and wanted to learn our tour mapping process. The people at this Y were very engaged in the membership development discussion. They not only were happy and pleasant to be around, but they were asking pointed questions and taking notes on the new action plan.

As I continued to learn about their area, history and specific details of their Y, I found out from several staff members that they didn’t expect to lose hundreds of members to the new Planet Fitness that recently opened. They all expressed their concern for the future of the Y and were motivated to get back on track. I was impressed by the willing and eager attitude everyone showed.   

When you are in a location where there isn’t any real competition, you can get away with not gathering guest data, giving a basic tour, sharing the history, discussing the specific causes the Y cares about, etc. The feeling of security lulls people into a daze of below average thinking in terms of new member development. 

It’s interesting to see how a Y reacts to a goliath like Planet Fitness. Many directors I talk with are in denial and don’t think PF will impact their Y. They feel like it’s “just another gym” that they’ve dealt with many times over the years. What really wakes everyone up and gets people out of their comfort zone is a mass exiting of members who cancel and jump ship for PF. I keep telling directors to be very proactive and not reactive to a new PF opening. You need a plan that will insulate your Y from the impact and hype of a new PF. They are different and will take a bite out of your membership base if you stand by and let them. 


The critique:


  • Friendly staff
  • Offered a tour
  • Presented the prices



  • Gather guest data – its valuable!
  • Get a tour card and use it
  • Share what makes you different during the tour
  • Know the numbers (what the Y donates back to the community annually) and specific programs that impact youth and families
  • Give a quiz to your staff and motivate them to memorize and share important information
  • Be proactive, not reactive, to the ever-changing fitness / wellness landscape 

Stay tuned for more secret shopping missions.


Continue reading
311 Hits

I Met the Hardest Working Executive Director Today!

What I Learned During My Secret Shopping Mission #68

I secret shopped my 68th YMCA in Nebraska.

I flew into Colorado (you have to take a day and ski when you’re out West, right?) and drove out to rural Nebraska. After the long trip, I decided to stop in and check out the Y before settling into my hotel for the night.

It was late on a Sunday when I pulled up, and the parking lot of the Y was packed. I was very surprised and curious as to why so many people were at the Y.

I walked in and immediately saw a beautiful pool to the right of the front desk. There was a very open feel in the lobby, which has a comfortable waiting area.

The front desk associate was very nice. I said my opening line: “Hi, my name is Brian. I’m new to the area and may be interested in a membership.”

Surprisingly, she called over the executive director. I’m thinking, “It's Sunday, it’s late, and the executive director is going to give me a tour – amazing.”

Instead of secret shopping the director, I decided to introduce myself and find out more about the location and why the Y was so packed. He told me they ran a 12-week special for December and January, and signed up over 200 people. He took me to a viewing window that overlooks the gym, and there was a sea of people all participating in the program as a group.

He explained that he understands the importance of sharing the YMCA history with tours that he personally takes. I asked how often he gives tours and he said “as often as I can” – I love this guy already! Maybe that's why this small-town Y is doing so well with their membership base, and why they have strong participation in promotional programs.

After our discussion and the tour of the Y, the director said he would be in at 5:00 am the next day, and he is willing to meet with me anytime in the morning to discuss our startup schedule. Again, I was amazed at his availability and hours he puts in at the Y. After talking with several members and staff I found out he comes in early and stays late regularly to ensure “the Y is running smoothly.” Not only is he one of the nicest people I’ve met, he has a work ethic I’ve never seen in a director.

The next day I met the leadership team and discussed the startup process. I found out that a lot of the staff do not know any of the Y history and have no experience giving tours. They simply call on the office manager or executive director to give the tours. I asked what they do if one of the leadership team are not available. The response was they will reschedule the person to come back for a tour. Ouch! Have you ever heard the B-BACK-BUS saying? Basically, it doesn’t come around very often.

The time to tour, get the person excited, motivate them on fitness and the Y is NOW! Think about the process to get a person to show up and inquire at the front desk:

  1. They think about it an average of two years before taking the first step.
    2. They have to make time to come – everyone is busy nowadays.
    3. They have to get in their car and drive to the Y.
    4. They come in to gather information, but really, deep down, they want to join. You just need to help them make that important decision that can transform their lives, health, family, mindset, and a ton of other positive reasons we all know they should join.

Instead, these staff members simply hand the person a price sheet and tell them to come back when the executive director or office manager is there to take a tour and see the amenities. So, the cycle starts over. It may be another two years before you see them again — or worse, they go to the competition and join because someone showed interest in them and guided them into a buying decision.


The critique:


  • The hardest working director I have ever met
  • The director gives most of the tours, covers the Y history and differentiates the Y from just another fitness center
  • 200-plus new members in a new year fitness program is awesome
  • Engaged, passionate leader who love the YMCA and is obviously doing many things right



  • "Work smarter, not harder" should be his new motto
  • Never turn a potential member away and tell them to come back for a tour
  • Train the staff to give a basic tour. A basic tour is better than rescheduling them.

Stay tuned for more secret shopping missions.


Continue reading
332 Hits

How About a History Lesson?

What I Learned During My Secret Shopping Mission #67

I secret shopped my 67th YMCA in Pennsylvania. 

I'm guessing this YMCA was built in the late '70s. It looks like an older building, but it's in very good condition for its age.

This Y is very compartmentalized. When you walk in, the only thing you see at the front desk is a small waiting area to the left with a Keurig style coffee maker. Upon further inspection, I see that you have to purchase the k-cups for $1.00! I wonder how many they sell a year? My bet is not many. Not one person drinking coffee in the lobby that morning – go figure.   

I walked up to the desk and said, "My name is Brian, I'm new to the area and possibly interested in a membership." A friendly front desk associate asked if I would like a tour.

"Yes, I would love a tour," I said. 

She didn't have me fill out a tour card or gather any information about me, so I was hoping there will be some interaction during the tour to gather this important information.

The tour was the same "here is this and here is that" tour I have taken unfortunately many times in Ys across the country. The tour lasted 10 minutes and we were headed back to the front desk area.

"Did you know that Father's Day was invented at the YMCA?" I asked.

"No I didn't know that," she said. "Really?"

"Yes, really. Pretty cool huh? I bet if you shared some YMCA history, and non-profit information on your tour that people would connect better."

She agreed. 

I started to rattle off some fun facts to her:

"Did you know that the YMCA started as a bible study in the 1800's?" No.

"Did you know that basketball and volleyball were invented at YMCA's?" She knew about basketball, but not volleyball.

 "Did you know that bodybuilding was coined by a Y employee?" No.

"Did you know that one of the first indoor pools was at a Y?" No.

 "Did you know that the YMCA is a non-profit?" She smiled and said yes of course.

"What specifically does your YMCA do for this community?" I asked.

"We discount memberships for people that can't afford to be members and have a lot of youth programs."

"Awesome, what else do you do for the community?"

"Well, we do strong kids campaigns and fundraising."

"Do you know how much you raise a year for this community"?

"No, I don't know that number, but our finance person, I'm sure, does," she said.

"I agree, I bet they do and it's easy information to get."

After explaining who I was and that she was being secret shopped, I told the associate that some history, fun facts and especially what their Y does for the community are very important to share with every new person that walks through the door.

"People do not know the history and look at the Y just like the Planet Fitness down the road," I said. "It is imperative to the health of your Y and for the future of your organization that you share the differences on your tour."

I left her with this: By the end of the tour, people who walk in your door should feel that they should join, even if they don't work out here at the Y. That is how passionate you need to be about the organization with every tour.

She thanked me and promised to share Y history with every tour from now on. I believe she will.


The Critique 


  • The front desk made me feel welcome
  • Offered a tour
  • Covered all the amenities and gave me basic information
  • Great Y associate that was willing to learn and apply information.



  • Charging $1.00 for a k-cup. With all the Ys that have the senior insurance memberships this is the first thing I would offer for free. You want seniors drinking coffee, sitting and chatting, making friends after their workout.
  • No tour card
  • No gathering data from me (name, phone, email from inquiring guests is valuable information)
  • Didn't ask any questions to learn about me or my family
  • Didn't tell me any YMCA history or even the basic "we are a non-profit"
  • Didn't cover any fun facts about the Y


Y executive directors should make it a high priority to train every staff member on basic Y history and location specific information. This will make a positive impact on your location. 

Stay tuned for more secret shopping missions.


Continue reading
306 Hits

Wow! I Didn't Know That!

What I Learned During My Secret Shopping Mission #66

I secret shopped my 66th YMCA in Indiana.

As you pull into the parking lot, this YMCA is impressive. The modern, contemporary architecture indicates that it was likely built within the last decade — whoever did the design work made it look very appealing from the outside.

I purposely dressed down to see if I would get any different reaction or treatment. With my hat, t-shirt and jeans I approached the front desk. There were three people behind the desk and they were all busy. “Can I help you?” one of them asked.

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

The associate handed me a price sheet, and as I was looking it over she asked if I had been here before.

"No, but for a small population, this is a beautiful Y," I said.

She asked if I'd like her to show me around, and I agreed. We started in the fitness area that is directly across from the front desk. She gave me the same basic information about the fitness area that I have heard many times before: “Here is our cardio area and here are our machines and here are our free weights.” Basic, basic, basic. No substance.

We walked around and I listened as she showed me the “movement studio” (cool name!) that has a kids' fitness game built in the ceiling and dance classes. Then over to the aerobics room, up the stairs to the track, down the stairs and made our way to the gym. She quickly opened the door and showed me the basketball gym.

"Did you know basketball was invented at the YMCA?" I asked. (She did.) “That’s a cool fun fact isn’t it? You should use that on your tours from now on. I bet people would appreciate that.”

"Yes, I need to tell people that more," she said.

We then entered the pool area from a family changing hallway. She explained the kids' water slide hours, sauna, steam room, how to access the pool from the main locker rooms and much more. I asked if she knew that one of the first indoor pools was installed at a YMCA.

"No, I didn’t," she replied. "That’s interesting."

The associate kept walking about four to five feet ahead of me in any areas where there was nothing to explain. Either she was a fast walker, or she didn’t really know what to say when there wasn’t an amenity to explain or a schedule to tell me about. I walked fast to try and keep up.

At the front desk, I asked her a few questions about the prices and commented that they are very reasonably priced.

“Tell that to people around here!" she said.

"If I join today, then I have to pay a joiner fee and pro-rated monthly amount. Is that correct?" I said. She said yes, but told me if I waited until January, the $75.00 joiner fee would be discounted.

"OK, I like to save money," I said. "How much is a day pass if I just want to work out for the day?"

"Oh, we don’t sell day passes. You have to come in with a member to try it out."

"OK, well have a nice day," I said as I walked out the door. 


The Critique 


  • Beautiful YMCA
  • Friendly people at the front desk made me feel welcome
  • Offered a tour
  • Covered all the amenities and gave me basic information



  • No tour card
  • No gathering data from me (name, phone, email from inquiring guests is valuable information)
  • Didn’t ask any questions to learn about me or my family
  • Didn’t tell me any YMCA history or even the basic “we are a non-profit”
  • Didn’t cover any fun facts about the Y
  • Didn’t talk with me during downtime
  • Walked way ahead of me and seemed to be hurrying
  • Discouraged me from joining by telling me to wait until January to join


The most disturbing part of this experience was the fact that I was an interested customer, standing in front of the associate, asking about a membership. You can’t ask for a better time to sell me a membership. Why in the world would you send me away and hope I come back in January to sign up?

The annualized gross on an adult membership is $531.00. That doesn’t include all of the "cascading effects" (referrals, renewal, fee based programs, camp, swim lessons for my kids, etc, etc) that you may get from my membership. That's potentially thousands of dollars that this Y just shoved out their front door. Now I'd be more inclined to go to the nice gym down the road and buy a membership there because they don’t have a “joiner fee.” 

I see this same exact scenario over and over again. Come on, folks! This is unacceptable and needs to be fixed.

Stay tuned for more secret shopping missions.


Continue reading
273 Hits