Mystery Shopper: Spiff gets in way of otherwise positive sale

We were amazed how many specialty fitness stores and other places to buy fitness equipment and gear were smattered across the greater Albuquerque, N.M., metropolitan area. So many choices…. But we chose to drop into Push Pedal Pull, which we found out later had been in town for about 12 years although its headquarters is in the Midwest. Out for a little Sunday afternoon shopping, Jackie and Jane decided to size up some equipment since Jackie had been talking about getting something for a very long time to take off a few pounds that had snuck up on the former competitive athlete.
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SNEWS® headed to the Southwest 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 store -- 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, both fitness and outdoor, for additional perspective on the state of specialty retail.

We were amazed how many specialty fitness stores and other places to buy fitness equipment and gear were smattered across the greater Albuquerque, N.M., metropolitan area. So many choices…. But we chose to drop into Push Pedal Pull, which we found out later had been in town for about 12 years although its headquarters is in the Midwest. This wasn't a store built on looks, mind you, although it was a nice enough brick building on a non-descript busy street with a Geico, Big Lots, a pub and grill restaurant, and a Kinko's at your disposal too.

Out for a little Sunday afternoon shopping, Jackie and Jane decided to size up some equipment since Jackie had been talking about getting something for a very long time to take off a few pounds that had snuck up on the former competitive athlete. The two walked in and found one man behind the counter, intent on his computer and another salesman on the floor helping another man with some information about a home gym. Within a minute, the sales guy turned and greeted the two as they perused equipment: "How are you ladies today? Let me know if you have any questions." Then he turned back to the man, with whom he was going over some exercise instructions. Three minutes later, the man left and Barney (not his real name) didn't waste any time heading for us.

He was quick to ask, "What are your goals?" when he heard Jackie talk about work getting the best of her but, without waiting for an answer and without further questions, he launched into his schpiel. "Have you ever tried an elliptical?" he asked. "No," Jackie said. Barney quickly realized who the shopper was and who the girlfriend along for the ride was and nicely focused on Jackie without leaving out Jane.

Although his schpiel started with "depending on your goals," it became clear that bubbly Barney wanted to sell a Precor elliptical. Oh, boy, did he want to sell a Precor elliptical. His sales talk was peppered with some great stuff ("I always say what's best is what is most comfortable to you"). But somehow, no matter what, the women ended up back at the Precor elliptical or Barney managed to point over at it.

Jackie and Jane were both business women so they perceived that there was some catch to him pushing the Precor so hard, although they kept referring to the Diamondback piece in the back and even asked about the Vision in the lineup. Barney shared with us that Precor has a contest where salespeople get points for how much they sell and you can get some great Precor equipment yourself with the points. Did this make points with Jackie and Jane? Even if the Precor was what they wanted? Not really. Because no matter how hard they tried, they kept wondering if he was just touting the brand and its features because the spiff program was better.

Nevertheless, they moved ahead. Every time Jackie stepped on an elliptical, which she had never in her life done before, she'd pedal backward, and Barney would point it out and help her get going forward. "Is that wrong?" she finally asked. "No," he said, "It's OK. It just uses different muscles."

He raved about the so-called Ramp and how Precor was the only one with it, but never managed to fully explain what the big deal was. It was never really clear why our two shoppers should care. They heard about the rear drive and the front drive, but he never managed to fully connect the dots as to if there were a reason they should care. He also pointed out several times that "Precor is the one that invented the elliptical." "Really?" one of the two women asked him. "Well, no, a doctor did, but he sold it to Precor," Barney conceded.

Bubbly Barney was a friendly guy who was full of all kinds of information, friendly, easy to talk to and pretty clear in his explanations, only succumbing to insider lingo (Ramp) or techie talk (max heart rate) a couple of times. He did mention "on the console" once -- an innocent enough phrase for someone in the industry, but Jackie finally had to ask, "What's a console?" He also never rushed the women, who were out for a little Sunday afternoon shopping. A couple of times, Barney would ask the busy-man-on-computer a question and he popped up with the answer. Although the guy seemed to be in his world, it was very apparent he was listening to every word, so much so it was nearly spooky to the women shopping.

When they got around to discussing price, the Precor was, of course, more expensive, with the top-end one going for some $7,000, But Barney was quick to point out that that was really too much for a home workout and the ones that ranged between about $3,400 and $3,900 would do just fine. Jackie leaned a bit toward the Diamondback for $1,900, partly because it wasn't as much of a space hog with its front drive. Barney smartly never down-sold the other brands in his efforts to move the sale toward the Precor, but instead up-sold the Precor. Despite the Precor being twice as much as the Diamondback, Jackie said, "My first feeling is, the Precor is smoother."

Barney also offered to let Jackie come in and "do 400 calories" on an elliptical to see how a workout felt.

"You can do that for a month if you want," he said.

"400 calories?" Jane asked.

"Yeah, about 45 minutes so you can get a good feel for it." Although not convinced they'd want to come in to the store for a workout, it was a reassuring offer to know they could.

Finally after about 40 minutes of shopping and comparing, it was time for the women to get some information, talk about the choices and move on with their day. "So, you said you had some brochures?" she asked. Barney disappeared into the back room to fetch the material about the two choices, writing in prices on the brochures. The three chatted a bit, before the women headed out.

"They were definitely pushing the Precor," said Jackie to Jane, as they headed for the car. "And I still don't know the difference between the rear and front drive, but I don't think I care unless it has to do with function. I should just care how it feels."

SNEWS® View: Barney's bubbly enthusiasm not only for working out but also for the sales process was contagious and the women left with smiles on their faces. If they were going to buy, Barney had made a good enough impression that they would consider going back to him. The most off-putting thing about the process, however, was not only how obvious he made it that he got points for selling the Precor but how he even described the points game. This didn't instill a lot of confidence in the reason for his sales push. Tip to sales staff: Don't be so overt when you push a brand and don't, for goodness sake, in your innocent glee, tell customers about how you earn points for certain sales!

The store was a looker, that's for sure, with rows of equipment set up in a utilitarian way -- yes, the Precors were in the front just inside the door, while the Diamondback, Horizon and others were against the back side wall. Barney also never asked for any contact information from the women; how was he ever going to follow-up with them unless he had some way to do it? Sure, Barney had some glitches in his giddy-up, but, as Jackie said, "The bottom line is, did I like him and would I buy from him? Yes." And "liking somebody" is something that is important for women in particular.

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