Mystery Shopper: Down Under gets thumbs-up for being so, well, nice

In its quest to supply SNEWS® readers with a real-world glimpse at specialty retail shopping, our mystery shoppers ventured Down Under as a part of our continuing series of shoppers of specialty, both fitness and outdoor. This mission took our operativeto Exercise Australia on George Street in a very busy section of Sydney, Australia.
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In its quest to supply SNEWS® readers with a real-world glimpse at specialty retail shopping, our mystery shoppers ventured Down Under as a part of our continuing series of shoppers of specialty, both fitness and outdoor. This mission took our operative, Tina, to Exercise Australia on George Street in a very busy section of Sydney, Australia. Exercise Australia, in business since 1976, operates a total of six locations around the Sydney metropolitan area.

Seems the global Australian reputation of being nice and friendly, even to those who are obvious foreigners, holds true -- even at specialty fitness. This particular outlet of Exercise Australia wasn't easy to find, tucked in an upstairs cranny above a sports clothing store (good partner!) and sharing a space with a dive shop (huh?). Discreet and without a lot of signs, our down-under, undercover shopper, Tina, found it by following one small sign that said oh-so-simply "Fitness." Hm, she thought, guess understated must go along with nice.

She ventured in to do a bit of shopping. First glance left her wincing a bit: A rather worn red-and-blue carpet wasn't particularly tidy or clean. "It's nothing to look at," she thought as she wound her way up the stairs, which were oddly an extension of the retail space. She passed accessories hanging on the walls before she got into the store itself. Guess there's one way to maximize space, she said, to nobody really as she was on her way up.

But tiny didn't mean unhelpful and disorderly. All the cardio and strength equipment was lined up neatly. Since the salesperson was helping somebody else when Tina arrived, she browsed a bit, waiting for him to finish and, well, to notice her too. She wished he'd at least said, "G'day." When he did greet her after a few minutes, she explained she was moving to Australia and wanted to set up a home gym.

Without even asking her about her goals, experience or needs, Sales Guy launched into the importance of heart-rate monitoring -- perhaps because she had mentioned she was a runner and needed something to avoid the winter cold.

"Well, I've always been a bit intimidated by it," Tina said, adding that it couldn't be worse than the metric system she was going to have to learn Down Under. Sales Guy then nicely tried to explain the metric conversions -- not much to do with fitness but what the heck -- although Tina found her head spinning again. Soon, they went back to the business at hand -- a home workout area for Tina.

Seems Exercise Australia sells Trimline and a non-North American brand called Profile. At least those were the two Sales Guy was pushing. After showing Tina the Trimline treadmill, Sales Guy led her to a Profile.

"This is almost half the price, and it's a great value," Sales Guy pointed out. "And you can get everything the Trimline has to offer in a cheaper, but high-quality machine."

OK, so she guessed the sales schtick here is about price…. Tina got on the tread and Sales Guy showed her all the programming and showed her how quiet it was. Well, he had listened, Tina thought, since she had said she was going to be in an upstairs apartment, and quiet was mandatory. But he still seemed awfully focused on features -- other than the sound of silence this Profile showed.

But Sales Guy seemed to want to help, telling her about types of running shoes and, since she was new to the area, good places to get good help with quality shoes. Nice, Tina thought.

So, apparently finished with the treadmill sales thang, onward they went to the strength-training aspect of Tina's desired home workout area. Tina noticed five home gyms on the floor -- one Body-Solid and four from Profile.

"I recommend the Body-Solid because it's smaller and has more flexibility in attachments you can get for it," he said. Still, he -- again, quite nicely -- took Tina quickly through the different models of Profile home gyms. Not wanting to miss a trick, he then danced Tina over to the benches and free weights -- again giving her instruction on metric conversions, which were still making her eyes glaze over.

Tina began to feel a bit guilty about all the time he was spending with her -- an hour or so! -- knowing full well she wasn't going to buy anything. But he was so willing to help and nearly showed her everything in the tiny store by the time they were done – except ellipticals and bikes since she hadn't expressed any interest in them. But since there was nobody else in the store during that time, she pressed on with her shopping. The Sales Guy WAS cute, she said. (Wait, that's not part of the mystery shopping!)

"We deliver," he said, "and assemble all the equipment too."

He even took her to the company website (www.exerciseaustralia.com) so they could figure out if there was another store closer to her. (Oddly, the website shows equipment from other brands, including SportsArt, Nature, Infiniti, LifeStride and LifeGear, but maybe this store wasn't big enough for all of that, she thought.)

"What about your competitors?" she asked, curious what he would say. In that nice Aussie way, Sales Guy told her all about them (Workout World and FitBiz). "It wouldn't hurt for you to look around," he added.

"That's nice," she thought, taking his business card that he insisted she pocket "in case you have any questions and for when you're ready to buy."

Tina left feeling really well-informed and not at all pushed around. As she started to make her way out past the accessories (hmm, wonder if they ever do add-on sales with the accessories hidden out here?), she thought how friendly and helpful he had been. Turns out the guy was a personal trainer and a runner himself and had lost 70 pounds (before and after pictures on the wall no less) before he got into the business -- a dedicated sort, she thought. He even invited her to join his running group when she moved there and even showed her some local running websites. (OK, guys, stop flirting…)

Before she exited, two other shoppers walked into the store, and since Tina was finishing up, she paused a moment to see if Sales Guy would greet them. Sigh, he didn't. Now that's a bit of a black mark, not even acknowledging somebody who walks in, she thought, with a silent shake of the head.

"That was, all in all, a very pleasant experience," Tina thought. "I would buy from him just because he was so nice."

As we've done in each mystery shopper, we'd again like to emphasize that our only intent in running these is to provide an educational tool. Our goal is never to point a finger at one solitary store or any one salesperson and say "best" or "bad." Frankly, we could go into the same store on another day and report an experience that is 180-degrees different. This is all about education. Everyone can learn from the next. Everyone has good days and bad days. Sometimes we get stuck in ruts and forget about what we're doing -- or should be doing. This is really all about helping the entire industry lift itself up another rung. And a great well-trained sales team that offers great in-store shopping experiences is a huge part of that.

Meanwhile, if you want to read all the past mystery shopper, head to our Training Center on SNEWS® and you'll find all the Mystery Shoppers for both outdoor and fitness in one place.

SNEWS® View: Despite the fact that our shopper would go back to buy to Exercise Australia if she ever DID go to live there since the experience and the Sales Guy were both so utterly nice, there were a few downfalls -- not being greeted, either herself or the other customers; focusing on price on the treadmill; and not talking about the benefits but stressing features like programming. That said, maybe he assumed that since our shopper was a runner that she didn't need to hear all the benefits of exercise or of each piece. So far, this has been one of the better Mystery Shoppers SNEWS® has undertaken. Good show, Down Under!

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