Company Overview: Edlund Data Services (EDS) is a privately owned mystery shopping and market research recruiting company. It was founded in 2014 and is headquartered in Silver Lake, MN, located 60 miles west of Minneapolis-St. Paul. EDS specializes in recruiting for small projects and hard-to-fill locations, although they do also offer scheduling and editing services for smaller businesses.
MSM talks with Servanne Edlund, President:
MSM: As background, you grew up and were schooled in France, where you earned a degree in International Business Law. At 22, you moved to the United States. What was the lure and please describe the process of becoming acclimated to life in a foreign country.
Servanne: Love, of course! I met my husband in 1995. We got married in 1998 and I followed him to the US in 1999.
Getting acclimated to life in the US was really not that hard. I was adventurous, young and intrepid! Coming from one western civilization to another was not difficult. Leaving my friends and family behind was a lot harder than I thought it would be.
But now, I go back to France regularly and I work from there. The beauty of an Internet-based business is that you can work anywhere in the world!
MSM: In 2006, when your second daughter was born, you quit your job in the banking industry and immersed yourself into full-time mystery shopping. We hear you averaged between 125 to 175 assignments a month and have taken your children and the family dog to 43 states, while performing mystery shopping jobs.
What kind of planning, coordination and patience was required for one of these adventures?
Servanne: More planning skills and patience that I ever thought I possessed!
We love traveling and I am very fortunate to have a supportive husband. He is also an independent contractor, which allows him to pick up and go a lot more easily than most. Whenever wanderlust hits, we just plan a trip and go. It sounds like it would need a lot of planning ahead, and it does require some to an extent, but I am really more of a spontaneous person. We usually decide on a couple of destinations we want to hit on the way, and the hunt for jobs starts there. I will always look for jobs “off the beaten path” because I have very little interest in traveling the interstates.
The coordination comes in when it comes to negotiating reporting time frames, bonuses, number of jobs, etc. That’s where a minimum of organization skills is needed, to ensure each company gets their jobs done right, and on time.
And when it comes to patience, let’s just say travel with kids (and a dog!) is somewhat slower than when two adults undertake a 5000 miles road trip!
MSM: You have been quoted as saying mystery shopping enabled you to make more money than you ever had at your previous endeavors. Could you please provide some suggestions of “must-have and must-dos” for shoppers, who are seeking to subsist solely on mystery shopping income?
Servanne: I believe that the future of mystery shopping is going to be in video. It has been this way for a while now, and as early as 2008 I started video shopping. People are hesitant to invest in the equipment and to use the equipment once they have it. It really is not difficult at all. Like everything new, it takes some getting used to, but with the proper training, shoppers should feel confident to launch their careers in a new direction. It used to be that video paid a lot better than written mystery shopping, but that gap is getting smaller. On the other hand, there are more and more video shops. So in the end, the income potential remains the same: great.
You need to set a goal for yourself. No one can tell you what that goal is. To each his own! But you also need to remain true to yourself and not sell yourself short. Using abstract numbers, if your goal is to make $100 a week, you need to make sure you make $100 a week. Not $50, not $80, but $100. Or $150! But to settle for lower paying jobs just to do something, you may encounter the risk to spend $20 to make $10.
So my #1 must-have is video equipment. And my #1 must-do is getting fees that reflect my worth.
MSM: In 2009, you were a founding member of the Independent Mystery Shoppers Coalition (IMSC) and have served as Vice-President ever since its inception. Briefly, how does IMSC differ from the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA)?
Servanne: The MSPA was created by and for the mystery shopping providers. The IMSC was created by and for the mystery shoppers.
MSM: Your position as IMSC’s Vice-President is strictly a volunteer post, although it appears to require a great deal of time and effort. For example, we understand your involvement includes writing the monthly IMSC newsletter, coordinating and preparing the “behind-the-scenes“ paperwork and designing the brochures for the semi-annual IMSC Conferences and much, much more. What motivates you to do all of this pro bono work?
Servanne: The shoppers! I have met so many mystery shoppers over the years who have benefited one way or another from the IMSC work, it truly renews your energy. At each and every conference, I meet new people, I learn new ways of doing things better and more efficiently, and I help people make sense of our industry.
An organization dedicated to the mystery shopper was badly needed, and since no one else was stepping forth, we went ahead and created the IMSC. And voila!
The same enthusiasm that led us to form the IMSC in 2009 still animates us today. Our goal was, is and always will be to bring mystery shoppers, schedulers, editors, recruiters and company owners together to create a better overall mystery shopping experience. The motivation is to attain the highest level of professionalism from all parties involved. And until this professionalism can be shown by every single individual connected with the mystery shopping industry, there will be a need for conferences to demonstrate best practices and lead by example.
In all fairness, it is a team effort. Things have changed since 2009. We went from seven to three permanent team members. As a result, we had to rethink the way things were implemented. We have deviated from the monthly newsletter and now publish blog posts on our website. I present topics during the live conferences, and I have put together a virtual conference, as well as a couple training videos. Depending on availability, brochures can be prepared by Amber (Jessamine), and behind-the-scenes is mostly Pam (Olmstead)’s realm. Pam deals with the venues, I prepare the paperwork, and Amber prints it. All three of us have essential roles in the organization, and we are very much dedicated to the success of the conferences and peripheral educational opportunities. It would be in poor taste to pretend I do it all!
MSM: Just describing all of your activities has our head spinning and we haven’t even touched on your latest venture—launching Edlund Data Services. What inspired you to start this new business and what have been your biggest challenges thus far?
Servanne: I was contacted in the Fall of 2014 by a company owner with whom I had worked in 2008. Her company was looking for mystery shoppers and she had no idea where to look. She asked me if I could help, and I figured that I might as well create a company to start my own database of shoppers.
Next thing I knew, I had a website, a Shopmetrics site and now seven clients!
My biggest challenge is of course to not become what I have always disliked in other mystery shopping companies! For example, I make sure that each email is answered in a personal capacity, and that each report is given specific editing feedback. This is time consuming, but I believe the shoppers deserve this type of high-level involvement on my part, out of respect for the hard work they display out in the field. But I would not call any of it challenging. It is thought-provoking at times, but it does not have the negative connotation of a challenge. I would rather call it an exhilarating adventure!
MSM: What is your vision for EDS five years from now? Will you still be mystery shopping?
Servanne: Five years from now, I will still mystery shop, of course! I don’t think anyone can really stop shopping. Let me rephrase that: I don’t think that anyone who is a part of the mystery shopping industry can, in good faith, say they know what they are talking about, unless they are mystery shoppers themselves. If you are not in the field on a regular basis, there is no way you can give pointers and evaluate shopper performance fairly and accurately.
As for EDS, I will hopefully be in a position to contract with a few independent editors and schedulers. I would love to be able to help another work-from-home parent bring an income to the table, or help someone travel and cover the expenses with their work. People who stay home (by choice or obligation) are very much needed in the workforce. It truly takes a strong person to be able to focus on work when all the distractions of home (or the road) call your name! These are the individuals who will work the hardest, the longest hours and the most efficiently. And these are the individuals that I hope to be able to bring on my future team.
MSM: Servanne, you are a true adventurer and an amazing visionary! With you at the helm, we are confident EDS will soar!
Please note: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the author. These views and opinions do not represent those of the IMSC.