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Buying time

Concierge services are no longer just for the rich as more people find it's worth the money to pay someone else to do their chores.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 2, 2002

Concierge services are no longer just for the rich as more people find it's worth the money to pay someone else to do their chores.

TAMPA -- If you're like most Americans, you're off on this Labor Day. You've been working hard and deserve a break.

But there's laundry to be done, kids to be fed, birthday gifts to purchase, a dog that needs to be walked.

Does anyone have time for a break anymore?

Some bay area residents are discovering that there just aren't enough hours in a day for the things that matter -- family, friends, work.

So they're buying more time.

People such as Tampa attorney Robert Nader are turning to personal concierges to run their errands.

Nader's personal assistants are Jodi Forca and Jackie Markus, educators who quit a year ago to create a business called Premier Concierge Services. For $30 an hour, the former school teacher and the former guidance counselor take Nader's cocker spaniel, Ollie, to the groomer every other Wednesday, stock Nader's refrigerator, and even buy gifts for all occasions -- most recently for a new nephew. They've waited for an air conditioning repairman and picked up tickets for a ball game -- things that used to take up too much of Nader's free time.

"I can't begin to tell you how much easier it has made my life," said Nader. Now he can golf on the weekends and know he doesn't have to rush home to walk Ollie.

Nader, who runs a commercial law practice, said he didn't think twice about signing up for the service.

"If I was a fish in water, it was a great fat worm that I gladly bit on," he said. "If I wasn't utilizing them, it would be that much more time I would have to add to the tail of my day or my weekend."

The concierge concept, once thought to be available only to the rich, has become more of a middle-class phenomenon during the past decade because people are realizing how precious personal time is, said Jana Kemp, an expert on time management and owner of Meeting & Management Essentials, based in Boise, Idaho.

"We have set the expectation that time and money aren't necessarily equal anymore," she said. "If they have the expendable income and that's how they choose to use both their time and financial resources, hurray."

And the clients aren't all single males. They include working moms, single women and couples with their own careers.

Another company, Primetime Concierge, based in Brandon, was started by working mom Kathy Meyer two years ago.

Meyer, a mother of three teenage daughters, said she found herself stretched thin.

"If my daughter missed the bus, had a doctor's appointment, or we needed groceries, it seemed to always fall on my shoulders to be there," Meyer said. "I felt that a lot of people were in the same boat as I was in."

Meyer found herself wishing for one thing.

"I kept saying I need a wife," she said.

So she decided to become a wife to other busy people.

"I call it a one-stop shop for any need anyone might have," she said. "It's like having your own executive assistant without having someone on a full-time payroll."

Forca and Markus of Premier Concierge said no request fazes them anymore. They've stood in line to pay a speeding ticket and are currently searching for "Dora the Explorer" for a child's birthday party.

"We'll get back to you on that," Forca said she told her client. "I guess we'll soon find out who Dora the Explorer is."

The two South Tampa women said they've been asked to get people dates, but "that's where we draw the line."

There really isn't much they won't do, though. Last November, they were hired to make sure a wedding went off without a hitch. As the reception was about to start, the power went out.

The women, hooked up with headsets straight out of The Wedding Planner, sprang into action. Before the bride and groom arrived at the reception, they had purchased virtually every candle at every Walgreen in town. Hundreds of tiny flames lit the room. Forca and Markus went to Home Depot for a generator.

That evening, as the reception neared an end, the power came back on. The bride simply flipped the light switch off and smiled.

Their clients have become their friends.

"They're big enough to serve you, small enough to know you," said John Osterweil, owner of Memorabilia Magic who pays Premier Concierge to shuttle sports mementos to charity events. "Rather than hire someone full time, what better way to have people on call."

One morning last week, the Premier Concierge team dropped off a client at the airport, took Ollie to the groomers, dropped off the dry cleaning of two clients and picked up dry cleaning for several others.

They also mailed out a University of Florida baby sweater and booties to Nader's nephew -- complete with gift bag and tissue.

They dropped by a client's house where they filed all his paperwork and organized his dry cleaning in his closet -- by color.

But even personal concierges need time. Forca said she has had to pay a neighbor's daughter to drop off her dry cleaning and do her grocery shopping.

"It's all about juggling," Forca said. "If you can multi-task, you learn to take care of your own errands at the same time. But the client comes first, so sometimes I have someone to help me."

Forca and Markus say they know how to pay speeding tickets without having to stand in line for hours, but won't reveal their secret. They always use the same small South Tampa post office because "there's never any customers."

Many of their clients are people they have met at parties. One regular client, Karen McNulty Barber, said Forca has changed her life.

Barber, who runs a consulting firm, is the mother to three and stepmother to four. Her family is living in a condominium in Pass-A-Grille while their home in Tierra Verde is being renovated.

Forca pays Barber's bills, returns phone calls that she can't get to, RSVPs for parties, returns clothes and items that didn't work out, buys, wraps and sends gifts and -- she sheepishly admits -- handwrites Barber's thank-you notes for her.

"(Life) has been much calmer, much more pleasant," Barber said. "It enables me to spend much more time with my family and with work."

After speaking to a reporter for five minutes, Barber apologized.

"I hate to do this to you, but I have to go. I have a meeting to get to."

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