Virginia company infiltrates New England breweries

You’ve heard of a secret shopper – someone who gets paid to shop and then send feedback to that consumer outfit based on their experience.

Now meet the Secret Hopper.

The brainchild of founder Andrew Coplon, Secret Hopper sends mystery shoppers, or in simpler terms, undercover beer drinkers, to visit breweries and assess the experience.

“They’ll visit a brewery, enjoy a couple of drinks, and they’ll complete a questionnaire bout the visit,” said Coplon from his office in Norfolk, Virginia. “Sadly, I’m not the one going to all these breweries.”

With a background in food service, Coplon said he came up with the name first, then build a business around it.

“I ran a food service for 18 years, mostly sports and entertainment,” he said. “So, whether you’re at a baseball game, hockey game or monster truck show, it’s about more than just the main attraction. It’s about every little component that ties in.”

Coplon has been a fan of craft beers for years and has even brewed many a batch at home.

“I’m always thinking of new ideas. I like the entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “I like to brainstorm. I get excited about creating things. So, in May 2017, my wife and I were talking, and I threw the name out there first. I said, ‘we could be secret hoppers, and we’ll be mystery shoppers for breweries.’ And that day, we built the website, we launched it, we didn’t know what to expect but we knew we had a good idea.”

Coplon said the suds industry was growing so fast, he said to himself, “You can’t just make good beer anymore. Breweries these days, need to do more than just make great beer. So, we thought, how can we get involved in the industry and help breweries standout even more? Breweries can’t just make beer- they have to put out an overall great customer experience. That’s what we really aim to help them with.”

Active in New England, Coplon said his company is busy with a local bottle shop located in Nashua, but he isn’t saying which one (hence the element of mystery.)

Consider these facts: When brewery staff introduce themselves, a guest tips 15.5 % higher; better paid staff results in less turnover and better connections with guests. When brewer staff offers recommendations, a guest spends 10.3% more; recommendations are a key way to educate your guests about your brewery and offerings. When staff provide a high level of engagement, guests spend 17.1% more than when receiving a low level of engagement. And if a guest receives low engagement at a brewery on their first visit, they are only 37% to return/recommend. If they receive high engagement, they are 98% likely to return/recommend.

People interested in becoming mystery beer drinkers, can sign up at secrethopper.com.

“We’re always looking for fresh faces,” he said. “Some of our clients like a different shopper each month. The more faces that we can get than can provide valid feedback, the more we’re excited about it.”

Applicants, however, need not be lovers of beer.

“When folks apply, we ask their age and gender, and what we call, their level of beer drinker,” continued Coplon. “Whether they may be a new beer drinker, a social beer drinker, or maybe they consider themselves to be a beer nerd. Because the businesses that we work with, they’re looking for feedback across a variety of demographics. They might want feedback from someone just getting into beer. Or they might be looking for someone at the other end, who has been drinking craft beer for many years. We really customize it to whatever a business is looking for with regard to that feedback. But anybody can apply.”

A big part of what Coplon’s company does is visit brewery’s tasting rooms – something New Hampshire, with its wave of craft beers, microbrew bars and breweries – can attest to.

“We do, we visit the brewery, and go to the tasting room,” he said. “We interact with the staff and provide feedback based on that experience. And some of the breweries that we work with, we also provide feedback on their tour component of their operation. It’s really about education and engagement with the guest these days.”

Foodies need not be alarmed – where there’s beer, there’s often some decadent delectables to wash down with a brew.

“Some breweries do serve their own food, so when that happens, we incorporate that component in the experience as well,” said Coplon. “So, while they’re shopping, and having a couple of drinks, they’ll order a couple of food items, and they can include feedback on the quality of the food, and the service as well.”

Beer lovers who don’t fancy a particular beer on their tour are required to report it.

Coplon said, “there are so many resources out there with regard to beer quality already, so we don’t focus on that. Our focus is more on the customer experience, like how they were treated by the staff, whether or not they were offered recommendations, whether they encouraged beer to go. Our shopper may include a comment about the beer, but it’s not something that we encourage.”

So, does a Secret Hopper hold the power to change the way a brewery offers tours?

“Not necessarily change the dynamic,” he said. “But for example, there could be two more breweries around the corner from each other, both making great beer. But when you decide that you’re going to have only one, you’re going to pick the one that has the best overall experience. So, we launched with the intent of helping breweries maximize that experience and stand out from the rest.”