DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

Alum keeps service industry on its toes

When Howard Troxel graduated from the University of Denver in 1958 with a hotel and restaurant management degree, he landed the mother of all summer jobs: traveling the countryside with his wife, Lois, posing as typical customers but secretly inspecting restaurants, hotels, motels and vacation spots for corporate giant Duncan Hines.

“As soon as we’d leave a place, Lois would write up the report as I dictated,” Troxel says. They’d mail in reports at the end of the week and include the name of the town they’d be in on the following Friday so Duncan Hines could send them their pay.

Their daily budget was $10 for food, $7 for lodging, $2 for gas and $1 for miscellaneous items.

The job turned out to be perfect training for what was to follow for Troxel. He continued in the industry until he was “eaten up” in the early 1980s.

“That’s when we went through a period of corporate consolidations … The big corporate fish were eating the little fish. And my fish got eaten,” Troxel says.

Instead of unemployment, Troxel (BSBA ’58) opted to become a consultant. Troxel and business partner Jerry Goodwin created what would eventually become The National Shopping Service Network LLC, also known as www.mysteryshopper.net.

The company pays consumers to report on the service they get at all kinds of organizations — from advertising agencies to zoos.

“The beginning was humble to say the least. Our business cards had both our names on them,” Troxel says.

But Goodwin knew some Burger King executives, and that helped them land their first account: 16 stores in metro Denver. Today, nearly 250,000 Internet savvy shoppers have registered at the mystery shopper Web site to visit stores and file reports throughout North America.

Troxel says his formula for business success is a “a continuation of a mid-America way of life. Jerry and I grew up on farms in the Grain Belt where your word was your bond and handshakes were virtual contracts.”

Goodwin agrees and says he and Troxel get along fine. “We’ve been together 20 years, and I don’t recall ever having a harsh word between us,” Goodwin says.

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