By Special Request Upscale concierge businesses give new meaning to the phrase “service with a smile.” Entrepreneur magazine – July 2004 By Nichole L. Torres
Come on, admit it—you secretly want to be treated like a star, to have the world at your feet and your most whimsical desire fulfilled. Tickets to a sold-out show? Reservations at a high-end hot spot? A chartered flight to Bali? You’re not the only one. A whole industry has sprung up to make people’s wishes come true—and concierge entrepreneurs are profiting from doing so. For the concierge who traffics in the luxury market, it’s all about making life a little more plush.
In fact, it’s the rare and luxurious that concierge Steve Sims, founder of Bluefish Concierge in Palm Beach, Florida, specializes in. Whether it’s one-of-a-kind adventure expeditions or tickets to high-profile Hollywood awards shows, Sims, 37, makes the impossible possible from his locations in Florida, Geneva, Hong Kong and London. (Sims, 37, also plans to add locations in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Los Angeles; Moscow; and New York City by the end of the year.)
“That’s the whole point of this job—the imagination. You’ve got an endless inventory. These people have the imagination, creativity and money. As long as you can cater to that and manage people’s expectations, then you’ve got a good business,” says Sims, who founded Bluefish Concierge in 1996.
While working as a stockbroker in London, Sims spent much of his time attending the hottest parties and making friends with the hippest people. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he was building the connections that would help his business gross about $3.7 million annually. Sims projects 2004 sales will reach more than $5 million.
Sara-ann Kasner, president of the National Concierge Association, points out that “being well-connected is a huge factor. It’s lifeblood. You’re dead in the water without a team of experts to help you.” In other words, you have to be on the best terms with head waiters, club owners, airline stewards, hoteliers and so on to get your clients the best.
With a background as a hotel concierge, Cynthia Adkins had the connections to launch Concierge at Large in 1997. Catering to the corporate set, Adkins, 44, says her business is all about service. “You have to be passionate about it,” she says. “You’ve got to believe that what you’re providing is going to make a difference to somebody.” From chartering a private jet for a client to tracking down an “impossible to find” skin-care product from Europe, this San Diego entrepreneur enjoys the challenge of coordinating last—minute requests from clients—which have pushed her sales to $2.2 million annually.
Kasner notes that while the high-end concierge market is largely about your network of connections and tends to be most popular in cities such as Los Angeles and New York City (where wealthy people are used to first-class services), there are other niches in the concierge market to explore. Homemakers, new mothers, academics—all kinds of people with limited time are learning the advantages of a concierge that makes dinner reservations or arranges an appointment with the cable guy. But it’s not just about errand running—it’s about coordinating people’s responsibilities and desires.
“It’s a growing industry. Everybody’s getting on the bandwagon,” says Kasner, whose organization has grown to 500 members since its launch six years ago. “When I became a concierge [a decade ago], the average person came up to my desk and said ‘How do you pronounce that word, and what does a concierge do?’ And now, the average person not only knows what the title means, but [also] exactly what it stands for—that level of high-end service.”
WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE?
- Created a James Bond week in Monte Carlo, Monaco, for a successful businessman for $350,000. The Octopussy-themed event included actors and leather-clad women who “kidnapped” him.
- Arranged MiG flights out of Russia.
- Arranged for a famous celebrity to sing to a client’s wife as a surprise.
- Set up a “spontaneous” marriage proposal for a client, complete with a bagpiper on a pier at sunset.
- Booked rare submarine dives to see the Titanic for a group of New York City accountants
- Planned private tours of haunted castles in Europe for a client planning a not-to-be-forgotten family vacation.