Back for a second time this year at the Health & Fitness Business Show was the SNEWS® Fitness Forum, an educational panel discussion for all show attendees, where the topic and speaker-audience give-and-take made for an invigorating and thought-provoking 90 minutes.
With several decades of mystery shopping experience under our belt and the cry for more training, both product and sales, heard loudly from retailers and staff, the team at SNEWS® and GearTrends® decided that sales training and education – what goes right, what goes wrong, and how to fix it – was the topic of choice for the second annual forum, moderated and refereed by SNEWS® editor-in-chief Therese Iknoian.
"How to Ace the SNEWS® Mystery Shopper and Upgrade Your Shoppers' Experiences" was the title that was gleefully tackled by the panel, including independent sales trainer Tom Richard, leadership and business development consultant Tony Enrico, Lifestyle/All About Fitness retail owner Chip Hunnings, and Bodyguard director of USA business development John Conti. After each introduced one area of sales that can go wrong, the panel discussed training and then the floor was opened for an interactive discussion with attendees that had hands popping up to ask questions until the last minute of the session.
"We're not selling fitness equipment," said Conti. "We're not selling the pen, we're selling writing" with the pen.
"Is the goal to sell equipment or to increase the quality of life?" he later added.
Tom, Tony, Chip and John get on their soapboxes
Each of our four panelists first took a few minutes to introduce their own pet peeves.
Sales trainer Richard said he feels sales staff don’t engage the customers enough using the great questions that could be posed to get them talking and learn more to be able to truly fill a need. "The customer needs to feel comfortable," he said. A customer doesn't come in looking for belts, decks and rollers, he said; they need help and want solutions. "Let them talk," he advised.
"If you're talking, you're selling," he said. "If they're talking, they're buying."
Although with little background in fitness – except through osmosis since his father, Dick Enrico, runs 2nd Wind -- Enrico comes from a background of developing business for multi-national companies. But small or large, dumbbells or computers, "it's easy to get into techs and specs," he said. "Throwing out product knowledge or talking over the customer isn't going to work," he said.
"The traditional approach is to beat people up and change them into you," he explained of a sales manager tendency. Instead, "find their talent and uniqueness."
Hunnings, a long-time retailer who owns stores in several states, said doing a proper equipment demo can get lost in the process. "Customers want to touch and feel" the equipment, he said. But first a store has to get the floor ready, making sure equipment is assembled and working. A store has to "stage" the floor to that a salesperson can transition smoothly from piece to piece. Third, sales staff needs to show the right stuff in the right order. Starting with the lowest prices isn't the best, he recommends.
"Start at the top," he said. He advised that a sales person forget about a customer's stated space and price goals, but start with something like "Let's start with product x" because it has everything and then the discussion can better discern what's important to the customer. Use what they say, too, he said. For example if they say they wanted to be able to do more runs down the slope skiing, then when you show them an incline on a treadmill, relate it to that goal.
"Here, try this," he suggests as a segue to get someone on a piece. And, at the end of it all, make a recommendation to them based on their goals and needs.
John Conti, who started three decades ago as a salesman on the store floor, wrapped up the first intro segment by discussing the fact that sales staff need to be prepared. Properly preparing salespeople rests on management. First, a store should hire the right people, not just someone passing time.
"They need to associate livelihood and income with career," Conti said. "Get it right. Spend the time.
"Execute process to knowledge: Knowledge is power," he added. "Power is control."
Discussion and questions
After the intro by each, the forum was quickly turned into a discussion, then followed with more than 30 minutes of questions from the audience. Not all may have agreed with what a panelist said, but thoughts and discussion were provoked.
Asked Urban Fitness' Ryan McDowell, How do you combat a discounting culture? Hunnings said that building relationships helps hurdle that rather than just thinking about moving product.
A part of the discussion focused on used equipment, whether to bother taking trade-ins and, if you do, how to handle them. Danny Snyder from Exercise Unlimited said he can make a good profit from selling trade-ins, often since they aren't or are hardly used by the customer. Plus, said another, trade-ins create customers for you since it gives someone a reason to come back.
SNEWS® View: First, SNEWS® would like to publicly thank our four panelists for their time and energy in participating in the second-annual Forum. It was a huge success with attendees trying to squeeze in more questions even as the clock told us we had to shut it down since the Expo was opening. It was a dynamic panel too, with strong personalities with strong openings. That of course helped attendees pipe up and creating interesting banter on certain topics. We at SNEWS® hope the panel provoked some thought among those who attended. We are already hard at work contemplating topics and organization for next year. Got ideas? Please contact Therese Iknoian at Therese@snewsnet.com.