This interview was done on September 9,
1999. Michael Bare is the owner and founder of
Mike started out by telling us
request) a little about his background. He has always lived in the
State of Virginia. He went to Old Dominion College and studied business and law
enforcement. His wife, Dale, is very active in the business
(behind every man is a
successful woman) and their son is a blossoming mystery shopper want to be.
MM: Bare Associates used to be called
Restaurant and Hotel Services. Did you also own
Restaurant and Hotel Services and why the name change?
MB: The name was changed because we
branched out into other types of mystery shops,
including retail, and it's called Bare Associates International because there are sales
in Brussels, Belgium and Cairo, Egypt. My wife and I founded RHS in 1987.
Because I had a lot of
business contacts in the D.C. metropolitan area and had been in the restaurant industry
for many years, I was able to interest people in the mystery shopping concept.
MM: What made you switch from your
previous career to starting a mystery shopping
MB: I was a regional director for a
chain of Mexican Restaurants and we had an in-
house shopper program and we ran into trouble with shopper rotation. With our
100% table visitation requirement, we knew who the shopper was after the second
visit. In order for the reports to be effective, I asked for rotation of the
was told that it was not possible. I noticed the business opportunity then.
after, I was looking for someone to shop my bars and could only find a ridiculously
expensive private investigator. The PI also said that I could not tell my employees
that I was conducting shops, because it's best to catch them stealing. I told him I
wanted to catch people doing things right and I wanted them to know there were
shoppers coming in so they wouldn't be tempted to steal. The PI told me that
wasn't done that way. In 2 months both of these events occured and it solidified
the idea that there was a very good business opportunity in mystery shopping.
MM: Bare Associates is a big company,
how many employees and independent
contractors work for you?
MB: There are 44 people in our
corporate office and several outside account and
booking managers. There are over 60,000 shoppers in our database.
MM: About how many shops does your
company process in a month?
MM: You are the co-founder of the
Mystery Shopping Providers Association.
Who founded it with you?
MB: Mark Michelson of Michelson and
Associates. When I approached Mark with
the idea, he was receptive and since we are opposites and opposites attract, it was a
natural consideration for us to see if we could make this work. We scheduled a
meeting in Orlando, Florida thinking maybe 20 or 30 people would show up and we
had just over 100 people show up. We were impressed by the response to this
concept. The rest is history. At first everyone was kind of close mouthed, but
even with a room full of type A's, we realized that everyone runs their business
differently. There were businesses of every size and specialty and as we grow,
nationality, so it just made sense that we work together when applicable and we
respectfully compete when applicable.
MM: What are the goals of the Mystery
Shopping Providers Association?
MB: Credibility of the Industry.
There are a lot of companies out there that
promise the moon and don't deliver and give mystery shopping a black eye.
There are some operators out there that don't do business in a way the rest
of us feel is credible and we want to have a stamp of approval for companies that
do provide good service. There are also legal considerations. In California
we had success changing a law that required mystery shopping companies
to have a private investigator's license.
MM: We have had some complaints that
your application form is too long.
Do you have any comment about that?
MB: The reports that we provide to many of
our clients detailed and involved. If someone is NOT willing to take the time to
fill out the application, they certainly won't complete our reports.
MM: Another question from shoppers is: Why is it that schedulers call you
with a shop and when you call them back 20 minutes later the shop is taken?
MB: Hopefully internet scheduling will
solve all this, but for now it is first come
first serve. We can't sit by the phone hoping you will call back.
MM: What will make us all better
MB: READ THE DIRECTIONS. They
are there for a reason and they are underlined
for a reason and they are highlighted for a reason and they are in bold print for a
reason. Each client has varying degrees of requirements and although it may seem
like a standard dining or retail shop, each client has specific guidelines and con-
siderations, that must be adhered to, for the shop to be of value to them. If you
adhere to the guidelines you are not going to be reimbursed. Double check your
work. You can't fill out a form once and then not bother to look at it again to
that it is complete and comprehensive. If your narrative says that a person did not
do something the form can't say that they did. Embrace technology: The
e-mail. Last but not least you have to have integrity in completing the work and accepting
assignments. You can't lose your receipt and then just copy one from some other visit
thinking we won't notice. This always gets caught. It's amazing how much time
spend in subterfuge if they somehow don't have all the information that was required.
If you lose or misplace information, be candid about it.
MM: Here is a question that is
specific to Bare. You had some health club shops
that required joining the club using our own credit cards. The idea was to stretch
out the first payment to make joining more affordable. The charges were to be voided
right away. It didn't really work out that way. Although eventually it was
of it was a huge hassle for the shoppers as well as your company, I'm sure. What has
been done to remedy that?
MB: We give the client every
opportunity to be right. In reality there are a lot of people
involved in the process. The charges need to be voided at the unit level, the
level expects that this is always going to be done. We know that this does not
happen. What we've done is: within 48 hours of notification of the
if we do not get confirmation the client will be billed and the shopper will be
no ifs ands or buts. We had to take a tough position with our client,
which is some-
thing that is not too pleasant, but we showed them how much of their time we have
tied up with this issue as well as Bare Associates and the shoppers. ( Not to mention
irate spouses who want to know why on earth you joined 4 health clubs in 3 days and
now they can't charge bait.)
MM: What is a typical day for you?
MB: Ten to twelve hours. Client
calls, business planning, management follow-up,
press releases, trade publications, interaction with everybody and anybody. It's
a lot of hats, and as much as we try to delegate, you are ultimately responsible when
you are a company owner. First and foremost maintaining and building relationships
with the clients.
MM: What is your favorite non-ms web
MB: E-trade and my clients sites.
(I couldn't get him to let loose with any good
MM: Is there any area of the country
at this time where you particularly need new
MB: We always need good quality
people. Need is based on the volume of shops
that occur in an area in any given time. We may have a new client that says I need
25 locations done in Atlanta only next month. We may need to hire new people to
do these shops. Maybe I need a shopper with special demographic considerations.
If it is a golf course shop, I can't use someone who doesn't golf, if it is a Hooter's
I can't be sending in a 50 year old woman . If it is a Morton's of Chicago, I can't
send someone who thinks that Ruby Tuesday's is fine dining. ( I have no idea
what Ruby Tuesday's is, but I am thinking "Like Denny's") Demographic consider-
ations are a big factor in deciding needs in different areas. Then we go to our
web site and see who has applied that meets these demographic requirements.
Shoppers call and complain that they have applied 3 times and have no assignments
to date. That just means that there is no available work for your personal
demographic. I am sure that there are wonderful people that we have
With 60,00 people in the data base this is completely unavoidable.
Everyone can't get special attention like they did when we only had 300 reports
MM: Anything else in general you would
like to say? Twenty thousand hits a
month are registered at this web site so far and the shoppers love to hear from
MB: If you make a commitment to do a
shop, do it. If something comes up, please
let us know. Depending on the company you are working with, keep in mind the
size and the scope of the operation and don't get too upset if they don't get
right back with you. We prioritize things depending on what our hot buttons are
and they may not be the same as yours. The internet should help solve our
communication problems. Forgive us if we are not always gracious, as we should
be in an ideal world. We are not successful without shoppers. I would like to
all the shoppers out there on behalf of not just my company but all the others.
I wish there were more things that could be done for shoppers at this time.
We feel by perhaps establishing key shoppers or certification, or by identifying
in some way those people who are very successful mystery shoppers, they can
be rewarded. Have realistic expectations and keep doing a good job. New
opportunities come up all the time.
The only way you can apply to Bare
Associates is on-line. As far as being gracious,
every Bare Associates employee I have had dealings with has been wonderful.
They are also one of the quickest paychecks in the industry. I highly recommend
that you apply to their company.