Mystery shopper: Listening, empathizing show professional salesmanship

Winter was going to be winding down soon in Madison, Wis., and Teddy knew if he was going to continue doing the outdoorsy activities he liked so much, working on leg and hip strength was going to be vital since he had just been diagnosed with osteo-arthritis in both hips. Knowing that he had to take action, he wasted no time heading to the nearest specialty fitness equipment store, 2nd Wind Exercise.

From a very good experience earlier this year at Advantage Fitness in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, we have landed in Mystery Shopper nirvana at a 2nd Wind Exercise! Perhaps this means sales training is having a positive affect in the fitness industry? Remember, as we always like to point out each time: Our goal with these Mystery Shoppers is not to pick on one person or one store -- or to praise one particular store or person -- but to point out what went wrong and what went right and, hopefully, offer a learning experience. Don't forget to visit our Training Center ( to see our entire lineup of past Mystery Shoppers.

Winter was going to be winding down soon in Madison, Wis., and Teddy knew if he was going to continue doing the outdoorsy activities he liked so much, working on leg and hip strength was going to be vital since he had just been diagnosed with osteo-arthritis in both hips. Prognosis: double hip replacement.

"Not without a fight," Teddy thought. Knowing that he had to take action, he wasted no time heading to the nearest specialty fitness equipment store, 2nd Wind Exercise, in a location the Minnesota-based chain had taken over from Fitness Factory.

With the selection of the right equipment and with very specific strength-building exercises, Teddy knew he might be able to control the symptoms and avoid some surgeon slicing into his hips. He hoped the sales staff at 2nd Wind would be professional and knowledgeable enough to show him a home gym worthy of his ambition.

Still, he was on top of his SNEWS® mystery shopping game, and astutely set his stopwatch upon entering the store to see how long it would take before he was greeted by an employee. The sound of the start chime still hung in the air when a voice resounded from somewhere behind rows of equipment: "Welcome! I'll be right with you." Good start, to say the least, and Teddy turned off his timer.

Moments later, a fit-looking man came striding out from the back, smiling, and asked: "What can I help you find tonight?" He even wore an easily read name tag.  

Teddy explained to the sales guy, Bill, about his diagnosis and his need to strengthen, but to strengthen smartly, using something at home for his lower extremities. Teddy told Bill he had a basement space he was looking to possibly set up with some equipment. Bill expressed an appropriate amount of sympathy for his condition, but kindly without demonstrating excessive pity. As Bill quickly moved on to the equipment selection, Teddy honestly felt Bill was all about helping him find the solution.

Bill then took the moment, knowing he was going to be spending a bit of time with our shopper, to reach out his hand: "My name is Bill, by the way." Boy, our shopper was pretty smitten with his style and manner already.

Teddy looked around and saw an array of brands -- for example, York, PaceMaster, True, Kettler, Cybex, Octane, Hoist and Nautilus -- and all kinds of equipment, both strength and cardiovascular. Oh my, where to start? Thankfully, Bill rode to the rescue, walking Teddy through and explaining simply yet smartly a variety of machines until Teddy gravitated toward the Parabody CM3 because it seemed to offer more lower-body training options. He particularly liked the accessory leg-press station and Bill pointed out the leg curl and leg extension knowing Teddy's needs. "The leg press will help strengthen that hip," Bill said. "I know that's important to you."

In fact, through the entire presentation, Bill clearly kept in mind our shopper's interest in building strength in his lower body; nevertheless, he also showed the upper body exercise features and explained the need for full-body and balanced strengthening and exercises.

As a part of the decision-making process, Bill also showed Teddy the Hoist V2 as well as the Bowflex and some equipment from Hammer, plus explained specific exercises using a chart that came with the Hoist gym. He also invited our shopper into the seat to see how each piece fit him. Teddy was grinning ear-to-ear inside about how thorough and professional Bill was; he constantly remembered the reason that drove Teddy into the store and reminded him of it and how each exercise or piece would help him, always reinforcing what he was looking for.

Although Teddy had expressed only an interest in strength-training equipment, Bill didn't miss a beat in talking about the need for cardio-training, mentioning ellipticals and bikes, pointing out the importance of aerobic conditioning as a piece of the balanced fitness puzzle. It seemed Bill was doing what a good salesperson should do -- plant a seed for the future with good information even if our shopper didn't seem to have a current interest in cardio. Teddy even took a few strides on a Life Fitness elliptical machine while Bill pointed out how the non-impact movement would be an effective way to build leg and hip strength with less risk of exacerbating the problem.

Bill didn't just focus on the equipment and its technical features, mind you, but also on the quality -- yup, NOT price!! yeah!! -- of the store's equipment and took the time also to point out the quality of 2nd Wind compared to other stores … but without denigrating service or selection at the others. He also maintained eye contact, spoke knowledgably and confidently, helping Teddy feel comfortable that he was in informed and good hands. As a part of the conversation, he was also able to establish some credentials -- degree in exercise physiology and a trainer background -- without reciting a resume or appearing to be talking down. He also didn't just start selling equipment as if from a one-size-fits-all script, but listened and asked questions. THIS was a professional sales guy who took his job seriously and could likely win over any level of customer.

To Bill's credit, at the end of Teddy's time there, he did something most sales staff in specialty fitness stores don't seem to do. He asked for the order: "Are you going to make this purchase today?" It was couched in such a way and said with such a voice that Teddy didn't feel the least bit pressured or put on the spot. "I'll need to talk to my wife about it," our shopper responded, prompting Bill to then draw her into the closing conversation, asking: "Do you think she would support your decision?" Teddy said he'd have to check, but he thought so. Then Bill asked, "Do you think she'd enjoy it too?" To which our shopper said, "Definitely!"

Our man Bill did such a great job of serving Teddy that it was all our shopper could do to get out of the store and his mystery shopping assignment without laying down his credit card for the purchase. He did leave behind his contact information and, as he expected, he received a hand-written note two days later thanking him for his visit and inviting both he and his wife back into the store.

Folks, it just doesn't get much better than that!

SNEWS® View: Excuse us while we massage our jaw muscles -- they're a bit cramped from all the grinning. This was a fitness store and salesperson that not only hit the proverbial home run when it came to salesmanship and quality training, but also a shining example of a sales experience that now stands as THE sales standard other stores should hold their sales folks up to for comparison. We can only hope -- and assume -- that staff members at the rest of the 2nd Wind stores are as good as Bill and can offer a similarly high-quality and customer-focused sales experience.

Our experienced Mystery Shopper (a former sales rep with over 10 years of retail training experience) wrote this to us after his experience at 2nd Wind: "This is one of the best retail experiences I have ever had. Frankly, I can't think of a better one. So it could be THE best retail experience I have ever had. This is the type of retail store every business in America should aspire to be -- well-merchandised, fully stocked with equipment, clean, inviting and friendly. It was just fabulous."

If we have one bit of advice for Bill in this near-perfect experience (and, in fact, for all salespeople selling fitness equipment), it would be that Bill never qualified the size of the space Teddy had available. While Teddy mentioned he had a basement space, there is actually much less than 6 feet of headroom in that area, meaning that much of the equipment that Bill showed our mystery shopper would not have fit. This great sales experience would have disintegrated quickly into darn awful had the equipment been purchased and delivered, only to find out it was just plain too tall. Perhaps those details are something Bill would have addressed if our shopper had been ready to buy, but you also hate to get a customer excited about a piece then find out it won't fit. But that's a nit we are picking. All in all, we say, congrats, Bill and 2nd Wind.


Mystery Shopper: Keeping pace in Idaho

We were starting to get a bit disheartened with our string of so-so mystery shopping experiences of late, but Advantage Fitness in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, restored our faith. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Advantage! Remember, as we always like to point out each time: Our goal more