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The Mystery Shopper

The next article is a business transcript from Thrive15.com, one of the most affordable business schools in Florida, that features Clay Clark (US Small Business Administration Entrepreneur of the Year) and Dr. Robert Zoellner (Optometrist, Venture Capitalist) talking about how to do quality control with mystery shoppers!

Clay Clark:                  Now we're switching gears a little bit on mystery shopping. For anybody watching this, just don't share with more than like ten thousand people. Let's keep it secret. Here we go.

                                    We're talking about mystery shopping the competition. We're actually going to the competitors and looking at their business now. This is where we draw the line though. There's a lot of business owners that say, "If this table represents excellence, half of this is mediocrity." They say, "I'm willing to mystery shop myself. I'm willing to work hard, but I would never mystery shop my competitor because the ethics ... I wouldn't do it."

Dr. Zoellner:              What?

Clay Clark:                  I'm going to tell you one story, huge. I actually hired one of my competitor DJ companies to DJ a party for someone I did not know. Said, "Hey, would you be okay if I hired a DJ for your event?" They're like, "Yeah." "Not my company. I'll hire like ..." "Sure." Paid the bill, did the thing. I learned so much about what to do, what not to do, what's going on over there, what's going on inside, what they're saying to people, learned a lot. Do you do this as well, do you mystery shop your competition?

Dr. Zoellner:              Absolutely. It's like going to war and not being concerned about what the other troops are doing. I mean, intel and recon is the backbone of being able to win the battle. I'm all for it. There's a right way to do it, there's a wrong way to do it. You have to find out what they're doing is tantamount to your business.

Clay Clark:                  I'm a person who, as a general rule, is pretty aggressive, I just implement things. Tell me what the wrong way is so I don't do that before we deep dive into some of the details. What's the wrong way? What are some things I can't do? Am I not allowed to become best friends with the owner for like two years and then ... What are the rules? What can I not do? What are some things where you say, "Okay, that is too far."

Dr. Zoellner:              You couldn't break into their business after hours. Obviously, breaking the law is one thing, but I think the line that we're talking about not crossing is you want to treat them the way you wouldn't mind being treated. That's a good rule of thumb. You wouldn't send somebody in there and try to sabotage, you don't want to go and send somebody in there and try to be mean, you want to treat them in that experience the way you'd want. If you can say, "Yes, that's okay, then, to me, you're fine."

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Clay Clark:                  I want to give a few examples here. I know that Sam Walton mystery shopped his competitors virtually every day. I know QuikTrip gas stations, they mystery shop all the time for their competitors. I know a lot of airlines send their employees on the other airlines planes. This is not new. Any sporting team that's worth a hoot, they're going to go look at their competition and game plan for them. This is not weird. If you're watching this and you're like, "This seems bad," we'll just keep whispering.

                                    Here we go. What type of things have you learned when you've sent people to your competition. What are the kinds of things-

Dr. Zoellner:              How much they're charging for things. A lot of my models are value driven so that's a big deal, the actual price of their goods. You have to be competitive in that arena so that's one. Also, the layout and the physical look of their facilities whenever I look at things that are important. Also, other inner workings on employees, what the employees are saying, how the  employees are doing. Oftentimes, we'll mystery shop sometimes a different business and end up with good employees from that.

                                    In other words, when I go into a restaurant, I go in with the filter of what are they doing right, what are they doing wrong. Is this person potentially a good fit in my organization and where? That mindset, you should never turn off. Even though I don't own a restaurant, I've hired a lot of great people that were good waiters and waitresses.

Clay Clark:                  I have as well. It's almost like when family knows that I'm at a restaurant sometimes, they're like, "Are you at the restaurant here with us right now or are you mystery shopping and getting ideas?"

Dr. Zoellner:              Yes, both. Hopefully, both, kids.

Clay Clark:                  I want to ask you this. Ray Kroc, he's the guy, he took McDonald's from just a couple small stores. The McDonald's brothers started it with a couple small stores and they grew it. Ray Kroc grew it to be a massive billion dollar franchise. He says, "The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves."

                                    In your mind, is it possible to grow a successful company in a vacuum where you have no idea what your competition is doing and you have no idea of what your customers think about you? Is it possible to do it without some kind of mystery shopping or some kind-

Dr. Zoellner:              I'd hate to say it's not possible, but it sure is a lot harder. For me, why not do things that are more productive with your time and that you know you're going to have a better success rate. I guess you could. I don't like to say 'never', but it's so much easier if you know what's going on around you.


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