Charmed For Sure

Charmed For Sure
Nancy Jones-Bonbrest, The Daily Record

Christina H. Urquhart's Charm City Concierge Takes Service to a Higher Level

August 28, 1999 - If you ever need to get baby shoes bronzed at 3:56 p.m. on a Tuesday, Charm City Concierge certainly can help.
"We get weird requests all the time," says Christina H. Urquhart, president of the concierge service catering to clients in downtown’s Legg Mason, 100 E. Pratt and 250 W. Pratt St. buildings. While it shies away from the traditional hotel scene, the well-connected Charmed City Concierge caters to busy professionals through an exclusive list of vendors. And no request goes unheeded, no matter how bizarre or difficult. "We work hard to put the customer first," says Urquhart.

How has that and other technology played a role in your success?
I don’t know if we are completely there yet, and that’s where BaltimoreAdvisors is guiding us right now. We started by providing laptops and generally automating the concierge’s desk. What that has done for us is help us with internal communications. We get weird requests all the time, and they can throw the requests out to the other concierges. For instance, ‘Does anyone know where I can get baby shoes bronzed?’
Someone may have had that request before. So it has helped us be quicker in our responses. Our research capability has improved with the Internet. A lot of times, people just ask us for information, and we are the link to do that.
And from the aspect of being able to process orders and accounting, it’s helping us to streamline. We also do a lot of cataloging of people’s interests, prior purchases and things they are looking for. So from a database management side, we can be proactive in servicing their needs.

Why Baltimore for your business?
When I started the business, I lived downtown. And that, I think, was first and foremost the reason. But as we grew, most of the client base is downtown. And from an accessibility standpoint to our vendors and to our clients, it just makes sense for us.
I’m originally from Annapolis. So I didn’t grow up here, but I feel really ingrained as part of the community. And it’s definitely that; it’s definitely a community. I think people take care of you. There have been a lot of people who have really helped us throughout the years, and I don’t know if you can get that in a bigger city.

Who most influenced you in your professional life?
There are couple of people from a couple different capacities. I think when we first started in Baltimore, it wasn’t a concept that people necessarily knew about. It is in other major cities, but it really wasn’t ingrained here. And, in general, Colliers Pinkard accepted the concept and really took a chance on us and then helped us promote it. So the one person I would mention in that process is Colliers Pinkard as a company, but Tom Murphy as an individual in the beginning. And going forward, it would be Colliers Pinkard again. Greg Pinkard has been a visionary in the real estate market and has been there for questions on growth and guidance.
And personally, I would say my husband, Jim [Urquhart], and my father-inlaw, Pete, [Urquhart], just for decisionmaking and supporting the effort to run my own business.

Did you start out to do something like this? In college, did you think you would be running your own business?
I always had an entrepreneurial nature. I didn’t know in college I was going to own my own company. But I think being in corporate America kind of pushed me that way.
It’s kind of funny that I ended up doing this because I am dealing with corporate America. And I always thought I never had enough time to get anything done.
So all the things that we provide, I’ve experienced. I can totally relate to it from that perspective, from a busy executive’s perspective. And that’s probably what pushed me into it, just kind of feeling that there was some kind of a need out there for something besides what I was doing.

Where do you see yourself and your company in 10 years?
We wrestle with this daily, and I think it’s ever-changing. My partner, Nancy L. Green, and I will definitely be in the business, but I see my employees playing more of a part; and some of the people who are out in the field now becoming a larger part of the big picture. Perhaps expanding down the Beltway a little bit, but I don’t think that we have the need to feel that we have to go nationwide. We might be regional.
We want to be able to continue to provide the service, so I don’t think — at least at this point — we don’t feel like we can be everything to everybody if we’re huge. So I think that we will remain a smaller company, but really bring in some of our key employees.

What have been your biggest challenges along the way?
Keeping up with the growth. It’s twofold. Growth in clients is a big challenge because we are getting more and more clients calling us all the time.
Another big challenge is finding the right individual to do this job, staffing is so key to being successful. And technology is a big challenge. The business is so unique that there’s no off-the-shelf program that’s a quick fix for all the programs we have. So it’s become a real challenge to find the right software that meets our needs; and the process has really been long and tedious.

Reprinted with permission of The Daily Record Co. ©1999