Mystery Shopper: Meeting a unique challenge in the quest for fitness

Traveling down Imperial Highway, Millie saw a large red and yellow sign with "fitness equipment" emblazoned on a small building and knew she had arrived at Body Works in Yorba Linda, Calif. She was definitely in the right place -- now she had to see if the staff could meet her unique and very difficult challenge, one we knew would demand the utmost in education, thought and attention.
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SNEWS® heads to Yorba Linda, Calif., for yet another in our popular Mystery Shopping series. 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.

Traveling down Imperial Highway, Millie saw a large red and yellow sign with "fitness equipment" emblazoned on a small building and knew she had arrived at Body Works in Yorba Linda, Calif. She rounded the street corner and parked in a lot about a half a block away, and then walked over to the storefront.

It was close to 2 p.m. on a Wednesday in sunny Southern California when Millie entered the compact, donut-shaped store with an enclosed storage area in the middle. It was clean and packed with equipment from the likes of SportsArt, Spirit, Lamar, Octane, Life Core, Bodycraft and TuffStuff. She was definitely in the right place -- now she had to see if the staff could meet her unique and very difficult challenge, one we knew would demand the utmost in education, thought and attention.

To her right, she saw a clean-cut man sitting at a desk who looked up to greet her and asked how he could help out.

"My boyfriend is interested in getting a piece of equipment to workout on. He's a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. He wants to get in better shape because he sits at a desk job all day, but going to a gym doesn't make much sense. What would you suggest?" Millie asked.

"What's his range of motion?" Charles asked. (Charles, by the way, wasn't wearing a nametag -- what is it so many small stores have against this? -- and we didn’t learn his name until much later in the sales discussion.)

She explained that he was paralyzed a little higher than the waist down and his hand grip was weak, but he could move his upper body and arms easily. Charles ruled out most of his cardio equipment, like a treadmill or an elliptical, and Millie said a recumbent bike wouldn't work when he asked about that.

"It seems like his best bet would be a workout bench and some free weights," he said, leading Millie to a set up in the back area of the store. He pointed out what he had and seemed ready to wind down the sale right there, simply pointing out the equipment and not saying much else. Millie then noticed three different AXT home gyms from TuffStuff nearby and thought she'd give him a helping hand in the sale.

"What are these?" she asked, walking over to them.

Charles explained that it was a home gym with various exercise options, showing how the pieces moved and adjusted. He sat down on the AXT 2's bench and demonstrated a brief series of upper-body exercises, describing them to Millie as he did them, sometimes falling into a bit of lingo. When he named an exercise that was unfamiliar to her, like an incline press, she had to ask him what it was, although once she asked he always explained well how to do it and what area of the body it worked. She noticed that the lat pull-down bar was a little too high for someone in a wheelchair and asked if it could be adjusted lower so her boyfriend could reach it more easily. "No," he said. But that didn't stop Charles from making an effort to find other possibilities in other equipment.

Charles said that his other store had another model for $999 that Millie's boyfriend might find interesting. It was there because that store had more space and Body Works wanted to offer a full range of home gym prices to its customers. During the conversation, he noted that if they bought one of the pieces, they would set up a session with a personal trainer who would show her boyfriend how to use the equipment. Millie liked that idea a lot, as would other shoppers, she assumed. Great way to help reassure someone they won't get something home then not know what to do, especially helpful if someone is in a wheelchair and may need a few extra tips.

Charles went over to a stand with brochures and catalogs to grab materials for Millie. In the process of pulling information, he seemed to be reminded of other options that could work (we're sure this sales scenario doesn't come up really often!). He pulled out a sheet on the TuffStuff AFT-1 multi-functional trainer, noting that it was used mostly by personal trainers and might be something Millie's boyfriend may also be interested in. The sheet had a picture of the multi-functional trainer and even noted in the text that it was wheelchair accessible. Charles explained how the arms adjusted horizontally and vertically to offer a variety of exercise options -- up to 20 to 30 possibilities – and how it could accommodate her boyfriend in his wheelchair.

"I'm not sure of the space you have, but it could work," he said, adding that he could check on its availability. He sat down at the computer terminal, looked it up and said it was $2,599, but added he could work with her on the price. He told her how tall and wide it was and explained with a cautionary tone that with the arms fully extended, it would be up to 9-feet wide.

"If I wanted to use it too, what would I need?" Millie asked, needing to prompt a bit on the fact that the two of them might share the piece. Without hesitating, he said she could use it standing up and also suggested a couple of bench models from TuffStuff that would work. Flipping through catalogs to show Millie her options, Charles came across TuffStuff's TCS-130WS single column pulley system. "This is another piece that he could use," he said. The catalog also noted that it was wheelchair accessible. Charles seemed to be jogging his memory on possibilities as he looked at more literature; as we said, this scenario isn't an everyday one!

Charles looked it up on his computer and told Millie it was listed for $879. Again, he noted that he could work with her on price, adding that this might be an even better bet for them. "This is my shop and I don't want to up-sell you if I don't have to. I'm not trying to discourage you from buying the (AFT-1), but it may be overkill," he told her. That raised Millie's confidence in the effort Charles was making in a rather challenging sales situation -- and her confidence in general because of how genuine he was.

Although he didn't have the pulley system in stock, he suggested that Millie and her boyfriend visit his other store where they could check out TuffStuff's Apollo modular gym system. It has multiple stations, one being a cable system so her boyfriend could try that type of system out. Also, he gave the name of a particular salesperson at the store who was also a trainer, saying that person was very knowledgeable and could demonstrate how the piece worked. He even gave her days and times that the sales guy was available, as well as driving instructions to the store. That was all extremely helpful to Millie and made her more optimistic about the possibilities and feeling good about being in Charles' professional hands.

Armed with sales sheets and catalogs, Millie told him that she was going to look around the store briefly. During that time, she heard Charles get on the phone to the other store and talk to a salesperson there, learning his name because of his exchange with that person. He mentioned Millie and her boyfriend's needs and told his guy to keep an eye out for them. Now, THAT was one really big effort on his part and Millie wanted to head right over there.

When Millie came back around to his side of the store, Charles told her about the call, shook her hand and said good-bye.

SNEWS® View: Charles was a nice, genuine guy and quite helpful once he got his arms wrapped around the challenge we threw at him -- helping an able-bodied woman shop for a workout solution for her wheelchair-bound boyfriend who wasn't in the shop. We must admit, this was a really different and extremely difficult sales situation and Charles handled it admirably given the twists and turns thrown at him. Perhaps his apparent need to warm-up into it a bit was simply because this scenario likely comes up so infrequently. 

But, specialty shops take note, becoming well-acquainted with the needs and abilities of those in wheelchairs -- as well as how to address them and work with them -- is something that should be practiced. Society in general isn't really sure how to deal with someone in a chair, but should make some effort to become educated. We chose to take this situation to Body Works because we felt as a small shop and one that had been around for awhile that it would step up to the task. Considering the difficulty, Charles did exactly that, bending over backward to point out literature and then call his other shop to prep the staff there.

Nevertheless, he did falter on some of the basics of sales -- maybe thrown off by Millie's unique shopping goal or by the fact that her boyfriend, the actual user, wasn't there to work with.

At the start, he never asked the appropriate qualifying information such as workout goals or experience of the user, even one in a wheelchair. He hadn't asked whether Millie was going to use it herself (or anything about her goals or level), or how much space they had. Millie had to lead him on with "If I planned on using this, how would I…?" After the prompting, Charles had suggested a weight bench, named a couple models, etc. When it came to space available, he even said, "I’m not sure of the space you have, but …” instead of simply asking where the piece was going to go and how much room they had so he could do a better job in the actual selling.

Also, he showed Millie a few exercises that could be done on the equipment, but never asked her to sit down and try them herself. This happens in many of the fitness Mystery Shoppers we do and we are perplexed by it, since it seems like a no-brainer to say, here, try it yourself. If in this case Millie knew how the piece felt and worked, she could have offered up insight to Charles on what she thought her boyfriend could or couldn't handle from the piece. That's one more bit of information many wouldn't likely think about. Whether selling to a wheelchair-user or other, the shopper should always be invited to try.

While he mentioned he'd work with her on prices, he never established with Millie what her budget was. Since the TuffStuff equipment on the showroom floor had prices on them and she had asked specifically about them, he could have actually assumed that $2,500 really wasn't out of the picture. Although he nicely said he didn't want to over-sell, since Millie hadn’t flinched at those prices, maybe he should have stuck with it -- once he knew space wasn't an issue, of course. Maybe the flexibility in the larger piece could be helpful to the couple. Still, his honesty in saying he didn't want to over-sell could have leave a customer feeling reassured he or she would indeed get exactly what they need -- no more or no less.

Ultimately, we'd suggest to any salesperson that when presented with any request outside the norm, always start with the basic questions -- asking about fitness goals, who's using it, etc. Ask the same questions you'd ask any other customer and perhaps even more. Then be ready to be educated yourself. While this information is always important to matching the right equipment to the customer, it also buys you some time to think about what you or your vendors may have available to meet their unique needs. Once Charles remembered that TuffStuff had wheelchair-accessible equipment, he was on a roll and really seemed to get into meeting Millie's boyfriend's needs.

In fact, we'll lay money that once Millie left Charles started thinking of other possibilities for her boyfriend. And may have actually taken the time to call the trainer at the other story to make sure he mentioned them. That's just the kind of follow-up we would have expected.

Now, about that lack of a name or name tag ....

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