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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.


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Sunday, 18 March 2018