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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.


How About a History Lesson?
Let Me Take Some Notes on This...


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Saturday, 26 May 2018