How NOT to enroll new members – and piss off parents – A horrible experience that Dr. Robyn Encountered Yesterday

Subject:  What a DISASTER…I hope you don’t do this at your school or gym

Greetings folks,

Jason Silverman here from Powerful Words Character Development and  Hope all is going well in your world!

Yesterday, we had an AWFUL experience while trying to sign up our kids for gymnastics classes.  I’m still infuriated about it, however, I’m going to use the experience for YOUR BENEFIT and share with you exactly what this program did WRONG (as well as point out some opportunities for you so that you ensure that you’re doing it RIGHT!)

Here’s what went down:

My wife (Dr. Robyn Silverman) took our 3 1/2 year old daughter Tallie for a “trial class” at  a gymnastics academy that we’d previously heard decent reports about.

The Entrance:
When she walked in, she was immediately underwhelmed by what she saw.  It wasn’t particularly clean, it wasn’t particularly organized, and it didn’t particularly smell all that good.  Not a great start to say the least.

You only get 1 chance to make a first impression to a prospective member (and their family) go out of your way to ensure that people say “WOW!” when they walk into your facility.  Remember, if you want to be remarked about…you must be remarkable!

The First Contact:
After waiting around for a little while and not being acknowledged AT ALL…BY ANYBODY…Dr. Robyn finally got the attention of the twenty-something behind the reception desk.  My wife said, “Hi!  I’m Tallie Silverman’s mom and she’s here to try her first class!”  Apparently, this staff member wasn’t all that interested in chit-chat, or any conversation at all for that matter.  She simply said, “ok – go over there and somebody will call her when it’s time for class”  That was it, no greeting, no rapport building, no nothing.  (FYI – had that been my employee, she would have been fired on the spot.)

When somebody is interested enough in your program to schlep their kid(s) to your facility after scheduling an appointment, they’re probably a pretty darn good lead.  Don’t let your unprofessional front desk staff sour the experience before it begins.  The Greeting System that your staff implements is vital to your success.  It’s at this time that you have the opportunity to start to build rapport with both the child and the adult (as we all know, we actually have 2 clients, right?  We have to engage the children while also impressing the parents.)

Had the gym done any due diligence, they would have realized who was actually standing in front of them.  Without tossing extra bouquets at my wife, I will say that she is publicly recognized as one of the leading Child Development Experts in the country.  A simple google search of her name after she called to schedule the appointment would have yielded a ton of helpful information.  We always used to google all prospects to see who we might soon be adding to our family…for positive or negative reasons!  To make matters even more interesting, Dr. Robyn has spoken multiple times at the National USA Gymnastics Congress, so, odds are, somebody at that gym had either seen her speak, read her articles, or seen her videos.  What a ridiculous opportunity was lost.  Always know who you are talking to…ALWAYS.

No tour was given…None…Zero…Zilch.  A tour is a phenomenal opportunity to showcase all the positive benefits of your facility and your program.  It’s also a great chance to build rapport and find out exactly what a parent hopes to achieve by enrolling their child in your program.  It also allows the parents and the kids to become more comfortable in your facility and know exactly what to do, when to do it, where to do it, and how to become a GREAT member of your program.  I say this because almost everyday I hear owners complaining about how terrible it is to have to “deal with” the parents.  Most times, when you share with them exactly how to be great clients, they’ll rise to your expectations.

The Class:
OK, so, Tallie was called onto the floor (after NOT being introduced to the coach and NOT being told what to do so that she could feel successful) and jumped right in.  This being a gymnastics academy, we had thought she’d be doing some gymnastics…instead, she did an obstacle course (with no instruction), jumped on the trampoline (with no instruction), played in the foam pit (with no instruction), and then class was over.

If you tell people that you teach a specific skill set – TEACH IT.  If you run a playcenter, that’s fine too.  Just be very clear about what exactly you do and what exactly your clients are paying for.  My daughter has enough opportunity to play, and while I totally want her to have fun and enjoy what she’s doing…I do expect her to actually learn something (as she loves to gain new skills!)  The class was poorly organized, the coach was anything but helpful, and it was challenging to see how this would be a value added activity into her schedule.  NEVER let that happen to your current or prospective members!

The Check in:
My wife, after keeping her mouth shut for quite a while, and watching this all take place, decided to check in with Queen Grumpy at the front desk. She said, “Is this a typical class?”  Queen Grumpy replied, “which class?  There are many going on at the same time…[eye roll]”  My wife replied, “The four’s class”  “umm, yeah.  There are 5 current members and 3 trials in there…it’s an 8 to 1 ratio…that’s good.”  “yes…thanks for your help.”  Since she got nothing from the front desk, my wife spoke with one of the other moms in the viewing area. “So, what do YOU think of the program?”  “my daughter seems to enjoy it…I’m not overly impressed, but you know, it’s convenient.”  NOT a raving endorsement to say the least.

If your prospective parents are asking questions, that’s either indicative of a potential problem or they are alerting you to a potential opportunity to be welcomed into your program.  Also, if your front desk person is not wonderful at building rapport or making people feel comfortable – GET RID OF THEM…immediately.  Don’t pass go, don’t collect $200 – get rid of them – they are COSTING YOU MONEY…lots of it!  Keep in mind, that if YOU are not the one who is providing all of the important information to your prospective members, somebody else will be.  In this case, another mom, who was NOT a raving fan…UGH.  Finally on this one, don’t ever refer to somebody’s child as a “trial” – bad idea.  We always referred to anybody in a trial program as new members.  That’s how we saw them and that’s how we treated them.  

The Transfer Back to Mom:
After class was over, Tallie had no idea where to go (she’d not been given a tour, she wasn’t told what to do or where to go, and, um…she’s 3) so she followed some of the other kids up to the parents waiting area.  A coach followed behind her. When she saw my wife, Tallie came running and gave her a hug.  Once the coach saw this, she turned around and went back downstairs.  No “nice job”, no “did you have fun?”, and certainly no, “I can’t wait to have you in class!”  Obviously, nothing was said to my wife…ya know, the one with the credit card.

Are you kidding me?  After somebody gets to experience your classes, it’s THE PRIME OPPORTUNITY to help them become a member.  Continue to build rapport, build excitement about how great it’s going to be when they are a regular member, and of course solidify the benefits to the parents.  This was where we always shared with the parents exactly how our program developed the character of their kids while also giving them a kick butt workout…and having a ton of fun.  Never let a parent and child just walk away without joining them to find out what their favorite part was and what they’re most excited about doing next.  Capiche?

The Big Finish:
Ummm…there was none.  Nobody talked to my wife or my daughter on the way out.  Nobody talked about enrollment, nobody helped them determine which classes would be most convenient, nobody gave a crap.  (sorry to be crude, however, that’s exactly how they were made to feel…plain and simple)  Had my staff ever let somebody take a trial program and then simply walk out without presenting our program and an opportunity to enroll…they would have been unemployed immediately.  Listen, I know that many people are “afraid” to sell.  I get it.  My comment on this, is “GET OVER IT and TRAIN THEM!”  If you or your staff is afraid to present the value and benefits of your program, invest the time to develop the skill set so that it can be done professionally, predictably, and profitably.  There are many systems at play here – hopefully you have all of these systems developed, documented and trained at your academy:

1.)  Welcoming Phone Script System
2.)  Professional Greeting System
3.)  Grand Tour System
4.)  Parent Rapport Building System
5.)  Trial Class / Introductory Class System
6.)  Enrollment Presentation System
7.)  Follow Up System
8.)  New Member Integration System

If you don’t have these systems in place, I’d strongly urge you to do so immediately.  I cover much of these with my Top Tier Powerful Words clients as well as my private coaching clients.  However you acquire these systems, be sure to do so IMMEDIATELY.


Never, ever, ever, ever, let somebody leave your facility after trying your program without offering them the opportunity to become a client.  EVER.  This DOES NOT MEAN to become an overly pushy, aggressive, salesperson.  What it DOES MEAN is to make sure that you’re at the very least offering them the opportunity to join.  Plain and simple.  This program missed out on enrolling my 3 year old daughter and my 2 year old son.  Who knows how many years they might have trained there?  Who knows how many friends they might have referred?  Who knows how amny families WE may have referred?  Can you imagine how much money this experience just cost them (from an opportunity cost perspective?) 

Imagine if you owned a chocolate shop.  Somebody comes in and tries a chocolate covered carmel and start to make yummy noises.  That would be the time to ask them if they’d like to take home a full pound of them, right?  Well, the giggles and squeals of excitement that a child makes when they come off your training floor, or out of your pool, or off the deck…those are the yummy noises we’re looking for, got it?

I heard a long time ago (I don’t remember who shared it otherwise I’d give them credit) to make believe that everybody who walks into your facility has a sign on that says “Treat Me Like I’m Special” because they really are.  When you go above and beyond to deliver an amazing experience for people and treat them in a way that they always hoped to be treated – everybody will benefit.  Please, take action on this.  

Also, I’d love YOUR feedback – how would you say YOUR PROGRAM would rate on a scale of 1-10 in this regard?  If Dr. Robyn showed up at your door to enroll our children in your program, would she have wonderful things to report or would she walk away disappointed?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

*** Nothing to sell you here.  Obviously, if you operate your program as a Personal Development Center, you’re probably already knocking it out of the park.  If you want more info about that – contact me directly, I’m happy to help!

Make it a Powerful Day.


Jason M. Silverman

Powerful Words Character Development
(877) 769-3799 ext 7

8 replies
  1. Ann Brown
    Ann Brown says:

    Not impressed with your rant….as a small gymnastics business owner (coach, front desk person, etc…..) the reality of Googling every prospective clients name to see “who” we are dealing with is ridiculous! Tours? During the crazy busy times between classes (while working the front desk, greeting current customers, etc) is not realistic. Call in advance to schedule your tour if you really need one. Preschool classes are FUN introductions to the sport. “skills” can not be mastered until motor skills, strength & balance are in place. At 3 1/2 your daughter is not going to be working the skills you see on tv.

    Your negative words about gymnastics programs (good or bad) was not helpful & regardless of your bad experience put down our industry. Aren’t you in the positive word business?!

    • jason
      jason says:

      Hello Ann,
      Terribly sorry (for you) that you feel what I wrote was a “rant” Please allow me to address some of the issues in your blog comment:

      “as a small gymnastics business owner (coach, front desk person, etc…..) the reality of Googling every prospective clients name to see “who” we are dealing with is ridiculous! ”
      *** OK, I get it, you are the chief cook and bottle washer at your facility and it sounds like you’re probably overworked and underpaid, right? I get it…been there / done that. I’m unsure as why it would be “ridiculous” to google those who you have coming in for introductory lessons. Do you really have THAT MANY OF THEM that you’re really unable to keep up with it? If so, congratulations – that’s a spectacular problem to have.

      *** Yes, Tours. If you’re actually interested in building rapport and making people feel comfortable in your facility…I’d urge you to, at the very least, give them a short tour around your facility. If you’re too busy to do so yourself, train one of your teenagers (who is socially competent), to do it for you. It might be as easy as “this is the parents area where you’ll sit during the lesson, this is where the bathrooms are, when class starts, Miss Jenny will come out and get your daughter and bring her on the floor.” I’m guessing that might take all of about a minute. Still think it’s ridiculous?

      “During the crazy busy times between classes (while working the front desk, greeting current customers, etc) is not realistic.”
      *** I’d argue then, that your facility must be understaffed as these are primary functions of a successful business. It really has to do with creating “zones” within your facility and assigning staff or volunteers (raving fan parents come to mind) to man each of the zones so that nobody slips through the cracks. A tour is part of your lead conversion system (or it should be!) Try going to a spa…see what happens. More often than not, you’ll be given a tour then presented with an opportunity to become a client. It’s a pretty universal concept.

      “Call in advance to schedule your tour if you really need one.”
      *** Actually, umm…we did. But thanks. Did we really need one? Yes. Did we get one? No.

      “Preschool classes are FUN introductions to the sport. “skills” can not be mastered until motor skills, strength & balance are in place. At 3 1/2 your daughter is not going to be working the skills you see on tv.”
      *** I’m well aware of what preschool classes are designed to do…having run a program of my own and having the opportunity to work with hundreds of successful owners worldwide. I have no misconceptions about which skill sets my 3 1/2 year old would walk away with, and NO, I didn’t expect her to become an Elite Level Gymnast yesterday. What I did expect was for her to at least do as much gymnastics as she has done at The Little Gym for the past 2 years.

      “our negative words about gymnastics programs (good or bad) was not helpful & regardless of your bad experience put down our industry. Aren’t you in the positive word business?!”
      *** I didn’t have any negative words about the gymnastics industry, and, in fact, I’ve been contacted by close to 100 owners since this morning assuring me that this gym was the exception and not the rule (which was quite comforting to me) Sounds to me though, that perhaps my article was a mirror that some owners looked in, and didn’t like what they saw. In addition, we also have an introductory lesson at another facility this week (so please don’t feel like I’m hating on gymnastics…I’m merely commenting on the unprofessionalism of one gym’s conversion process (or lack thereof)

      Powerful Words is not in the “positive words” business…we are in the Personal Development Business and as such, I find it important to be honest about what happened so that owners worldwide can learn from these mistakes and NOT lost out on clients.

      As a follow up, I will say that my wife did call the gym this morning to cancel the introductory lesson that she had scheduled for our son and said, I’m happy to discuss with you why…here’s my number, please call me. I know you’ll be shocked to learn that there has been no return call. Apparently, they are too busy to do so.

      Ann, I’m happy to discuss this with you in greater depth if you’re interested. I wish you the best of luck in your business!


    • Megan Dukes
      Megan Dukes says:

      As a studio director I am proud of my studio and WANT to show it off to perspective families. It is a great, if not the BEST, time to give the sales pitch to the studio while walking the tour. Yes, it can get busy and we all have those nights that are hectic and crazy- that is studio life for you. However, at the end of the day it is your members and perspective members that keep you in business. At the very least all front desk staff should be offering tours to walk ins, providing the information requested (I always say to provide the information you would want on your first visit to a gym for your own child). Do not over sell but never ignore anyone- new or old. I could never let a parent leave this studio with out the proper enrollment information- schedule, cost, class description, etc. Give them the lay out of what you do so they can do it with you.

      A small 5 min. tour of the facility could go a long way. The comment of having a family to call and schedule a tour, yes would be appreciated, but ‘if they really need it’ was sort of a lame comment. YES THEY NEED IT! If you are a proud business owner SHOW OFF what you have worked so hard for. Perspective families will see your pride in what you do and your facility and they want to be somewhere that takes pride in what they do. A studio tour is much more then just walking someone around. It is a huge sales opportunity. Perspective members should not have to ask- you should just tell. A lot of parents signing up for an activity (especially they younger age groups) may not know what questions to ask. Lead them…
      I work the front desk A LOT at my studio as does our owner. The owner herself will jump in and tour a family even though she has 1000 other responsibilities. She will do it proudly and with no hesitation. As will every other staff member of ours (including instructors if not teaching at the moment).Our parents take pride in our studio as well and a lot of it has to do with how they are treated- from being a perspective family to an enrolled family EVERYONE needs to be paid attention to and taken care of.They are there for a reason but you need to provide a reason for them to return.
      That is my 2 cents to this. I never comment but I read the story and the comments from Ann and I just had to respond.

  2. Steve
    Steve says:

    A very interesting article. Since it isn’t to hard to figure out which gym you are talking about a letter to the owner probably would have been more appropriate. It is likely even more feelings will be hurt.

    Still, I found some useful information from your letter since enrollment is currently on-going & busy. I asked some of my staff to read your article as if it was a letter to them.

    I hope you find a gymnastics program that fits all your needs.


    • jason
      jason says:

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for commenting. Quite honestly, my wife called and left a message letting them know that she wanted to cancel the trial program she’d set up for our son and that she’d be more than happy to explain why. Nobody called us, which tells me that (a) they’re not interested in learning why somebody would not be interested in joining their program or (b) they’re so disorganized an unprofessional that they are unable to call prospective members back. As far as it being easy to figure out which gym this was, I’ll say this – out of respect for them, I didn’t name their gym – there are over 15 gyms within a reasonable driving distance of our home…so it truly could be any of them, right? Unless of course, their reputation precedes them.

      Thanks for the kind words re this article – I’d love your staff’s feedback after they read it!

  3. Mark Mahoney
    Mark Mahoney says:

    Wow, very interesting to hear this experience from the customer side. This definitely opens your eyes as to if a gym/studio does not have a system or their system breaks down the damage that can be done. I think the systems you were suggesting are pretty simple to be in place. Keep the parent perspective stories coming – they are very enlightening.

  4. Gary Engels
    Gary Engels says:

    Jason, well said sir. There are some incredibly valuable and important takeaways here for every school owner. Thanks for the reminders, I’m sure this will help many.


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