Mystery Shopper: Just load the treadmill in my truck…now

A storm of the decade had hit Portland, Ore., downing trees, flooding homes, cancelling flights, and making general havoc of Ted's afternoon attempt to enjoy a run along the Willamette River parkway. Cold, wet, and tired of being buffeted about by the wind and sheeting rain, Ted decided that the next day, after things had settled down a bit weather wise, would be the perfect opportunity to shop for a treadmill.
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SNEWS® heads to Portland, Ore., for yet another in our popular Mystery Shopping series. We love to have good experiences as we did with this one. Still, as we always like to point out: Our goal with these Mystery Shoppers is not to praise one particular store or person -- or to pick on one person or one -- but to point out what went wrong and what went right and, we hope, to offer a learning experience. Each and every shopping experience can be widely different, even at any one store or with any one person. Don't forget to visit our Training Center (www.snewsnet.com/trainingcenter) to see our entire lineup of past Mystery Shoppers.

A storm of the decade had hit Portland, Ore., downing trees, flooding homes, cancelling flights, and making general havoc of Ted's afternoon attempt to enjoy a run along the Willamette River parkway. Cold, wet, and tired of being buffeted about by the wind and sheeting rain, Ted decided that the next day, after things had settled down a bit weather wise, would be the perfect opportunity to shop for a treadmill.

Ted arrived at Exercise Equipment Northwest's Beaverton store at 12:45 pm on pre-Christmas Friday afternoon. Located in an area of concentrated shopping known as the Beaverton Town Square, the storefront faces west, toward the parking lot on the outside edge of the clock square. The windows were large, bright and inviting, offering easy viewing into a well-lit interior that boasted rows upon rows of fitness equipment.

Clutching a rolled-up and well-fingered edition of the January 2007 Runner's World -- yes, the one with the treadmill reviews -- Ted entered the store at 12:51 pm. As he wandered down the main aisle, gazing over to the right at a mirrored wall lined with treadmills, Ted was greeted by a smiling and fit young man, albeit sans nametag.

"How are you today?"

Ted smiled back, pleased that less than a minute had gone by since he entered the store.

"Are you looking for a particular piece of equipment I can help you with?" the salesman asked, looking right at Ted, still smiling.

Nice lead in. Ted unrolled his Runner's World, and then pointed to the dog-eared pages of the treadmill review. "I've been thinking that, after yesterday's storm, perhaps it's time for me to invest in a good treadmill for those days when perhaps it would be better to run indoors. Have a couple I've noted in here I'd like to look at."

The salesperson nodded and said, "I have to finish helping a customer load some equipment into her vehicle and will be right back. In the meantime, head over to our treadmills over there, climb on and start trying some out. I'll be right with you."

Ted, feeling downright welcome and warm with the friendly greeting, tucked the magazine under his arm and climbed on to the first treadmill he arrived at -- a beefy looking one from Life Fitness. He poked and prodded at controls for about three minutes before the salesperson came back and positioned himself at the side and to the front of the treadmill.

"What kind of running are you looking to do on a treadmill?" he asked Ted.

Good question and excellent lead to qualify the customer. "I'm a pretty serious runner, and love to do long miles on trails. I run ultras and am training for the upcoming season."

The salesperson nodded and then asked, "Do you go to a gym at all and have you run on any treadmills before?"

Ted was impressed. "No, I hate gyms -- too boring for me. I'd rather be outside, but as the storm taught me yesterday, there are some days that are too cold and too wet and too windy to be training comfortably outdoors."

"OK, so you are looking for a treadmill you can run seriously on, but not all that often? How fast will you need to be going on a treadmill?"

Ted shrugged. "Oh, I might run some repeats and shorter stuff on it. Maybe six- to seven-minute miles at the fastest. I really haven't run on any treadmills to compare…I kind of like this one, but I did mark a few in the Runner's World I think I might like."

Ted showed the salesperson the PaceMaster Platinum Pro VR one he'd circled because it mentioned it had programs that simulated courses and also featured a negative incline so he could train for downhills, and he also showed the sales guy the Nautilus Sport Series T518 because the programs were modeled after the courses of actual races.

The salesperson smiled, nodded and then said, "We don't carry Nautilus, even though we used to. We also don't carry PaceMaster and I don't know of any of the companies that we carry that have a negative incline feature, but I can check."

He told Ted that the Life Fitness treadmill he was currently standing on was also a light commercial model, and frankly too much treadmill for what Ted needed. Quickly and cleanly diverting attention from the Runner's World report, he noted that the store carried Horizon, Precor and Life Fitness, the salesperson pointed Ted toward the Precor M9.35i and told him to climb on and give it a whirl.

"This has sufficient programs and memory so you can compete against yourself, which will provide good motivation for you I suspect. It will also easily go as fast as you are needing to go," said the salesperson and he helped Ted fire up the display and start the deck moving,

"Precor's are built like workhorses too, and the deck is superior to many on the market in terms of stability and cushioning," he added, as Ted's feet began pounding on the deck.

As Ted was putting the Precor through various speed and incline paces, a woman walked up and handed the salesperson a phone. He looked at Ted, excused himself and mentioned that the woman would be able to answer any questions while he was away.

Ted powered the treadmill down. The woman, wearing a fleece vest and looking very fit, smiled and then told him that from what she'd heard, Ted really was looking for a treadmill that he'd be on no more than one day a week, if that.

"Yeah, I really hate to be indoors, but you have to be sometimes."

"I can relate," said the woman, also sans nametag (doesn't anyone wear nametags anymore?). "I would much rather be outdoors too if I have a choice."

Ted pointed to the treadmill and asked about quality.

"This one is the choice of many runners. Alberto Salazar even came in last week and this is the one he is using," she said.

Wow, talk about a running endorsement! Who needs Runner's World?

"However, I think this is too much treadmill for what you will be using it for," added the woman. "Frankly, I would recommend you look at the Precor M9.31…it's the same chassis and deck, but without all the console and programming features, which you won't really use anyway."

Ted looked somewhat shocked…a salesperson was recommending he step down in price?

As if reading his mind, she added, "Not that we wouldn't like to have as much of your money as possible, but I need to know you will be satisfied completely, and I just think that the M9.35i gives you features you don't need and won't use, so why spend the extra money?"

Ready to buy one now, but mentioning he needed to check in with his wife first, Ted asked about upkeep.

"Virtually none. Today's treadmills require no lube. All you do is turn it on and start working out. That simple," said the woman as she walked Ted over to the sales counter, which was spotlessly clean.

She gave him a brochure. Then she added that if he would need to pick up the treadmill himself, rather than have it delivered, to just give a call to the store and she'd have one ready at the warehouse for him.

Ted stuck his hand out to say goodbye and asked for her name. It was Kim. Turns out, she has been with the company 18 years and is the store's sales manager.

SNEWS® View: OK, people. Nametags, nametags, nametags. Wear them please. They don't have to be tacky, but they do allow a customer to know who they are talking to at all times. That nitpick aside, can we sum this up in one word: WOW. Although we don't live in Portland, we'd consider driving up there to buy a treadmill from this store simply on the merits of Ted's experience. Textbook, truly textbook. From greeting to qualifying to getting the customer on the equipment, to listening to what the customer really needed and then putting him on the equipment he really required -- it could not have been better. This deserves a standing ovation from the SNEWS® mystery shopping team.

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