Stacey Hirsh, Sun Reporter
Those who use a concierge to run errands have more time to focus on work
October 5, 2005 - Eric Watson is a busy man. A financial adviser at Merrill Lynch in Baltimore and a father of four, he tries to make the most of his time at the office. So, if during his busy workday he needs his dry cleaning picked up or tickets to a show, Watson simply calls his concierge.
“I’m willing to pay a premium to get something done for me," he said. "I'm better off doing what I do for a living than chasing around tickets."
Watson is taking advantage of a growing number of concierge services delivered right to workers' offices, from having their shoes resoled to getting their cars washed. Between an increasing number of dual-career families with less time to run errands and companies' aiming to offer unusual perks as a selling point to potential employees, experts say concierge services are becoming more popular.
It's also a way, experts say, to keep employees less stressed and more focused on work. "People don't have time, and either they're going to steal the time from work and do it, or we offload it to somebody else like a concierge," said Robert Kelley a professor of management and organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business.
When the economy began to slow at the end of 2000 and employers believed they didn't have to offer such perks, concierge services at work faded. But in recent months, employees are in shorter supply and companies are realizing the service is a unique selling point, said Joyce Gioia, president of the Herman Group, a North Carolina think tank that focuses on work trends.
"It's such a convenience for the employees," Gioia said. "The employees are then more available to the boss, and the employees are less stressed."
Though growing, these services still are used only by a fraction of the work force.
A 2005 benefits survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 3 percent of 365 companies surveyed offered concierge services. Beyond that, 3 percent offer photo developing drop-off and pickup services and 12 percent offer dry cleaning to their offices.
Sara-ann Kasner, founder of the National Concierge Association, said the concierge industry growth is evident just by looking at her group's membership. When the association was founded in 1998, there were six members. Today, there are 600 members worldwide, most of them in the United States, and the organization has 13 chapters across the country.
"People just don't have enough time," Kasner said. "Everybody is busy busy busy, and the concierge is just 'I can grab this person and I can get it all done. This person's going to save me a lot of time running around looking for things myself.' That's the essence of it all."
In Baltimore, Charm City Concierge was started by longtime friends Tina Urquhart and Nancy Green in 1993 with one employee and 550 clients in a single office building.
The business has since grown to about 35 employees serving 50,000 clients in 102 office buildings in Maryland, Washington and Northern Virginia, company president Urquhart said.
Commercial (and some residential) real estate companies pay Charm City a monthly fee to keep a concierge in their building or office park and use their services. From there, tenants can call the concierge to help with a variety of business and personal services: auto detailing, birthday cakes, limousines, flowers, gifts, shoe repair, corporate magicians or impersonators for events and restaurant recommendations - to name a few.
Kasner of the National Concierge Association said real estate management companies typically pay between $35,000 and $100,000 a year to have a full-time concierge on site, depending on the experience of the concierge and the location of the office building.
Commercial office developer Corporate Office Properties Trust has Charm City Concierge in five of its suburban office parks in Maryland and Northern Virginia. Jud Williams, senior vice president of asset management for COPT, said the service distinguishes them from other landlords and helps foster loyal relationships with tenants.
"We pay for the cost of the concierge service, so that I can tell our tenants, 'you pay no more than you would if you purchase that same service, but you have someone that does the coordination and delivery for you,'" Williams said.
If, for instance, a worker wanted a pair of shoes resoled, he or she would pay the cost of the repair. The price of having the shoes picked up and dropped off at work by a concierge, though, would be covered under the management company's monthly fee.
"In a busy time frame, this is one of the things that makes it easy on people's work life," Williams said.
Lisa Lester, a corporate concierge for Charm City Concierge, spends her days doing anything from delivering dry cleaning to getting tickets to events. Many of her clients also enlist her help with their business needs, coordinating meetings and luncheons.
The service has made Jennifer Lamont's days much less stressful. An executive assistant in the human resources department at T. Rowe Price, Lamont often uses Lester's help with catering orders at work and to order flowers, gift baskets and tickets. Lester also helps her plan some of T. Rowe's larger meetings, Lamont said.
"If I need something in a pinch at the very last minute, Lisa finds a way to get it," Lamont said. "You know that she'll find a vendor, find a way to always make it work, so it's definitely less stressful when I have to plan for a meeting or an event to solicit her help."
When Watson, the Merrill Lynch financial adviser, moved to Baltimore in 2001 and needed holiday gifts for his clients in a pinch, it was Charm City Concierge that offered gift suggestions, then purchased, wrapped and shipped them, he said. Watson continues to use the service today for sold-out tickets to events, to have flowers delivered and for his dry cleaning.
"I e-mail or I call, and the turnaround time is quick," he said. "It's done. It's easy."
© 2005 The Baltimore Sun