Edited By Ceridwyn

Inside the IMSC Conference with BigEdBSA

An interview with BigEdBSA about the recent IMSC Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

What made you decide to go to the conference? Unlike most mystery shoppers who operate in urban or suburban environments, I take on a difference challenge from my mountain top village of 400 high up in the Blue Ridge & Great Smokey Mountain chains. Here all of my shops are in small towns across parts of four states, miles apart, and connected with “highways” that can climb to 5,000 feet on windy steep roads.

I tend to avoid places like Atlanta but after four years of mystery shopping the idea of actually networking with others in our industry convinced me to attend the just concluded IMSC Conference in Atlanta GA.

What was it like meeting up with other mystery shoppers for the first time? The weekend event was crammed full with interesting topics, the main conference room lined with vendor booths with too little time to visit all of the sponsors, many who left early on Saturday. Fortunately I did get to meet and chat with mystery shoppers from a wide variety of backgrounds.

A mystery shop “road trip” to me was defined as something like nine hours and a route of a couple of hundred miles that maybe crossed a state line or two, but here I met shoppers who head out for nearly a month, roaming across the entire country or flying to Europe to do a series of high dollar video shops and no doubt make a lot more for their time and travels than I have been.

What presentation did you find most interesting? MarketForce managing director Brad Christian shared some wonderful insights on why companies choose to invest in Mystery Shopping and just how important our insights and observations are into the success of a company. Specifically he shared case studies about two of their clients, Five Guys and a Burger, as well as Anna’s Linens. I have personally shopped both of those chains but gained new insights on how our reports can affect positive change and reward success when our data is acted upon at the corporate level.

How did the presentations affect how you will approach your mystery shopping in the future? Papa John’s has been gaining market share for years and currently uses four different Mystery Shop companies to gather data on their 3,600 locations. It is no wonder that they have recently overtaken Little Caesars and are breathing down on the neck of Domino’s to move into 2nd place with the level of investment they have made in mystery shopping.

All of the conferees saw the perspective of a corporation by bringing the very people who receive and act on our reports, and who then score them and provide the feedback to each franchise operator come to our conference with their analytical tools. The next time I am hovering over a pizza I desperately want a bite out of I am going to take extra time to make sure I have good lighting and am at exactly 90 degrees so they can properly score the pizza pies to insure a quality and uniform standard.

How do you think attending the conference will benefit your mystery shopping business? If there is a part of Mystery Shopping I have not cared for over these past four years, it has been the isolation of being shopper #8393D and having little more than a bookmark of 80 MSC websites all with nameless faceless people at “help desks” and schedulers who I never directly speak to or interact with. Finally, finally I get to meet some of these people, actually talk to them, and get answers to long simmering questions, make suggestions and actually build a network.

What was one of the more important things you learned at the conference? I also got a dose of reality on some issues I have been avoiding like IRS issues and how to prepare for them. Like most shoppers I started with just one MSC (Trendsource) and it just kept growing from there and what was just an occasional small check once a month has blossomed to the point that I need to get my act together.

It was wonderful to meet someone like a Carol Barker, a tax professional and fellow mystery shopper who understands our industry, to give us the important tax tips to keep us profitable and legal.

Would you attend another IMSC conference? The investment I made for the weekend is small compared to what I gained from this experience. Where we had representatives from about 10 MSCs, I look forward to attending the larger events where I can collect the souvenir ink pens from all of the companies I represent.

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