Get a Clue

Start-Up Steps

Part of the reason mystery-shopping firms are so appealing to entrepreneurs is that they cost relatively little to start, and the focus of the business--shopping--is something most people feel they know something about. Mark Csordos, 27-year-old owner of C&S Mystery Shoppers Inc. in East Brunswick, New Jersey, decided to put his cash and insider perspective to work when he launched his business three years ago.

"I was one of those rude employees," admits the former supermarket cashier. "I could've been fired many times for things I did. I wondered whether the supermarket knew what was going on, because the [boss] never came in on Sunday when a lot of people were spending their money."

With about $4,000, Csordos purchased office equipment and set up the business in his home, gaining clients through direct mail, referrals and articles about him in the press, including The New York Times. From a core of just three shoppers, C&S has grown to employ about 100 part-time shoppers who do between 50 and 100 mystery shops a week in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia. The company expects revenues of $250,000 this year.

A mystery-shopping business can easily be started from home, with basic office equipment and yourself as the sole employee, then expanded as needed. You can begin by working with one store, then build from there. Most mystery-shopping entrepreneurs prefer to target regional or national chains, simply because they garner more revenue.

Mystery-shopping firms charge from $20 to $200 per report, depending on how much detail is required, how often the stores are shopped (the more times they shop a store, the less they charge per report), and how many stores are being shopped.

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This article was originally published in the October 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get a Clue.

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