Like craft beer? Secret Hopper will pay you to drink it

WASHINGTON — Restaurants and retailers have used secret shoppers for years. Now, a Norfolk, Virginia-based company is bringing that model of feedback to the craft beer industry.

Secret Hopper has more than 200 brewery and brewpub clients, including some in the D.C. area, that use its undercover customers’ feedback to spot problems and improve business.

Secret Hoppers whose applications are accepted won’t make money providing their feedback, but they will get paid enough to pay for a flight or two of beer. Secret Shopper’s standard contract is $20 per brewery visit.

What does it take to be a Secret Hopper?

“We want shoppers that enjoy beer. But when we have them sign up to be a Secret Hopper, we have a brief application process that includes a couple of writing samples, we have them describe a recent experience at a brewery, and have them state why they believe they would be a great Secret Hopper,” founder Andrew Coplon told WTOP.

“We are looking for shoppers who can pay attention to detail. Even small points. That is how the brewers can improve,” he said.

Secret Hopper is not looking for beer reviews. Brewers get plenty of that from their customers. What it does want is attention to detail, everything from cleanliness to atmosphere to customer service.

And ideas for helping breweries increase their sales, sometimes in the most subtle of ways.

“How many times have you been to a brewery and been asked if you want to take a growler or crowler or can or bottle or whatever it is home with you? I don’t know about you but I haven’t been asked it that much. But if I was asked that question after having a couple of beers, definitely I would love to take some more beer home and enjoy some more once I get home safely,” Coplon said.

Breweries and brewpubs also want to know if staff are checking back in with customers in a timely fashion, thanking customers and otherwise making the customer experience better.

Secret Hopper says its research shows when a guest receives a low level of engagement at a brewery, only 37 percent are like to return or recommend it. But with high engagement, 98 percent are likely to return and recommend it.

For brewers, costs start at $60 per visit for a standard experience report and range from three to six-month service agreements with lower per-visit prices, customizable reports targeting brewery-specific feedback and on-site consultations.

The money those Secret Hoppers spend — an average of $43 — also goes straight into the brewer’s till.

The number of craft brewers across the country has grown from about 1,500 three years ago to more than 7,000 now. Coplon says his service can help breweries recognize ways they can stand out in that crowded field.

“Some breweries want to validate what they’re doing and doing a good job. Others are looking for ideas on how to differentiate themselves,” he said.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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