Thinking On Your Feet

When I first entered this strange new world of mystery shopping, there was a lot to learn and Mystery Shop Forum proved to be invaluable. A lot of what we do sounds easy, but really isn’t without a lot of prior preparation. I quickly learned that I can’t do dining shops that require I take someone. I don’t have anyone reliable enough.

Case in point, I was taking a friend to a Fudrucker’s shop. I gave her the list of what we could order a couple of hours in advance. I told her to order what she wanted when we got there and then I would order the other items. We get there, the cashier asks what she will have, she looks at me and says, “I’ll have what you’re having.” There was a moment of panic, and I recovered by saying, “I can’t make up my mind even looking at the menu earlier online.” That jogged her memory and I was able to salvage the shop, but I swore never again. Now I always ask if the shop can be done alone, and sometimes the MSC will waive the companion requirement.

One of my hobbies is railfanning. Also known as chasing trains. As a result, I have a fairly good knowledge base of railroads, and the way they transfer employees. That has become a useful tool in my shopping arsenal for apartments. I discovered that some apartments have an 18-month to two year rotation. When I go to an apartment and am asked my employer, I say either CSX or Norfolk Southern, the two major railroads East of the Mississippi.

When you want to transfer to a new area and you work for a railroad, you get the job through a process of “Bidding”. What that means is you apply and, if you have the most seniority, you get the job. In my relatively short 2½ years of shopping, I’ve shopped one apartment complex three times for the same MSC, including two times with the same rep at the complex, and I haven’t been spotted as a shopper. I’ve also shopped other complexes two times and haven’t been spotted. Knowing how railroads transfer people has kept me viable, and unlucky as I always seem to get outbid. I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t been asked what it’s like to be an engineer, but I have had the experience of running a locomotive on a local shortline, so I can bluff if I need to.

I use another hobby on new home shops. I’m a ham radio operator and I work with FEMA in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency. My vehicle has four antennas on it: the regular radio antenna, an XM satellite radio antenna, and two ham radio antennas. Talk about trying to not be memorable…LOL. With new home shops, you’re asked to raise an objection, and there is a list of the “usual suspects” — how close are schools, airport, emergency services, etc.

I ask, “Are flagpoles allowed in the neighborhood?” Over 95% of the time, I get an, “I don’t know. Why?” response. I reply that I’m a ham radio operator and I work with FEMA in emergencies. I know the HOA won’t allow outside antennas but, if a flagpole is allowed, I can get a flagpole that has antennas inside. Most people don’t want to know anything else about ham radio but, if they do, I simply say that I can’t really discuss my work with FEMA and move on. Another advantage of the flagpole question is it gives the sales agent the opportunity to follow-up, and it’s amazing how often they fail to do the follow-up call or email. Of course I’m also surprised at how many don’t know what’s in the HOA regulations.

I’ve also used my hobby of photography on new home shops, commenting about wall space. There was one home that had an unusually large landing on a stairway. It was open and I asked if a wall could be put up. When asked why, I said I had a beautiful picture that I could have printed on wallpaper that would fit the space perfectly. Strange? Perhaps, but artists are know for unusual quirks.

Think about your hobbies, or other jobs you may have had in the past. They can provide fodder for a backstory if you should need it on a shop.

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