I am a Mystery Shopper

April 7th, 2022 by Ken

It was one of those unusual calls that you sometime get.

It was early in morning when the phone rang.  The voice on the other end of the line said,, “Balsley, I’ve got the perfect job for you.  All you have to do is eat doughnuts and drink coffee.”  The caller was Gene Dolan, the executive director of the Lacey Chamber.

He gave me the name of a person and a number to call.   That’s how I became a Mystery Shopper.

A regional doughnut company has just opened four stores in Western Washington, and they were looking for someone to keep an eye on them.  Once a quarter I had to visit each store – buy a cup of coffee and a doughnut and eat it there.  Note the cleanliness of the store, the restrooms and the parking lot.  Then I was to buy a dozen doughnuts to go.  While at the doughnut counter ordering, I was to notice the brand name on their equipment, if possible.  I was to pay in cash and see if I received a receipt.  Then, fill out a written report and submit it.

I had two teenage boys at home and they always loved doughnut day each month, because they got to enjoy the fruits of my labor.   I was reimbursed for expenses, including travel and received a small stipend.  I can’t remember how much, but you couldn’t make a living doing it.

I did that job for nearly three years.

Next was a national shoe store.  This was a special case.  The manager was suspected of stealing money by selling returned items.  I went into the store, bought a pair of shoes with cash and got a receipt.  I put them on in the store and then walked out with them.  I returned them the next day because they were too small and exchanged them for another pair.  I made my report.  I never knew the outcome of the event.  I got to keep the shoes.

I did other smaller jobs over the years.  I’d get or call – or more likely an email, asking me to visit a store and make an inspection.   Most recently, just before the pandemic, I was asked to visit two private postal stores just recently opened in Thurston County.  I was to visit the stores, note the time of day and the number of customers, then buy a roll of stamps and see if I received a receipt.   I visited each of the two stores twice in two months.  Then I made my report.  I never received any enumeration  for my work but I got to keep the stamps.   I suspect the mystery shopping firm went out of business because of the pandemic.

But, my name is still out there.   I’ve been on their list for nearly 40 years.

(This story is Not in my new book “A Storyteller’s Stories,”  but several dozen other stories just like this one are included.  If you’re interested in the book, please let me know.) .

Posted in The Real News

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