Company Overview: Ocean Road Consulting is a privately owned training, human resource consulting and mystery shopping firm. It is based in Bluffton, SC.
New shoppers can register at Ocean-Road-Consulting.com
MSM talks with Patricia Licata, PhD, Founder:
MSM: After spending over a decade in high-level executive positions in corporate America, you founded New Heights Consulting Partners, a Mystery Shopping Company (MSC) in 2007. What convinced you this new venture was worth all of the risks involved?
Pat: It really didn’t feel like that big a risk at the time because a number of things fell into place for me personally. In 2004, I was working for a large bank that was undergoing yet another merger. I had experienced many mergers in the past and although they offered many exciting challenges, I didn’t want to live in the midst of another one. Mergers cause the survival instinct to get stuck in high gear, which, predictably, heightens the internal politics.
I seized an opportunity to work for a small, but growing, consulting firm. During the two years I worked there, as head of product development and marketing, I was also involved in sales and operations. It taught me a tremendous amount about running a small company.
By the end of 2006, I was wrapping up my doctoral dissertation and I felt it was the optimal time to start my own business. Since I’m highly goal-oriented and needed a new goal, starting my own business and making it successful, was the logical new goal.
MSM: With a PhD in Psychology and three Master’s Degrees, your educational background is quite impressive! How were you able to pursue these degrees concurrent with your successful executive career?
Pat: All through high school, I had worked evenings and weekends. When I graduated I just flipped it around and went to work during the day and pursued my bachelor’s degree at night. The company for which I worked had a very generous tuition-reimbursement program, which allowed me to keep on going. It became almost a habit. In addition, since I lived and worked in New York City, I had plenty of time to study while riding the subway.
MSM: We are always curious about how and where a new MSC is able to secure its first customers, since there is no history and typically no cadre of shoppers. How were you able to acquire your first clients?
Pat: I started the company as a training and human resource-consulting firm. One of my specialties was improving effectiveness, either through training or implementing new management practices, and then clearly measuring the improvement. One of my existing clients requested a program to help them improve sales and customer service. Since they had no real measurement of customer service in place, only aggregate sales numbers, they had no way of measuring improvement.
Luckily, I had experience with mystery shopping from when I was in the banking industry and we often used those reports to help identify training needs. After doing a tremendous amount of research, I ended up developing a program that included using trained mystery shoppers to measure customer service behaviors as well as behaviors that were proven to improve sales. This was the project that led me into the mystery shopping business.
MSM: In 2011, you launched Ocean Road Consulting, which eventually absorbed New Heights Consulting Partners, making it a subsidiary. Why did you deem it necessary to start a whole new company instead of simply expanding the services of the New Heights Consulting Partners?
Pat: I wish I could say it was the result of an in-depth strategic positioning and branding objective, but the truth is that after five years doing business as New Heights Consulting, I received a letter from an attorney telling me that his client had the sole rights to use the name New Heights Consulting in the state of New Jersey. I did a little research and found that his client did register the business name 20 years ago, but without the word “Partners” in the title, which is why I was able to register my business name without a problem.
Two attorneys advised me that I could fight it on the grounds that there was a difference in the name, and by the fact that I had already been using it for five years, but I knew that virtually all of my business came from people who knew me personally or knew me by reputation. In reality, giving up the name was not going to be a problem for me and, since it was so important to him and since he did have the name first, I selected a new name, Ocean Road Consulting, for my business.
When I moved out of New Jersey, I registered both names in my new state and I only use the New Heights Consulting name with clients that started with me back then.
MSM: On what industries and on what localities does Ocean Road Consulting primarily focus?
Because of my banking background, banking is my primary industry for mystery shopping. But, I’ve also developed programs for other industries, including retail clothing stores, higher education, and medical services providers. My training business and broader market research business has a much wider focus, including entertainment, healthcare, law firms, insurance and real estate development.
MSM: How does a shopper apply to Ocean Road Consulting and what are the payment terms and methods of payment?
Pat: Shoppers’ fees vary from program to program, depending on what the client is looking to measure. Payment is most typically made by check. To become a shopper for Ocean Road Consulting, a shopper needs to start by registering. A scheduler will contact them when we have openings they potentially match.
MSM: In researching Ocean Road Consulting on the Mystery Shop Forum, [http://www.mysteryshopforum.com/read/6/419876/419876 – msg-419876] the feedback from shoppers is very limited. One shopper describes the reports as “typical for a platform visit”, which usually means highly detailed, whereas another describes them as “easy”. Please describe what a typical evaluation for one of your clients might look like.
Pat: It’s not surprising that there is a range of feedback from “very detailed” to “easy” because we have different types of shops. Experienced shoppers would probably find our reports fairly easy because we give clear instructions and they are accustomed to the level of detail required for our shops. The reports consist of both “Yes and No” questions as well as narrative. I would expect that shoppers would find the amount of narrative we require to be fair, and by no means excessive. We, of course, expect the narrative to be clearly written, without spelling or gross grammatical errors. We understand that sometimes typos occur and we don’t send it back to correct a typo, but we do get frustrated when we can see that someone didn’t even review what they wrote because their auto-correct inserted something ridiculous.
MSM: The shopper feedback on the Mystery Shop Forum is quite positive. Although several members had not previously heard of Ocean Road Consulting, they agreed to do the shops due to receiving an email from a scheduler whose reputation they trust. What caused you to utilize an independent scheduler? Also, we are wondering how or where do shoppers report the results?
Pat: I had been doing everything myself – except the shops. I recruited shoppers, did all the scheduling, the editing, and all the reporting and data analysis for the client. Recently, several schedulers contacted me to offer their services. I selected one of them and apparently, I made a great choice.
Shoppers submit their reports on line. I use a program that I developed using survey software.
I’m pleased to hear the feedback from the shoppers is positive. My goal is to meet all of my clients’ needs and, while doing so, provide the necessary tools to enable the shoppers to be successful.
MSM: What are the future plans for Ocean Road Consulting?
Pat: Ocean Road Consulting was not born a mystery shopping company and offers training, human resource consulting, and market research. When my father said, “I still don’t know what you do”, it told me I need to identify the best way to brand the company going forward.
My goal for 2015 is to develop a clear branding strategy and redesign the website to more accurately reflect what we do. The great news is that we’re continuing to grow and are attracting new clients. Shoppers keep an eye on us in 2015!
MSM: Pat, thank you for your peek-behind-the-scenes view of ocean Road Consulting.