Interview with TrendSource CEO, Jim Caltrider

Overview: TrendSource, originally Mystery Shoppers, Inc., is a privately owned mystery shopping company, headquartered in San Diego, CA. Kevin Moll and his brother, Rodney Moll, founded the company in 1989, when Kevin Moll was looking for a company to “shop” his restaurant. Today, TrendSource serves clients in the retail, healthcare and restaurant industries as well as provides on-site inspections and audits. They have an A+ rating with the BBB.

From my experience, their fees are fairly reasonable and require a moderate amount of narrative. The business verifications also necessitate a number of supporting photographs. The reports are reviewed within a few days and clarifications are minimal. Experienced shoppers, who meet specific criteria, are allowed to self-assign most shops, although approval is required for others. Payments are disbursed on the 5th and 20th of each month.

Registration is on the TrendSource website

MSM talks with Jim Caltrider, CEO:

MSM: How in the world were Kevin and Rodney able to persuade other businesses to sign up with, what was in 1989, a one-location mystery shopping company?

Jim: It was definitely a struggle for our founders to explain the value proposition of mystery shopping to prospective clients. The idea was to start a restaurant-based mystery shopping company. Rodney and Kevin made a lot of cold calls and worked out of the basement of a local restaurant in Denver, CO. Having passion for the value that they knew the service would bring to restaurants, and in particular bars in which integrity of bartenders was a risk point, they were able to sign on one client at a time.

The entire experience for those first few years gave them a deep appreciation for what it takes to bring clients on-board. The interest shown in the service was the first glimmer into the marketplace that they knew would grow rapidly. These early lessons have continued to shine through in the way that TrendSource today views client relationships. We take great pride in the partnerships that we have with our clients and do our best to service their needs and exceed their expectations every day.

MSM: Along the way, TrendSource has become ISO 9001 certified and, in 2009, acquired Examine Your Practice, a national healthcare mystery shopping company and, in 2010, bought Vision Compliance, with its on-site physical inspections and credit bureau compliance services. How does this all fit into TrendSource’s long range vision?

Jim: Our ISO Certification is a critical component of our services. There is a lot of data that filters through our organization on a daily basis. Reports back from our Field Agents can consist of up to 300 data points. We realized early in our history (2001) that we needed to be diligent about our processes and our quality systems. This led us to seek out an ISO certification. Since then, we have continued to improve in these areas and ISO has been a very large part of that success.

Our acquisitions thus far have been centered on leveraging a service offering that we have and expanding our market share in that area. We are always looking for growth opportunities and have been focused on doing this with our existing business since 2010 when we completed our last acquisition. Our vision is, “We will create clarity in the complex world of business through trusted insight.” This can be accomplished in many ways through a variety of services that we offer. It requires that we are always open to acquisitions, that we are always innovating, creating new products, and improving on our existing products.

Our Field Agents are an essential part of accomplishing this goal and we recognize the importance of the role that they play in our business processes.

MSM: In researching TrendSource on the Mystery Shop Forum, the most controversy appears to surround the Employer Identification Number (EIN) requirement. To date, TrendSource is the only mystery shopping company to require an EIN. Could you comment, please?

Jim: In 2012, MSI Services and TrendSource Inc. implemented an initiative to increase the level of assurance that the Independent Field Agents with whom we do business, truly are Independent Contractors. MSI Services has always operated under the notion that the Field Agents with whom we contract are Independent Contractors; however, due to ever-changing State and Federal regulations regarding classification of Independent Contractors, our policies and procedures needed to be updated to keep up with changing times.

MSI Services may be one of the first companies in this industry to make these changes, but we will not be the last. The Mystery Shopping/Market Research Industries will be taking more action to bolster the independent-contractor status of ICs who operate in the industry over the coming months/years. Changes like choosing to do business with individuals who operate with EINs will become more of a standard in the industry and will serve to protect not only the Mystery Shopping companies, but the ICs as well, by strengthening the independent-contractor relationship.

MSM: Another topic of conversation began when MSI suddenly appeared on the TrendSource website. What is the relationship between MSI Services, a database provider, and TrendSource?

Jim: MSI Services is the exclusive field agent database provider for TrendSource, Inc. While our employees and clients are associated with TrendSource, all of our Field Agents are independent contractors for MSI. TrendSource schedulers and employees utilize the MSI database to recruit field agents for projects.

We made the change to our corporate website recently to support both prospective clients and prospective Field Agents in being able to more quickly find the information they were seeking. Both groups are critical to our success and we wanted to make sure there was a dedicated space for Field Agents with quick availability to the resources that they need. We have received great feedback about the change! Stay tuned for more to come…

MSM: Today, TrendSource provides a wide variety of services to its clients throughout North America and the Caribbean. When you recruit shoppers to represent TrendSource, what is your criteria? Please rank the following attributes in importance to your company? (5 = Highest, 1 = Lowest)

Great memory
Above-average communication skills
Ability to follow instructions
Highly developed observation skills

Jim: Many of our services are quite different and require that we pinpoint skill sets for the project we are scheduling. Great memory may be vital to one type of program (unrevealed mystery shops) while professionalism and communication skills might be more vital to another type of program (OnSite inspections). The two skills that are critical regardless of the project type are dependability and ability to meet our client’s objectives by clearly understanding the needs of the project from the program materials we provide.

MSM: What do you see as the future of mystery shopping?

Jim: While online surveys picked up traction in the last ten years, we have seen many organizations (both existing and prospective clients) coming to us in the last two years asking for more insights into what’s happening in their stores and how to drive a better customer experience. We are dedicated to supporting our clients in understanding the differences between surveys, mystery shopping and all other research tools available to them.

In-store observational assessments will always be something that is needed for organizations to understand their areas of improvement. Organizations are working hard today to understand how mobile/digital technologies should be incorporated into their strategies and we are dedicated to supporting them with these efforts.

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