At your service

0915concierge

Growing concierge industry aims to help individuals, businesses out of a bind when available time is at a premium

Story by J.S. Decker

It’s finally possible to find 36 hours in a 24-hour day. No miracle or scientific breakthrough gets your chores done, but a simple phone call asking for help that once was limited to hotel guests. As a spokesperson for the growing concierge industry puts it, “Let me do the things that have to be done so you can do the things that you want to do.”

 A growing number of Fox Valley businesses are glad to wash your car, buy your groceries or mow the lawn. They’ll throw the office Christmas party or take your employees’ suits to the drycleaners. Some businesses offer concierge services among workplace benefits in hopes of attracting the best work team. The results are less stress, less exhaustion and greater productivity.

“Oh, sure!” agreed Rhonda Halron, who regularly hires Bring It! Errands & Delivery of Green Bay. “When I’m going out of the country they take care of my home. It’s getting my mail, watering plants, taking my cat to the boarding service…” On a normal day Bring It! may take the cat to be groomed or swing by the grocery store. “If I get caught up or fall behind I just give them a call. They’re right there on the spot for you. The spontaneity of availability they have is amazing,” added Halron. Officially, 24-hour notice is expected for all errands.

Such help is wonderful to fall back on, but she doesn’t hire the service every week. “I wouldn’t say it’s addictive. It’s just a way out of a bind.”

Assistance provided

Halron heard of the service through a business-owning friend, and word of mouth remains a leading way to connect with new clients. After founding Bring It! in 2010, Lynn Kamps and Janet Perret have reached out through advertising and a variety of marketing strategies. Perret said the most common chores are grocery and personal shopping, in-home laundry, dry cleaning pickup and delivery, restaurant delivery, pets, waiting, vacation, auto, pharmacy, new parent concierge, milk delivery, key lockout, concierge, package delivery and courier services.

“If there is an errand we can’t do, we can provide businesses we partner with who can get the job done,” Perret said.

As long as the task is legal and ethical, it’ll get done, said Katharine Giovanni, author of three books on the industry and founder of Triangle International, a concierge training and directory service based in North Carolina. “A good concierge has a lot of contacts,” she explained, and that helps a lot when the job doesn’t demand immediate action by the concierge service itself. “We have two different types of services in our industry,” Giovanni said. “One is concierge services, which is anything I can do from my desk. Hotel concierge don’t leave their desk either.” Any job that takes the concierge out their front door falls under personal assistant or errand services.

“That’s a higher price point. I’ve got gas, I’m leaving the office, I’ve got more expenses. There’s definitely two different price points. Most people charge by the hour. Then you have people who offer memberships and will work a certain number of hours per month.”

Some concierges are set up like an ala carte menu, Giovanni said, with different prices for different services. Cost can vary greatly by location. Expect between $25 and $60 per hour, depending on the job and the location.

In the Green Bay area Bring It! charges $15 per errand, plus related expenses. It’s $15 to drop off or pick up something, but $25 to do both. Key lock-out service is $25 normally, but $40 after-hours or on weekends. Weekly milk service is $100 per year. Twice weekly milk service costs $150. Other tasks, like waiting on a new mother and her newborn, have hourly rates that vary. Any travel outside a 15-mile radius costs 57.5 cents per mile.

Growing industry

With repeat business comes stronger bonds, says Halron. “I’ve developed such a good relationship I don’t see them look over invoices every time,” Halron added.

That may not hold true at all of the 698 concierge firms across the U.S. as of 2013, making a combined revenue of $318 million. In 2012 the total was $220 million earned by 658 businesses, according to business research firm IBIS World. The growth is only continuing. The appeal cannot be denied as more and more individuals and businesses sign on.

“It’s not just a service for the uber-wealthy,” noted Giovanni. “That’s where it started. But that’s not what it is today.”

American Express offers concierge services among its cardholder rewards deals, she added. Having been close to the industry for decades, she’s watched it grow and helped it along. “I’ve been training people to be concierges for over 20 years and created two associations. In 1998 there might have been 12 concierge services in the country,” she remembered.

If a job is too challenging or too intimidating it’ll get hired out.

“A concierge will clean and gut your fish if you want them to,” Giovanni said. “And if they won’t do it they’ll outsource to a fisherman who would. I have a friend who does that all the time. A good concierge has a lot of contacts.”

At other times the job at hand is remarkably easy to do. “One of my concierges literally got hired to watch paint dry,” she recalled. It might be boring, but it’s important to the air moving and to keep hands away from the wet walls of the house. “You can’t go to work and leave your front door wide open all day long,” she pointed out.

Managing unusual requests

One recurring job for Little Chute-based Daily Details Concierge LLC is much more personal than others. “We help a man named Tommy at Brewster Village in Appleton,” explained co-owner Cindy Wendzicki. “Tommy had a stroke and we help teach him how to use his iPad to learn how to communicate and play Angry Birds.” That simple interaction and encouragement to re-learn life skills changed his whole outlook, she added. “He was very depressed when we first started and now he looks forward to seeing us!”

“This is the perfect business for us since we love helping people and enjoy doing a variety of different tasks that other people might find daunting,” said Kristin Surk, Wendzicki’s business partner. “At times it was hard to get things started since we are a unique service to the area, but we were always determined and could see how great our service will be for the community. We have yet to find a challenge that we weren’t able to overcome!”

It all started with a call from Pennsylvania during the 2012 EAA AirVenture convention in Oshkosh.

“Our very first client called and needed help surprising her daughter that was turning 18. She was going to be at the EAA and her mom needed us to help get a package together with various items the girl loved.”

It’s not easy to organize a spontaneous party when you need to clear security just to get in and you can’t drive up to the party venue. “We made this a special day for a Mother so many miles away! That was the best and most exciting errand we have ever run for a client!” said Wendzicki.

Almost exactly one year later they expanded by hiring another employee. By September they hired another and growth continues.

The next big step could be a franchise in another city. “In the next two to five years we would like to open more locations in Wisconsin,” she said.

As the appeal gains more acclaim and acceptance, further growth of the industry as a whole seems certain.

As of now, neither Bring It! nor Daily Details offers specific rates for writing a news article about concierge services, but they’d both be willing to do it. And, if necessary, they know a journalist to whom to outsource such chores.

J.S. Decker is a business journalist based in Oshkosh.