This past June, my husband and I went with our four young children to the "Fishing Store" (a.k.a. Bass Pro Shop) in Columbia, Missouri. While there, we were approached by a salesman named Brian, who enthusiastically invited us to enjoy a luxurious family vacation at the Bass Pro Shop's premier resort in Branson, MIssouri. For just $59 up-front, we could enjoy two nights' accommodations at Big Cedar resort. PLUS we would receive two $25 Bass Pro Shops gift cards! The only catch was, that we must agree to attend a 90-minute tour of Big Cedar resort during our stay so that we could "see how great it was" and "tell our friends all about it". We took the bait, coughed up the 59 bucks and scheduled our resort vacation. We picked the first weekend in October for the trip.
The time for our much-anticipated vacation finally arrived. We followed our G.P.S. to the address on our reservation confirmation letter, which took us through downtown Branson and led us straight to... the Radisson? What? This can't be right. Where's Big Cedar Lodge? This looks nothing like the website. Where's the horseback riding? Where's the lake with the canoes? Where's the mini-golf course? Where are the heated pools? No, this certainly was not a mountain resort lodge. This was a downtown Radisson hotel, with nothing but a few landscaping rocks and bushes for scenery. We were perplexed.
My husband pulled out his cell phone and dialed the phone number the salesman at Bass Pro gave us. The woman who answered the phone said that the particular salesman who sold us the vacation no longer works there. We spoke with a supervisor. The supervisor said that he was sorry about the "misunderstanding", but while the 90-minute time share presentation was indeed at the Big Cedar Resort, our accommodations were at the Radisson in downtown Branson. Woah. We certainly were not expecting that. Nothing had ever been mentioned about our accommodations being anywhere but at Big Cedar. What a disappointment! Now, don't get me wrong. The Radisson is a nice hotel. We probably would have been fine staying there if we hadn't already spent months perusing Big Cedar's website, making plans and telling our kids all about fishing at the lake, swimming in the heated pool and playing mini-golf for three days and two nights. What was there to do at the Radisson?
Since the manager at Bass Pro couldn't help us, we decided to try the Bluegreen employees at the Radisson. We explained to the nice ladies at the desk all about the dishonest salesman at Bass Pro, and how we had a very clear understanding that we were supposed to be actually staying at the Big Cedar Resort, not just touring it. The sympathetic desk-workers were determined to make things right, and managed to find us a room at the Roaring River Lodge at the Big Cedar Resort! What a relief! Now we were ready to begin our vacation!
Our 90-minute tour was scheduled to begin at 12:30 the next day. There was a supervised play area provided for our oldest three children to stay in while we attended the presentation with our 1-year-old daughter. We started out in a little room full of people where a sales rep named Keith told us all about the points program, and how we could use our points to stay at any Bluegreen resort, or exchange them to use at countless other worldwide resorts and cruise lines. Everything sounded great, and my husband and I were both getting excited about the idea of "vacation ownership". We were then handed over to our own personal tour guide named Michael Scott (no, seriously, that was his name) who showed us a couple of lodge rooms and told us what everything would cost. The 90-minutes we were planning to spend on the "tour" came and went and we were still hearing the pitch. TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATER... we were finally done, only after saying "no" to as many different "final offers" as one might expect to hear from a used car salesman. It was really rather infuriating. Even though my husband and I both kind of liked the "point" system that allowed members to stay at different resorts all over the world at any time of the year, what we didn't like, was that the "charter" that would allow us to use the "points" the way we wanted to, was only effective if we agreed to buy into the program THAT DAY. If we waited until we were actually able to go home and think things over, or until a little later down road when we had paid off some of our student loans, we would lose the ability to stay at any of the other resorts and we would only be able to vacation at Big Cedar. So, even if we might have been tempted to invest in Bluegreen's system of "vacation ownership", the mere fact that they were pressuring us to buy in now or never was enough to turn us off entirely. It didn't help either that the offer kept getting better and better each time we said "no". Points that started out costing over $3 a piece dropped in price to $2, then $1, and finally we were offered to enter into a "trial period" where we could purchase 9, 000 single-use "trial" points for $900 with the option to buy into the ownership program at any time during the next 12 months and still get the charter to use points at other resorts... oh wait... but earlier he said that if we didn't buy TODAY there was NO WAY we could ever get the Charter. The entire sales pitch was completely misleading. From the first representative at Bass Pro who told us we were going on a promotional tour and staying at Big Cedar, all the way down to the last offer that Michael Scott put on the table, we felt that we were intentionally being deceived. Michael kept saying that he didn't want to pressure us to buy, but then he would get up and talk to his "supervisor" and come back with a bigger and better offer, pretending like he was surprised at how great the offer was. How stupid does he think we are, really? It was offensive. I honestly believe that we would have been much more likely to buy into the program if we had actually gotten a 90-minute tour of the grounds and amenities, not just a cheesy sales presentation, and if we had been allowed time to consider our finances, and talk to other people who had invested with Bluegreen. The product sounds really good, and the system of "points" is appealing. Why must they go and ruin it all by trying to milk people for all that they can get and flat out lie to them about what they can or can't get in a package? It's infuriating.
My recommendation: Say what you mean and mean what you say. Put everything on the table up front. Give people their options, including the year "trial" period, if they want, and then allow them time to think about it. If it's really a good product, they will want it as much tomorrow as they do today. Then, maybe you won't have to crank 100 people a day through cheesy, insincere presentations in order to get a sale.