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Ace Mystery Shopping: Interview With CEO Julie Simbro

Company Overview: ACE Mystery Shopping is a privately owned mystery shopping company, headquartered in Warrensburg, MO. They service a broad range of industries, with clients in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico.

The business enjoys an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. New shoppers can register at http://www.acemysteryshopping.com/.

MSM talks with Julie Simbro, CEO, COO:

MSM: ACE Mystery Shopping was born at the end of 2000. At the time, Tiffany was a Hospice Advocate and you were a supervisor in the Missouri Highway Patrol Vehicle Inspection Department. From where or who did the idea to start a Mystery Shopping Company (MSC) come and why were you both convinced it was an idea worth pursuing?

Julie: Tiffany and I had been friends since high school. We have always had a good time together, shared the same interests and values, and proved to be a great team. (Just ask our parents!) We both had been mystery shoppers, so starting our own company held mutual appeal. Also, we both were passionate about working with the businesses in our local community. (Well, we THOUGHT it would stay local!)

In addition, my job at the Missouri State Highway Patrol actually included an element of mystery shopping. I would conduct covert investigations at vehicle inspection stations (basically mystery shopping for the state of Missouri). I would take my car to get a safety inspection and fill out a report, detailing what items were missed and several other key components.

MSM: From what we’ve read, you initially set out to improve the customer service, locally, and help business owners increase their sales. As with many new businesses, both of you were ACE’s best and, oh yes, only Mystery Shoppers. How were you able to progress beyond this point and grow the business nationally? What was the timeframe?

Julie: It was actually easier to gain attention nationally than locally! When we first started in our small community, I think we were initially perceived as “two silly girls, who loved to shop and wanted to work from home.” It was so much more than that and we knew it from day one. It proved to be a struggle locally. We started to get national traffic and, with a little luck and a ton of hard work, the second year, we had our first national client.

The first few years, Tiffany and I both worked our full time jobs as we grew the company. There were many years of working until 3:00 AM on ACE and then getting up bright and early to go to our other jobs. Looking back, I really have no idea how we did it! I’m sure it contributed to a few extra wrinkles and gray hair that we might not have had otherwise. In the end, it was all worth it and we wouldn’t have done anything differently.

After working from home for a few years, we finally got our first little office – simply because we needed high-speed internet access, which wasn’t available at either of our homes, out in the country. As we grew, we bounced around to different spaces within our office building, until finally, in 2014, we ran out of space and moved to our current location.

We love that office space and invite any shopper to come see us if they are ever near Warrensburg (located 45 miles east of Kansas City, MO). We won’t be moving again until one day when we can build our very own office building – complete with a pool, hot tub, fitness center, daycare center and coffee bar. Maybe a dance floor too. What do you think? (It’s healthy to dream, right?)

MSM: In our interview with John Hsu, Co-Founder of SurfMerchants he explains the success of his 25+ year partnership with Tony Felos, “Find someone who is good at what you suck at and who sucks at what you’re good at, and you’ll be amazed at how long you stay together.” In your partnership, who excels at what?

Julie: Tiffany is definitely the “details” person! She does the accounting and also keeps up on all the boring legal stuff that go with having independent contractors. I’m so thankful she’s good at it because that stuff puts me to sleep!

I’m the problem solver. I like finding innovative ways of doing things to make our jobs run smoother. I have my hands all over the operations side of things, including managing scheduling and editing.

Tiffany and I share some duties like Project Management, Client Set-up, etc. It works very well for us. There were some tough times that I think we both would have given up if we hadn’t been there to encourage one another to push forward.

MSM: The one trait that appears to be predominant at ACE is a sense of humor. Which of you is responsible for maintaining the “fun factor” and how have you been able to attract people like Erika, Senior Scheduler! (we know she loves the exclamation points)?

Julie: We ALL like to have fun. Working in our office is really a riot. I don’t know how we lucked out with Erika, but we sure did. The first time we met Erika, we suspected she would fit right in. We were right! We all just have that great chemistry that works so well together.

Most days we are all in tears – from laughing. I actually miss my work family on the weekends!

MSM: Speaking of the “fun factor”, last November, Erika introduced the “Turkey Bonus”, in which shoppers would receive a surprise! bonus of $1.00 to $50.00 with every shop. Free money! What’s not to like?  What did you learn from this experience?

Julie: Good question – we had a disappointing experience! We did this for fun. We hoped it would be like an Easter Egg hunt! We didn’t do it because we were having trouble filling the shops. We didn’t do it because it was the end of the month. We did do it to be generous and different. We thought it would be a fun little thing to do to get shoppers excited. We paid out several $50.00 bonuses. Will we do it again? Maybe. Maybe not.

MSM: After several shoppers complained about being charged dormant account fees from PayQuicker, you opted to change payment methods to direct deposit. A lot of shoppers on the Mystery Shop Forum declared they would now work for ACE. In reality, how much did this change impact your shopper base?

Julie: It’s really too soon to tell! We hope the shoppers that stopped shopping for us, (or didn’t shop for us) due to PayQuicker, will reconsider. Needless to say, we feel terribly about how things have gone with PayQuicker.

MSM: We understand that you are humiliating your teenagers by driving them to their activities, in what amounts to, the ACEmobile.  The kids want us to ask “Why?”

Julie: Unfortunately, I had to trade that car off and haven’t yet had a chance to wrap my new one! My kids were not sad to tell that car goodbye! Tiffany still drives a wrapped car and I miss mine terribly. It’s a lot of fun driving it around. I can’t count the number of times someone has said, “If you’re mystery shopping, won’t they know you are the shopper when you are driving the car?” Going to Sonic Drive-in is the BEST! You should see those carhops hopping all over trying to “ACE” their mystery shop! (No, we don’t shop any local Sonic Drive-ins!)

MSM: What does the future look like for ACE?

Julie: The future is brighter than it has ever been. We can’t wait to see where the rest of 2015 takes us! We are aggressively seeking new opportunities. Growing our company to a whole new level is our top priority!

MSM: Julie thank you for sharing your time and giving us a glimpse behind the scenes at ACE Mystery Shopping!

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