Victory; a Matter of Staying Power

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Someone once said, “Study the past if you would define the future”, (that would be Confucius) and it was one such sentiment that spurred me on to do this particular blog post.
A short while ago I sat down to chat with President and Co-Founder Mike Bare, about BARE International’s past, present and future…
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Richard: I’d like to begin by asking about where the idea for the company came from, and how you managed to forge it into a national (then global) business.

Mike Bare: Coming from fifteen years of being in the restaurant business it was a natural extension, since I personally have a zero tolerance of inefficiency occurring in any business environment (or personally), so it was a matter of how can we recreate the wheel. The company I worked for were probably one of the most significant innovators of full service restaurant mystery shopping in the early 80’s, and as a regional director for this chain we were always scoring 100%. The reason we always scored 100% is because we always knew who our evaluators were! So when I called corporate office one day to ask if they could change our evaluators, they told me that, #1 I always got 100% scores, why did I care? And #2 that it was none of my business, that they had the programme under control and how dare I. So I took to heart their comment that it was none of my business and created my own.

From there, how did you expand it to a national as opposed to a regional business?

MB: With ten dollars for some business cards and a used IBM Selectric typewriter that my wife had, who happened to be pregnant at the time, in the basement of our house we typed out and printed some forms. As I was very active in the restaurant industry in the Washington DC market (a significant market for hospitality restaurants), I spoke to the association about the opportunity to conduct customer research in a way that would really objectively document the customer’s service experience, and because I had the respect of my peers in the industry, many gave us the opportunity to do that. We signed our first client, a small local restaurant that thirty years later is still a valued client, and shortly after began to do business with many more. Through these association meetings and word of mouth (as there was no social media at the time) people began to speak of the value of the information we provided: while we had projected maybe within five years we would be in ten different states, within our first eighteen months of business we were nationwide.

As the business grew, did you see imitators or competitors grow around you?

MB: Well we were one of the first companies in this space; as I travelled the country (in the US), I began to stop and visit some of our competitors, some of whom would talk to me and invite me into their offices, and others who wouldn’t care to respond to my calls. We began to understand that there was a significant base of companies that were growing in our industry. Simultaneously ESOMAR, the largest market research society in the world, had guidelines very specific to the fact that mystery customer research was of limited value, that it was not a credible way of information gathering, and many other archaic perspectives (this was an organisation dating back to 1949).
So they weren’t a fan; myself and another gentleman went to their corporate offices in 1997 to try to explain the validity of our industry, to say that there was a significant growing evolution as it related to the nature of mystery customer research (mystery shopping as it was called back then). Basically they invited us out the door, so we left and decided to start our own association. In 1998 we had our first meeting in Florida, when over 70 companies came and we all collectively agreed that there was great value in establishing an association for our industry to credentialize it. So we did, and it’s grown to over 150 members in the United States today, Europe has over 200 member companies, and Asia-Pacific has about 50 members.

So competition becomes cooperation?

MB: Right, I like to think of it as forward-thinking. There are competitors who incorporate different aspects of the base services of mystery shopping into consulting, into training and many other avenues, so each has its own particular nuance. Some companies just for the medical areas, others do it for banking, others do it only for automotive, so there are ”specialist” companies, and then there are general companies – BARE’s the largest privately held company in the world in terms of doing this.

You mentioned the IBM Selectric typewriter – how important is technology to BARE International, and in terms of innovation where do you see the next 30 years?

MB: The reality was that the progress of the reports coming in every day was a slow process: we would send the forms by mail to people that we spoke with and then we would wait …wait… wait for the forms to come back to us (it was always the most exciting part of the day to go to the post office box and see what reports had actually arrived versus those that were lost in the mail). Next came the fax machine with the little rolls of paper that you would pay the Earth for, and then obviously with the advent of the internet things began to progress much more speedily and much more efficiently. These days the next incarnation of what we’re about is mobile technology which allows people, with simpler questions and simpler reports (5 to 10 questions), to be able to generate the results instantaneously to the client. Without a doubt technology has broadened the scope of our client base too; instead of needing to travel and perform on-site or in-store, they can send emails and complete assignments from the comfort of their own home (much like the advent of online shopping). As for what the next incarnation of that is, a virtual reality of our experience or exposure – I couldn’t say.



Four years ago the Budapest office grew from the 40m2 room with a total of five employees to the eight-storey building we’re sitting in now. When I joined it was very much “Welcome to the BARE Family” – how do you balance being a growing global business with the close-knit culture that is felt here?

MB: We’re only as good as our people: by getting our employees involved in understanding what we do and how we do it, and not just being told to perform tasks. It’s difficult to keep our fingers on the pulses as we once did personally, but by respecting their contribution to our business as we grow, through having a low hierarchical structure (in terms of not having fifteen people between me and the people that make a difference), and by the good fortune of having the next generation involvement through our son Jason {Global Business Development Manager} in the business, it allows us to continue to evolve what we do on an ongoing basis.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

MB: (laughs) The wisdom of Solomon; in decision making, that there needs to be, as I alluded to, other people involved in the decisions. When you’re a young entrepreneur, in terms of making things happen you have burden of everything on your shoulders, but as your business grows, involving and respecting the input from others. Certainly those that you want around you should always be smarter than you so that they can contribute and help your business evolve. We have a very entrepreneurial environment and, you know, we desire creative input from everybody- we have a mantra within our business: “What we did yesterday we shouldn’t be doing today, and won’t be doing tomorrow”. What that communicates is that change is the only constant, so whether it be through the people, whether or through the processes, or through our client base, we’re always excited about what we can do differently for the future.

You’re in Budapest now, with the next stops being India then China – for anyone thinking of becoming an evaluator for BARE International, what would you say to them having spent so much time in this industry?

MB: Well the first thing I would say would be our web address (; the second thing I would say is that it’s not a matter of making a lot of money in terms of doing this, but it’s a matter of a heartfelt desire to help make a difference. It’s really easy to complain: it’s much more significant to objectively contribute in such a way that the opinions and the way things are phrased will be respected and appreciated in terms of evolving a business environment.


Author: Richard

Richard is a real community builder, involved in various activities within the office, helps charities and has a degree in filmmaking and screenwriting. He’s a ”Creative”, interested in telling stories, making connections and helping generate ideas. An avid reader, he is passionate about gaming, food (don’t feed him after midnight) and history. He has plans for the future, and you -the one reading this sentence- are part of them.

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