Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gym Tips - Part 2

When I showed up for my first day at the gym, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew it had to be nicer than the location where I interviewed, but that wasn't necessarily saying a lot. I've seen nicer basement gyms. I was blown away. Everything was brand spankin' new. Not an old machine or crusty free-weight plate in sight. The carpet was clean, there was a nicely-tiled cardio area, and each of the locker rooms featured a sauna and a steam room. I thought to myself, how could someone NOT want to join here? I was eager to start talking customers and making sales, but alas, the gym had other plans. They wanted to take things slow.

Gym Tip #1: Beware of old gyms. One popular business model for fitness clubs is to build a new gym, sign a bunch of people up and then let it rot as they build new gyms elsewhere and start the process over again. Expect whatever equipment that is in the gym when you sign up to never be replaced, no matter what the sales person says. Sales people are lied to too.

For the first four weeks, I technically wasn't allowed to sell anything. I had to wait until I was finished with the new employee training program. The program involved going to one of their eight locations and attending classes taught by their sales trainer, Betty*. Betty, too was a ball of energy. She was one of those happy all of the time people (do I sound cynical?). Though it appeared unnatural at first, I don't think she was faking it. She really was that happy. She claimed it was all because of aerobics. I thought that there was likely some medication involved somewhere. The training program had two components, fitness training and sales. The fitness training program involved learning how each machine worked, what muscle groups they exercised and how to work out on them safely. We also learned how to put together a basic fitness plan.

Gym Tip #2: Most gyms offer a free workout planning session when you sign up. Do take advantage of it, but don't expect anything spectacular. These sessions are to make sure you know how to use the equipment. If you want a more customized approach, inquire about personal training and expect to pay extra for it.
(Bonus Tip: Beware of free personal training enticements. They are usually pretty lame. Remember, you get what you pay for.)

The other component of the program, sales, was more intense. We had to memorize a twenty-minute sales pitch....down to the word. No room for error. The pitch was supposedly created by some hotshot sales consulting firm and it was "proven to work". Once we had the pitched memorized, we had to give it to one of the owners. If we messed up one word at any time during the presentation, we had to start all over. When my turn came up, I was terrified. I went very slowly, but I ended up getting every word right.

Gym Tip #3: Most good sales pitches are designed to get in your head and make you believe that signing up is the best decision you'll ever make in your lifetime. It may be, but the cold hard truth is, it's unlikely. Exercise is hard and eating healthy is hard. Most people have to do both to see significant results. Unfortunately the failure rate for people who try to get in shape is extremely high. Ask yourself these questions: Are you willing to be sore? To be tired? To have less time? Less money? To eat less? To eat better? Are you sure? Being healthy is a commitment that you will have to make with yourself. Gyms try to sugarcoat everything and make it seem like it's easy to lose fat and gain muscle. It's not, and it's better to tell you that before you sign up than afterward, especially if you get stuck in a contract, which brings me to tip #4....

Gym Tip #4: Just say no to contracts, no matter what the deal. By the time you start reaping the benefits of that lifetime membership they want you to sign up for, the club will likely be run down or, even worse, out of business.

I hated giving the sales pitch. It was cheeseball city. I usually ditched it and just talked naturally with the customers. I made many more sales that way than I did with the pitch. The pitch was rehearsed and was designed to only allow the customer to answer an affirming "yes" when we asked them dumb questions, like "do you want to live longer?" I never got to really know the customers that way. I much preferred actually talking with them, not at them.

The hardest part for me was selling a membership to a customer or family that I knew either wouldn't use it or couldn't afford it. I never actively tried to talk someone out of buying a membership, but I would take extra time to make sure that they knew what they were getting themselves into. Gym contracts usually stink and are tricky to get out of. Many gyms do their own collections and like credit card companies, actually make money when you don't pay your bill on time.

Most customers want to negotiate, and that's fine, even expected.

Gym Tip #5: Ask for the elimination of the initiation fee and you'll likely at least get a reduction. What you're not likely to get is a discount on the monthly rate unless they have an advertised special. Still, it never hurts to ask. Many gyms reward their employees based on nightly, weekly, and monthly goals. Go near the end of any one of these time periods and they may be more willing to work with you so they can reach their next bonus level.

Gym Tip #6: Don't be a jerk. Acting like a jerk to salesperson might reap benefits at a car dealership but it doesn't work well at a gym. Why? Because you will see the person you were a jerk to every time you come into the gym, Believe me, they will remember you. Never try to be clever and work with more than one sales person to get a better price either. They will find out and the one who lost out on the commission will likely hold a grudge.

To be continued...

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