Shop Talk

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted December 01, 2001
By Tom Dinome

For a complete list of this year's SBC 50 businesses, see 'The SBC 50,' December 2001 SBC.

TrendSource
Employees: 26
Location: San Diego
Principal: Rodney Moll
Business: 'Mystery shopping' firm
Tech: Collects, organizes, and gives clients online access to results from thousands of undercover shopping trips.
URL: www.trendsource.comHow different is the service between two similar restaurant chains? Is this large department store cleaner than its competitor at the mall? TrendSource and its CEO Rodney Moll know the answers to such questions and many others, because these businesses hire his company to find out.

The San Diego-based 'mystery shopping' firm regularly dispatches shoppers that masquerade as regular customers and report on their experiences at hotels, restaurants, video stores, and other establishments that want to analyze their operations. The company now executes more than 150,000 'shops' a year - about 3,000 shops per week - and it does all this with just 26 full-time employees.

All that data must be gathered, compiled, and presented to clients in a meaningful way. To manage this efficiently, TrendSource developed what it calls its Rapid Knowledge Transfer system, a secure intranet that allows shoppers to enter their data and send it electronically to TrendSource. The data is proofread and quality-checked there before being sent to clients. 'It's very factual data,' says Moll, who helped found the company back in 1989. 'We're evaluating the typical customer service experience. How fast was my service time? When I received my food, was it hot? Did I have to wait in line three hours to rent this? Did they make eye contact?'

TrendSource's customers are typically large chains with several thousand locations. Its client list includes Daimler Chrysler, Blockbuster, and Coca-Cola. TrendSource also works with some smaller chains and is developing semi-custom programs and standardized options that could allow them to start working with even smaller companies.

Prior to the Rapid Knowledge Transfer system, shoppers faxed back their data on hand-printed forms or left messages with call centers. Alternatively, they would fill out Scantron forms and overnight them, and TrendSource would then scan them in and upload the data files to clients. Now each client can access information almost immediately. Access codes add security: for instance, a store manager may only be able to review his store's evaluation, but a regional manager can access data on all the stores in his area.

The system has reduced the time between shoppers submitting data and delivery to clients from a five-day window to less than 30 hours. It's also reduced costs. 'We haven't had to raise our prices as quickly,' Moll says. 'It's improved productivity and efficiency, and made information available virtually within a day.'

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