Reeling in a big one
March 13th 2010 – Canberra Times
According to can-do lifestyle company Bluefish, no dream is too big, no request too difficult and no mission too impossible, but as Michael Ruffles discovers, dreaming comes at a price
Ever dreamed of being James Bond? One computer tycoon did, and his wife wanted to make it happen.
Girls dressed in latex abducted him, pyrotechnics were arranged for his escape, car chases were orchestrated and pretend gun fights took place in the streets. The adventure took place in Monte Carlo and St Tropez, and cost a cool $US350,000 ($A383,000). His wife began with a much more modest experience, and price tag, in mind.
Turning dreams into reality is what Steve Sims his concierge and lifestyle company Bluefish do best. For 16 years they have helped their clients climb mountains, skydive over them, walk red carpets, submerge to the Titanic, almost anything that is legal and purely for pleasure. ‘‘Where there’s a will, a way and a chequebook, it’s going to be done,’’ Sims says.
Relaxed and comfortable in a dark T-shirt, a shock of red hair on his chin and an otherwise smooth head, the human rolodex speaks with humour and forceful, though unforced, enthusiasm. In the previous 24 hours he had flown to Melbourne, seen a flight simulator and met AFL stars.
Sims is also checking Bluefish’s new Australian office, a move which has been years in the planning as the company expands its reach around the globe. Bluefish has representation in the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia, the Middle East and north Asia. The Melbourne office is to answer growing demand from Australia and New Zealand.
There is no such thing as a typical Bluefish client, but the single defining factor is they have a dream.
‘‘Now I’m going to get philosophical, but from a young age we’re taught to colour within the box and not to step out of our parameters and not step over the line, and that continues as you get older,’’ Sims says. ‘‘As an adult you’re taught not to look above your pay grade, you can’t go and do that, and you can’t sit with those people. There’s kind of a king’s clothes philosophy that goes on. We’re here to say, ‘You can walk down that red carpet, we can get you down there.’ ’’
How he makes the improbable possible largely depends on good relations and the reputation Bluefish has built. Vetting the clients is also important, so anyone with ulterior motives of financial gain are turned away.
Having the right people working at Bluefish is important. Sims emphasises to them that the client comes first and they should not let the jetsetting and partying perks seduce them. ‘‘If I had tricks, I’d write a book, sell it and retire. There is no trick.
‘‘You want a trick? Most people don’t ask. You’d be amazed, nine times out of 10 if you do it in a polite manner they’ll say, ‘that’s okay.’ ’’
Often the opportunities come another way, with companies creating adventures approaching Bluefish. One of the more stunning examples of that was when eight clients took the chance to see the Titanic on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
After James Cameron filmed the movie Titanic, he made several voyages to the shipwreck on a submarine to make a documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss. To offset some of the costs passenger seats were sold, and a number of trips were made after filming had finished. Eight Bluefish clients were among those who made the journey.
‘‘They thought it was phenomenal, they thought it was eerie,’’ Sims says. ‘‘You’re basically going down in something like a tub. There was one lady that we had who had dental surgery a few weeks before, and they wouldn’t let her go down there because the pressure even inside would have burst open her gums. The pressure down there is intense.’’
Extremes are part of the job. Just now Bluefish is finishing preparations for a world-first attempt for a group to skydive on to the North Pole, then cut a hole in the ice and dive below it. ‘‘It will be the first trip above and below the North Pole in one hit. You can’t exactly get out and get into the Marriot and warm yourself up, can you? It’s a hell of a trip.
‘‘We did a tandem skydive over Everest last year, which I’ve got to admit is one of the only things I was near on thinking I would do. Former Navy Seals strapped the poor sod and then just jumped out of a plane, oxygen mask and everything because of the height, and came down above Everest. They landed on a base camp.’’
Big and bold as Bluefish is now, its origins were humble and its existence a ‘‘total accident’’. An East London boy with Irish ancestry, Sims worked for a bank and freely admits he was not very good. With a bad accent for the telephone, he struck upon another way to enter the world of the rich.
‘‘I used to hang out at bars and nightclubs in the evening, in lounges, trying to find out how the rich operated. While doing that research I got to know people and meet people and saw where they went and what they needed.
‘‘I started to have private parties for the banks, inviting all these rich clients for wild, crazy parties. And they’d come over and say, ‘That’s great, but I’m off to Cannes next week, do you know anyone in Cannes? Do you know anyone in Monte Carlo, in the Hamptons?’ Before you know it we were circulating around, building relationships, but it was always for the benefit of the bank to look after the bank’s clients.’’
At the same time he noticed a division between parties, and could not understand why some people were allowed in when others were not. He started saying, ‘‘I’ll get you in,’’ and before he realised it he was launching a social network, lifestyle and concierge firm.
The beginnings sound organic, but he laughs that this is ‘‘a very polite way of saying a cluster bleep. It went off in all sorts of different directions, and when you open up someone’s imagination and say ‘you can push that button’ it’s amazing what buttons are pushed.’’
Growth has been based on demand, but new ventures and expansions are now meticulously planned. The Australian office has taken years, and a soon-to-be- launched product, Blue by Bluefish which Sims will only say is a more affordable and accessible way of experiencing luxury, has been developed with care.
Enduring relationships also means time can be saved. One of the more popular activities is a flight in a MIG jet, the largest demographic is women in their 50s for birthday parties, and organising that is easy.
‘‘You want to fly a military jet? We’ll send a text or an email, we won’t even make a phone call because we’re used to doing these things now.
‘‘Banking’s strange because everyone’s cautious, and if you’re making money they don’t say thank you and if you’re losing money then it’s your fault. In this situation I’m dealing with an endless commodity, which is your dreams. Everyone has dreams. Sometimes you don’t have the money to be able to afford them, that’s where our Blue by Bluefish comes in, but we like to make things achievable for people.’’
Flights in military jets, experiencing the thrill of being in race cars, training with the LA Lakers, playing basketball in Madison Square court and walking all shades of red carpets have become part of life for Sims. And while he stresses that ‘‘I don’t want Be James Bond for a day with Bluefish to sound saintly’’ some of the biggest thrills he has comes from seeing the delight on clients’ faces.
‘‘You’ve got a guy who’s maybe in charge of 300 staff, he’s worth multimillions, every day he’s used to bossing people around, all of a sudden he’s like a little giggly schoolgirl in front of you because he’s just been able to do something,’’ he says.
‘‘We had a client about a month ago whose kids wanted to see the Jonas Brothers, we got them backstage, got them to hang out, meet and greet, signed some stuff and they were there for about 20 minutes just kicking around with the Jonas Brothers. The dad literally texted me and said, ‘I am the Father of the Year, thank you.’ That, you can’t help but thinking that’s really nice. He’s paid for it, so it’s not a freebie, it’s not a charity, but you’ve been able to give someone their dream. You break someone’s parameters down, where does it end? I’ve gone all Freud now.’’
Off limits for Bluefish, along with law breaking, are those who aim to profit from their experience or being close to celebrities. People who want backstage or after-party access to get their products endorsed, or want to be snapped by the paparazzi with the rich and famous to land a reality show, are not welcome.
‘‘We can see through those, we’ve been doing it for long enough now,’’ Sims says. ‘‘We respectfully, and sometimes not so respectfully, say no, we’re not doing that. There’s a lot of people who try to do it for business. We’re pleasure, we’re not business.’’
In one case that springs quickly to Sims’ mind, a happy ending was found because he turned two prospective clients away. Bluefish provides access to monthly parties at the Playboy Mansion, and two gay stockbrokers from New York rang to purchase tickets. Sims took the call after one of his staff members said, ‘‘Something’s not right.’’ When the conversation turned to travel they became passionate, when Sims tried to drag the conversation back to the Playboy Mansion they deflated. The only reason they wanted to go was because of peer pressure.
‘‘They had to do something to show they weren’t gay guys. I said to them, ‘Don’t do that. I’ll send you two ticket stubs, take the money and pay for the trip you really want to do.’ And that’s exactly what they did. We turned the clients away, we sent them the stubs, and they went off and did their travel. As far as anyone’s concerned in New York they went to the Playboy Mansion.’’
What Sims does not say is that everyone at the Playboy party that month could enjoy themselves without the sight of two men hovering awkwardly in the corner. He managed to make sure everyone was happy, and there is no small trick to that.