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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.


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Saturday, 26 May 2018