Exec Lifestyles: Personal concierge services deliver the gift of time

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PAULA ROY, OTTAWA BUSINESS JOURNAL |  2008.06.04

In the corporate world, it often makes great sense to have an expert look after time-consuming jobs outside your firm’s area of expertise.

The same model can be easily applied to one’s personal life. Faced with a choice between hiring someone to perform a task or doing it yourself, it’s often more efficient and cost-effective to outsource that work.

Today’s personal concierges have broad roles: they’ll shop, cook, run errands, clean closets, cater, plan events and even take your car in for an oil change. Whatever the task, it’s done with a single goal – to help you organize and improve the quality of your life. Kevin Dee, CEO of Eagle Professional Resources and the OBJ’s 2006 CEO of the Year, has no doubts about the value of his investment in a personal concierge. He and his wife Janis Grantham have used local service Balance InStyle for more than a year. “We run our own business and travel a lot; both Janis and I were feeling choked with all the things that need doing in daily life,” he said. “We simply couldn’t manage now without this service.”

Mr. Dee offered high praise for Amanda O’Reilly, founder and president of Balance InStyle, citing her efficiency at performing such tasks as housecleaning and dry cleaning drop-off and pickup. “She also has a great list of contacts that we can utilize and if we need something repaired, she arranges for it and is present while the work is being done. We are now in the process of selling our home; Amanda gets the house ready for showings, deals with the agents, and takes care of everything.

“If we’re going away, she will arrange the limo for us and restock the fridge prior to our return – it’s gotten so that she knows exactly what we need and she takes such great care of us.”

Mr. Dee added, “This service has given us clarity of focus . . . It keeps us from having to dwell on the minutiae of life, which can be a real hassle and add a lot of stress. We don’t have to worry about those things anymore and can concentrate on the bigger picture.

“It’s making a huge difference in our quality of life.”

Statistics Canada supports the notion that many of us need help to strike a balance in our lives. A recent survey noted that time stress is highest among married men and women aged 25 to 44 who have children and who hold full-time paid jobs, and that an overwhelming majority feel that weekdays are too short to accomplish what they need to do.

“Most of our clients are overscheduled professionals and their time is extremely valuable,” explained Ms. O’Reilly. “They really need help finding a balance between work and the rest of their life, whether it’s getting their car serviced or having the pool man come. Prior to founding this business nearly two years ago, I was on the high-tech treadmill myself so I have first-hand experience with jet-setting, keeping long hours, trying to juggle errands, care for my young child, and so forth.”

She confirmed Balance InStyle has enjoyed huge market acceptance, giving credit to her 10-member team and strong preferred vendor network. “Clients really appreciate that we do all the due diligence before recommending someone to them. Our network includes cleaners, personal chefs, mechanics, personal shoppers, people to help at kids’ birthday parties, handle snow removal and more. Our offerings are truly only limited by our clients’ imagination.”

Ms. O’Reilly said she sees tremendous potential, given that the personal concierge sector is currently estimated at $1 billion worldwide and is one of the fastest-growing areas in the service industry. “We’re seeing increased interest at the corporate level and have signed on one of Ottawa’s top four accounting firms which has included our services in their benefits package,” she explained.

Progressive companies recognize their workers’ struggle to balance their lives; offering concierge services can be an important differentiator, and it’s also a smart investment. It’s been proven to reduce absenteeism as well as keeping employees more focused when they’re on the job, she noted.

President of Concierge Home Services Rebecca Page has been in business for seven years, leveraging many of the skills acquired in human relations before seeking a career giving her more flexibility to raise her family. “The marketplace is now catching up to what’s being offered in terms of support services,” she observed. “We’ve developed and fine-tuned a very effective system to meet the need that is certainly there, as demonstrated by the fact that we’ve opened two additional offices in Ottawa over the last six months.

“Our clients are either busy professionals torn between the demands of work and the responsibilities of home and family, or they are a childless couple with a focus on lifestyle.”

Ms. Page conceded the marketplace has become more crowded with concierge options, but said her firm is unique in that it’s focused on household management.

“In addition to house- and pet-sitting, we offer top-notch cleaning services. Our clients look to us to recommend realtors, painters or maintenance people that we can refer with confidence. We customize our services to meet individual needs and offer both professionalism and tremendous flexibility to meet other requirements as they arise.”

James and Deb Abbott are executives at the Department of National Defence who both work long hours. “The quality of service we receive is outstanding and we particularly appreciate the fact that Rebecca and her team can accommodate our shifting schedules. They come in once a week and clean from top to bottom, with seasonal extras added as needed,” said Mr. Abbott. “Their services provide such a great sense of relief – they’re reliable, flexible and thorough. It’s one less major thing in life to deal with; knowing we don’t have to do this stuff on evening or weekend is definitely a plus.”

Indeed, as Ms. O’Reilly said, “Companies outsource for efficiency; why shouldn’t people do it?”

Read the original article on obj.ca