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PO Box 4471
Wheaton, IL. 60187

'Valets' hear cry for time
Tame the errand beast: Hand your to-do list to personal concierge

February 14, 2005
By Lisa Bertagnoli

Some busy people hire personal assistants; others rely on spouses (or teenagers) to give them a hand with unwieldy to-do lists. How about the rest of the time-strapped masses?

For an hourly fee, concierge services will pick up the dry cleaning, walk and feed the dog, wait for the cable guy, hire a plumber, make dinner reservations, order flowers and even shop for groceries.

Rather like to-do lists, no two concierge services are the same. Several in the Chicago area specialize in business tasks: typing, sorting, maintaining records and other thankless jobs. Others work as hourly housekeepers, taking care of time-consuming chores such as waiting for deliveries, hiring and supervising repair people and running Saturday morning-type errands.

Most are sole business people offering personal services to a handful of clients. The biggest, Lisle-based Valet Today, operates on a grander scale, offering a set menu of errands, among them DVD returns and dry cleaning pickup and drop-off, to mass populations at train stations, apartment complexes and office buildings.

In the more personalized services, concierges charge a set hourly fee and offer package deals to steady clients. They get a key to the house and a credit card number for purchases (such as groceries); clients can reimburse concierges with cash or checks if they prefer. Concierges maintain lists of preferred service providers and charge those companies (not their clients) a finder's fee.

There's a tradeoff, of course: Those who hire concierges have to be organized enough to delegate, and they have to be well-heeled enough to pay the fees, which can approach $50 an hour.

The payoff is more time, a gold mine for people who find it more lucrative to make business deals than wait in line at Blockbuster.

"Successful people delegate whatever they can," says Jackie Tiani, 54, a productivity expert based in Glendale Heights. She regularly hires errand-runners herself and recommends them to clients. Surveys she's done indicate that such chores eat up 40 hours per month.

"I tell clients that a person with free time is rich beyond measure, and the envy of everybody."

Jeff Sucec placed an ad seeking a "Hazel"-like maid and found Kathy Heppner, who manages tasks for the family. Photo: John R. Boehm

Concierge for You
(847) 705-3355
The concierge: Kathy Heppner, 49, a registered nurse who spent 10 years working as office manager and vice-president of sales at father's elevator business. She launched her Wheaton-based business in 1998; she has six subcontractors.
Sampling of services: Secretarial, party planning, pet care, pet sitting, stringing Christmas lights, hiring and supervising service people, odds and ends. (Ms. Heppner once sewed thousands of sequins on a costume for a client's daughter.)
Rate: $25 to $30 an hour; Ms. Heppner asks clients to sign a contract to keep them from hiring away her subcontractors.
Bonded/insured: No
A client: West suburbanite Jeff Sucec, 50, who teaches a business class at the University of Notre Dame and owns a consulting firm, Performance Potential Inc., in Naperville. Five years ago, Mr. Sucec put an ad in the paper looking for a "Hazel" (as in the TV maid). Ms. Heppner responded and now works for Mr. Sucec and his family two days a week, analyzing phone bills, helping him prepare for classes and running errands. "She is Hazel-like," he says. "She doesn't just do what you request, but looks at the overall issue."
Tangible benefit: A dog that isn't bald. The family's Maltese was losing its hair until Ms. Heppner did some research and found the dog's food was causing the trouble. "We changed food, and the hair loss stopped," Mr. Sucec says.

2005 by Crain Communications Inc.