Mystery Shopper: Tech spec knowledge leaves shopper uninspired

Our SNEWS® operative approached the HealthStyles Exercise Equipment store in Silverthorne, Colo., moseying through the front door of the store in an outlet mall west of Denver. Jack’s mission was to pose as an indoor equipment newbie, with a cover story that he knew he was getting a tad out of shape and needed equipment at home for motivation, but had utterly no idea where to start.

SNEWS® heads to the Rockies 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 ( to see our entire lineup of past Mystery Shoppers, both fitness and outdoor, for additional perspective on the state of specialty retail.

Our SNEWS® operative approached the HealthStyles Exercise Equipment store in Silverthorne, Colo., moseying through the front door of the store in an outlet mall west of Denver. There appeared to be no one in the store, but Jack could hear a conversation in a back room, so he started looking at cardio equipment. Jack’s mission was to pose as an indoor equipment newbie, with a cover story that he knew he was getting a tad out of shape and needed equipment at home for motivation, but had utterly no idea where to start.

A couple of minutes later, a man walked out of the back still on the telephone, gave Jack a “hi” wave and kept chatting on the phone. Our shopper knew the telephone guy was staff since he had on a uniform-like casual black shirt and tan shorts, which nevertheless struck Jack as odd since it was spitting snow outside. Another two minutes or so and he hung up and asked if our shopper needed any help. The conversation went to the weather since, of course, what else does everyone talk about in Colorado, and Jack discovered it had been 50 degrees in another part of the Denver area when the sales guy had left home for work that morning.

“I’m interested in some indoor cardio exercise equipment,” Jack said, noting on a quick glance the store carried Landice, Life Fitness, Nautilus, Schwinn, Octane, StairMaster and Bowflex, although he perhaps hadn’t seen all the brands. Without a thought toward questions about Jack’s needs, experience, space, fitness level, interests or any possible injuries or limitations, the guy launched into a short spiel about how HealthStyles is family-owned and provides certain services, and then moved Jack over to the ellipticals in the front of the store. He filled Jack with technical details, the inner workings and all that jazz.

Jack was a bit wowed by the detail this guy (no name still) knew, so Jack eyed some treadmills and moved that way, wondering if that might be a better option, and asked about them. He couldn’t know if anything really felt good to him since the sales guy still hadn’t invited him to touch or try out anything. But after only a few minutes at the treads, the sales staffer maneuvered our shopper back toward the ellipticals – not sure if he decided based on Jack’s tall, large build that was a better option, if he had better spiffs from those companies, or simply if he were a big elliptical fan.

Jack got an education he never knew was possible about models, specs and top-selling brands and types, with the sales guy noting the Octane line was a big hit in general. Jack then got an intimate and detailed verbal introduction to the three Octane models, what differentiated them from each other, and what made them better-selling than other brands. “The guy’s doing a great job of promoting Octane without putting down other brands,” Jack thought, between his endless questions.

Nevertheless, it was still all talk and no touch for Jack, as the sales guy then got on an Octane model himself to demo it, answering more questions from Jack. (Jack had discovered the guy was great at answering questions but didn’t initiate a lot.) Without hesitation, he gave the exact stride length and pedal width for every elliptical, explained how different arm positions could be used, how to take advantage of different movements to increase a workout intensity, and even about the evolution of elliptical development. “Boy, this guy knows how to give pretty exacting answers,” thought Jack, who was still peppering him with questions. “He knows specifics well, and I’m learning quite a bit about the inner workings of ellipticals too.”

To see if he was just picking numbers out of the air, Jack sized up the hangtags on each machine, only to discover this guy really did know his specifications. Of course, through all of this, the sales guy still hadn’t inquired about Jack at all, nor invited him to try out something himself.

Jack pointed out the middle model of the Octane line in the back of the store, and our shopper headed on back without the sales guy making an immediate move to follow. Since Jack was there first, he took the initiative to hop on himself without invite or without suggestion that he take off his ski jacket for comfort. The sales guy kept on with the spec spiel and also pointed out different programs. “I’m pretty much blown away by his knowledge,” Jack thought. But since he really wanted to feel a machine and the one in the back wasn’t plugged in, he headed back to the front and climbed on one of those, with sales guy in tow.

After about 20 minutes or so of questions and tech-download, Jack asked for a brochure. The sales guy headed to the counter, grabbed one and went through each page with him to explain what it all meant, giving the impression he had this so well memorized he could have done it without even looking at the brochure.

Figuring that was about it and not being particularly convinced about what – if anything – might work for him, Jack started to leave. The sales guy then told him the names of two people who could help him at the store. Turned out the guy was just filling in at that location for the day when he finally introduced himself. The salesman then suggested that Jack come back another day and try a few more machines.

SNEWS® View: The sales guy was a bright, friendly, considerate employee who really knew his specs when it came to equipment, but a huge problem still existed: Although Jack made a point to not talk about his personal issues, needs, experience, family, or the like – to leave the door open for the sales person to inquire and to qualify him – the salesperson never did ask about what Jack wanted to accomplish, what he was looking for or why. In fact, he basically never asked a question on his own initiative, leaving it up to Jack to sort of lead the exchange.

Had that been because the salesperson had intuitively classified Jack as “just a looker” and not a true prospect? If so, bad news since you never know whether a shopper is itching to pull out a credit card, or just how fat their wallet is, or if a person is desperate to finally get into shape.

And all the technical data that the salesman offered? Jack could have gotten it online with a little research, which is what most shoppers do these days. You go into a store to look, feel and touch and have a real person talk to you about your needs and preferences. That’s the key part that was missing.


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

Mystery Shopper: Have wheelchair, will travel

This is the second installment of our continuing and occasional series of stories about our mystery shopping experiences at outdoor stores. Our intent in running these stories is and will always be as an educational tool. Our goal is never to call onto the carpet any one store or more