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Mystery Shopper: A home run with easy banter, solid techniques at Lifestyle

As one of the new kids in the fitness specialty arena in the Charlotte, N.C., area, we were curious to see how Lifestyle Fitness had settled in. We chose the main Lifestyle Fitness Equipment store facing southbound Interstate 77 near Interstate 485 in South Charlotte -- what seemed like a prime spot since rush-hour backups have bored folks looking up and reading store signs.

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After a short hiatus from Mystery Shopping, SNEWS® is back, thankfully with yet another home run. We love to have good experiences. Still, as we always like to point out: 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. 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. And stay tuned for more in the next few months.

As one of the new kids in the fitness specialty arena in the Charlotte, N.C., area, we were curious to see how Lifestyle Fitness — now with three stores since it first opened in November 2004 — had settled in. There are a number of stores and chains in the area so finding staff and training them could become a tug o’ war. We chose the main Lifestyle Fitness Equipment store facing southbound Interstate 77 near Interstate 485 in South Charlotte — what seemed like a prime spot since rush-hour backups have bored folks looking up and reading store signs. Although you can see the sign from the freeway, you have to make some guesses in turns to actually maneuver from the exit to the store’s parking lot. Our shopper, Renee, took a wrong turn first time around and had to do several U-turns and a bit of backtracking to find her way to the store entrance. She was motivated, but we’d definitely suggest a small sign at the driveway pointing folks the right way (if center management would allow it). Most stores in the small clean office park are destinations, such as office furniture outlets, a police distributors store, and a construction office, but you don’t want to deter someone who on a whim decides to stop in for a look-see.

Once there, parking was easy and Renee was impressed with the professional-looking exterior — no cheesy circus or discount store mish-mash of oddball posters and placards in the windows. Mid-afternoon, of course, meant she’d likely have the store to herself, as was the case, but the clerk John certainly wasn’t sleepy. As soon as she walked in, he chimed out from the desk in the back, “Hi there!” Then he took a great tact: With a bit of distance to make it to the front to the customer, he didn’t screech out questions about what she was looking for, but made small talk about the weather as he approached across the floor, simply establishing rapport. He didn’t start his sales questions until he was face-to-face, when he then asked, “What are you looking for today?”

“Well… strength stuff,” Renee said glancing at the machinery and weights that surrounded her in a slightly intimidating way.

“Like what?” he asked.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Renee said somewhat sheepishly. “I’m a runner, and I’ve been told I should do some strength work and it’d make me a better runner.”

“Oh, absolutely!” John said, enthusiastically, using the word “absolutely,” for the first of many, many times during the next 48 minutes he spent with Renee in the store. Not that it was annoying, but it definitely underscored the enthusiasm and friendliness that he had for dealing in an easy and comfortable way with people. Renee felt at ease with him.

“Plus, for women, it’s important because it builds strong bones too,” he said, subtly using the opportunity to interject yet another benefit to help bolster his sale.

Renee glanced around at the machinery near them: “Some of this looks so big. I don’t really have a lot of space.”

At that point, since it was clear the conversation would continue, John took the chance for a quick introduction: “My name is John,” he said, offering his hand for a shake but not necessarily asking for her name, although she offered it. Then he asked something else that made our shopper want to jump for joy: “Before I go on, do you have any injuries or conditions I should know about?”

Between friendly small talk, easy banter, an introduction and now this, the afternoon was setting up to be a really really really good day for SNEWS® Mystery Shopping.

John led Renee directly to the Vectra 1400, a gym that fits into a corner compactly. “This is great since it fits right in a corner so it doesn’t take a lot of space … and you can do all your exercises on it — pec flyes, lat pull downs, bicep curls…. Plus, it’s really smooth. Vectra is known for its smoothness. Let me show you….

Uh-oh, here he started to rattle off names of exercises that to somebody who didn’t do strength training could be a bit boggling. Renee just listened and watched him as he named exercises and showed a few things on the machines, like a consumer might who didn’t want to look stupid. “Plus,” he added, “it was the first to have an online cable system.”

He was eager and practically tripping over himself in pleasant enthusiasm, seemingly very comfortable with himself and in dealing with people. But after a strong start, he was starting to tip-toe into vocabulary that would leave many baffled — pec flyes? Online cable system?

“What do you mean ‘smooth’?” Renee asked, as John stepped out from a calf raise.

“Well, if you’ve ever tried things like at a big box store or a Bowflex and felt it dragged…” he started out. Renee just looked at him and shook her head negatively, sorta furrowing her brow. That forced him to take the best step and got him back on track.

“Well, here, why don’t you feel it?” he asked. FINALLY, our shopper had been waiting for an invite to step aboard. He led her to the lat pull down, adjusted it and let her try a couple. Again, he mentioned the “online system” and Renee, furrowing her brow again, asked, “Online?” thinking he meant like on the Internet. That finally got an explanation out of him that it meant you didn’t have to change cables around. OK, now that made sense.

“This is a lot of stuff it can do, it seems,” Renee said. “How do you know what to do?”

John was quick to tell her more about Lifestyle’s service: “That’s the great thing about this company. The service doesn’t stop with the sale. You get one training session free with your purchase. Plus, we’re here for you anytime, even after that. Just give a call.” He also pointed out a really good poster of exercises comes from Vectra with the gym.

That was all quite relieving to our shopper. John spent quite a bit of time on the Vectra piece, which Renee expressed a bit of interest in, and he didn’t ever get into price since she didn’t mention it. Good move. Finally, she asked if there was anything else she should look at, although she did like the piece. “But not the big stuff,” she added, gesturing toward a home gym to the right that was about four times the size of the Vectra piece, “not like that … island over there,” she added with a smile.

And he went right with the humor: “Oh that. Yes, that has its own Gross National Product.”

He turned to a compact Body-Solid gym and demo’d the leg curl and other parts, and then pointed out things she would have to buy to complete it such as a bench or leg press. For the first time, she brought up price, pondering aloud that she would spend about the same to make it do the same things. It just wasn’t as pretty either, she added, turning back to the Vectra 1400 that was white and asked if it came in other colors. It did, he said, which made her smile, especially when John added even her special order — since it’s made in the USA — would only take about three weeks to come in.

“Well, I like this, but these can’t be the only two you have. I’d like to see my other options briefly,” she said.

Next up was a Vectra Functional Trainer. John went to town showing how the arms moved around and how you could do stuff on balls or standing, but it all seemed like a lot to learn how to do, plus it was about $1,000 more. Nevertheless, he did bring back into the conversation how the core strength development with the ball would help her as a runner, obviously not forgetting why she had first come in.

At that point, their tour had them only a few feet from the counter and she spied the dumbbells on the back wall: “You know, I have a friend who just has some weights and really likes them. I like that gym, but what about just weights?”

“That’s possible too,” he said, taking her a few feet over to the PowerBlock and SportBlock pieces, noting how you could have your entire set of weights in one small space. He said the smaller SportBlock was likely enough for her since it went up to 21 pounds. “Oh, these are cute!” Renee exclaimed. She asked if a training session came with them too; no, you had to spend $500, John apologetically pointed out.

She glanced over her shoulder at the Vectra 1400 and back at the SportBlocks…. “Do you have any materials on these things for me to take home? I’d like to look at where to put it and decide.”

John scampered off to get some paperwork, and then asked: “Would you like me to write you a quote?”

“Yes, please,” she answered and he dug in to the computer while she glanced around the store. Clean and neat, the store was pretty expansive but done professionally with nice carpet, neutral but warm wall paint, and a few wall hangings from brands, but not cluttered. He noticed her glancing around and said, “We have some great treadmills too for your running.” Good man to bring the running back up, but she laughed and said she had enough to think about right now.

He pointed out he was going to give her an “incentive” discount on the price “to show your sale is important to us” and, as he was typing told her that the store has a 30-day no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee, without restocking fees “to show we want your business and to make sure you’re happy.” He also took the chance to tell her that the company began about 14 years ago in Colorado although it first opened in the area in December 2004, using another subtle tactic to reassure her they’d be there for her later.

He also added that even if she didn’t spend more than $500 and couldn’t qualify for the free training session, she could stop in any time she wanted — like when she’s stuck in traffic on the freeway below — since he’s always there (“I sleep in the back room,” he said with a grin, “they just lock me up there at night.). “I’ll spend as much time as you need, as often as you need.”

All the closing comments about guarantees and spending time after the sale were very reassuring, plus the delivery with a sense of humor made the session pretty fun too and made Renee want to deal with John.

When all was said and done, John escorted her to the door, made a little more small talk, thanked her and shook her hand, truly establishing great rapport and putting the finishing shine on a winner of a sales experience.

SNEWS® View: As soon as Renee got to her car, she wanted to do a cartwheel and dance a jig. John was great, nearly from start to finish. The only oopsie was a quick spiral at the start into too much lingo, which he quickly backed out of, recovering well to maintain an easy, humorous and comfortable repartee with Renee. Most notable was how he asked about injuries, as well as how he not only stressed the company’s service and availability for questions, but also how he continued to point out to her some application to running, proving he was truly listening.

This was a huge home run outa the park and nearly as much of a whopper as our last one in March at 2nd Wind. Never did Renee feel pressured and, in fact, she didn’t even feel rushed since John was simply so much fun to talk to and so eager to help her. Of course, we hope the Lifestyle team doesn’t lock the poor gent up in the back, but actually lets him get out now and then for a breath of fresh air. And we hope that when he’s gone, the person who takes his place is just as eager, well-informed, comfortable to be around and enthusiastic.

Now, if the company could only update the website ( so it’s as welcoming as its stores and personnel.