More than just advice, concierge services provide special help
Concierge services are relatively new and higher levels of assistance that evolved out of the hotel-based help business travelers have long called upon when on unfamiliar turf. In the late 1990s, there were only a handful of firms in the space; but today, industry veterans estimate there are more than 1,000 concierge services around the world covering the entire spectrum of support needs, from basic everyday tasks like picking up your dry cleaning and prescriptions or walking your dog to more substantial undertakings, such as hiring the perfect personal chef or snagging one of your valued clients a reservation at a perennially booked, five-star restaurant.
However, don’t think of concierge services as just discounted tickets to sports events or generic recommendations you might expect of, say, your platinum credit card company or a luxury hotel. From small boutique services to large, global organizations with thousands of employees, there are sophisticated concierge services—one-stop shops—ready to satisfy your every need. Costs, as you might assume, vary widely and depend not only on the service requested but the area of the world you’re in at the time. Pricing is typically based on one or more of the following: hourly and day rates, a la carte charges or invitation-only, annual membership fees.
Stan Doobin, owner and CEO of Harvard Maintenance, a New York-based building-maintenance and security-services company, has been a member of The Bluefish, a premier lifestyle, concierge and travel service, for four years. He touts the company as an invaluable business resource. “Basically, whenever you need something nobody else can pull off, you call them,” he says. “[Maybe] one of your clients is in town and wants tickets to the Emmy Awards or a Victoria Secret fashion show. They save you the time and deliver on something you wouldn’t have been able to do yourself, and they make you look like a hero at the same time. You place that phone call, and—voilá—magic happens.”
Doobin recalls one instance when he was trapped with nothing to do at an industry conference during a national holiday in Brazil. “We were all really bored, and I thought it would be fun to go see Iguaçu Falls, but I didn’t know how to do it,” he says. “I made the phone call to Bluefish and 30 minutes later they had a private plane and a tour guide booked. Whatever you need, however you need it, you’ll get it, and the biggest grief they may give you is ‘Give me a half-hour.’” The value, he says, is impossible to assess in purely financial terms. “Having your family and friends say ‘thank you’ from the bottom of their hearts is hard to quantify—and very unusual in today’s world.”
All concierge services are not created equally
As you might expect, the type of concierge services you might want or receive in Dubuque will be different than what you might get in Dubai—as is what you’ll pay for it. “If a CEO is located in or visiting New York City or another world capital, pricing for services there will be higher,” says Katharine Giovanni, a leading concierge trainer and founder and chief happiness officer of both Triangle International (an independent concierge and customer-service training firm) and the International Concierge and Lifestyle Management Directory, a leading online concierge listing. “Some concierges charge so that the client will prepay for a block of time. They’ll say, ‘Pay me for five hours, and you’ve got me for whatever you want to do.’ Others treat it like a private club, with annual fees and with services bundled at each level based on the markets they serve.”
“We are very much known for fulfilling useful requests,” says Emma Sherrard Matthew, Quintessentially’s CEO. Recently, for example, a client requested a surprise flash mob for his family, with pictures of each family member up on every billboard. “We can help our members however we’re asked. With CEOs, their time is so precious, and they want the right support around them. They are busy individuals, and even if an army is taking care of them, they don’t always have their entourage with them.”
Quintessentially’s employees work hard to build relationships with nightclubs, restaurants and other venues to get preferential rates and treatment for its members. “Whether they want five-star venues with lots of gold and bling, or [they] want our help finding hidden gems, we are very proactive,” says Matthew. “We cater to a like-minded group of individuals who want events that are curated especially for them and experiences in places and with people that have been vetted.”
Some concierge services specialize in a specific type of service, such as Vitesse Worldwide, which is a global, no-membership-fee VIP service that handles every aspect of travel but focuses on scoring hard-to-get tickets to Broadway shows and prestigious sporting, entertainment and special events, ranging from tickets to the Olympics or the Grammy Awards to major sport championships—with only a few days notice. Depending on the event, Vitesse will add a percentage (usually between 5-20 percent) to the cost of the tickets, and they can provide chauffeured ground transportation, private air-charter and concierge and executive protection services for corporate clients.
Then, there are the offerings from services like The Bluefish, for whom no request is ever too unusual. “We’re not errand boys,” says CEO Steve Sims. “We come into play when you want to take a submarine ride to see the Titanic, go to the Vatican or get backstage tickets to hang out with Sting.”
Most requests The Bluefish receives are travel-oriented, says Sims, who notes that his firm’s execution is designed to ensure clients “are not tourists when they land but insiders within seconds.” Sometimes, however, the requests go far beyond simply getting a client past the velvet rope. For example, Sims recently received a request from a client, the CEO of a major European energy company, who was taking his new wife to Florence, Italy as a birthday gift and wanted the trip to make a lasting impression.
During their three-day stay, Sims arranged a private tour of the Accademia Gallery that came with a special surprise. “At around 9 p.m., as the tour was ending, my client suggested to his wife that they ‘pop in’ to see David, Michelangelo’s iconic masterpiece sculpture,” recalls Sims. The client politely asked the security doorman if they could come in, to which the doorman replied, “Only five minutes,” and as the door opened, a red carpet led from the front door directly to the feet of David. At the base of the statue, was a dinner table set for six. “Midway through appetizers, as a string quartet performed, I let the group know that we had a local tenor ready to perform for them if that was all right. Then, the singer Andrea Bocelli came out to sing six songs, including ‘Happy Birthday.’”
While far from typical, that well-orchestrated evening demonstrates just how extensively concierge services have come from the days of liveried butlers packing picnic baskets. “This is a creative service industry, and it’s not about being subservient; it’s about delivering,” says Sims. “If you need something special done, employ someone you can rely on to get it done.”
Concierges on Call
No matter where you are, where you are going or where you want to be, if you need help getting something done well, there’s a concierge service that’s right for you. To get a sense of the depth and breadth of the services out there, the International Concierge & Lifestyle Management Directory (www.iclmdirectory.com) is a great place to start. But if you prefer to cut to the chase, we’ve assembled a veritable who’s-who list of leading global concierge services (in alphabetical order) for your convenience.
Alberta La Grup, www.albertalagrup.com
The Bluefish, www.thebluefish.com
Bon Vivant, www.bonvivant.co.uk
John Paul, www.johnpaul.com/uk_en
Luxury Concierge China, www.luxuryconciergechina.com
Pure Entertainment Group, www.purentonline.com
Red Butler, www.redbutler.com
Ten Lifestyle, www.tenlifestyle.com