For most of us, there simply are not enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done. We rush to pick the kids up from school, make it to that impromptu work meeting that just got called, or even find the time to grab some take out dinner before we climb into bed and do it all again the next day.
Thankfully, a growing number of New York co-op and condo residents are finding a helping hand as more and more of the city’s residential buildings and communities are offering concierge services. “Everybody on the planet is trying to squeeze 36 hours into 24-hour days,” says Katharine C. Giovanni, CCS, founder and president of Triangle Concierge, Inc., and founder and chairman of the board of the International Concierge and Lifestyle Management Association. “The concierge is saying, ‘let me do the things that need to be done so we can give you the time you need to live.’ ”
And for New Yorkers, this kind of service is becoming more of an expectation than a luxury as more buildings than ever before are offering it. “New Yorkers in general, when we choose to live in high-rise building, it’s because of the services,” says Kathy Braddock, co-founder of Rutenberg Realty.
How It All Began
In the past, personal service and attention meant turning to the doorman or superintendent for help with unit repairs or some other mechanical issue. Now, residents are able to look for assistance with a far broader range of needs. “With the concept of the concierge, it’s not just about the mechanics of fixing things in your home, but in your life,” Braddock says. That includes walking the dog or getting theatre tickets as well as business-related services such as booking flights or securing a car service. “It’s like having a platinum American Express card,” says Braddock.
Concierge service first made its mark in the hotel industry, as out of town guests would seek insider knowledge on where to eat, what show to see or who could help with a dry cleaning emergency. Soon, those services began spreading to other industries. “Now you’re seeing concierge specializing in everything from hospitals to helping divorced men to helping patients of plastic surgery,” says Giovanni. The thought, she says, was that “if it works in the hotel industry, ‘I bet I can bring it to the greater public.’ ” And so far it has worked, especially in the real estate market.
“Like everyone else, the concierge industry has taken a hit with the economy,” says Giovanni. “However, the bad economy has helped certain parts of our industry.” And over the last five years, the residential market has become one of those areas. “Real estate management companies are looking for ways to draw people to their properties. We’re seeing a rise in concierge services in the lobbies of high-rise, five-star properties. You can’t call yourself a five-star property these days unless you have the concierge service.”
Even buildings without the tony addresses are finding ways to bring more concierge-like services to their residents. “A lot of buildings are also cross-training their security staff with concierge skills,” says Giovanni. If a night guard or doorman is already on duty, it makes sense for many buildings to invest in specialized training to enable those staff members to do more for residents. And it provides more professional variety and opportunity for those employees.
In other instances, buildings may provide residents with remote concierge services versus having an individual on-staff and on-site. They may provide a phone number for residents or have a menu of options listed in the lobby. If a building wants to achieve and maintain a five-star image, though, “they’ll always have someone stationed in the lobby.”
Giovanni adds, “There is an advantage for buildings offering concierge services. It gives them an edge on the competition. For a lot of people, they think to themselves, ‘I would rather rent or buy here in a building that offers these services versus the place next door that doesn’t.’ ”
And despite the added cost—most buildings pay a retainer to the concierge service and include it in their roster of services for residents—the investment ultimately will help the bottom line, says Giovanni. “For real estate managers who offer these services, it will make the buildings more attractive and in turn, generate more revenue.”
Braddock agrees that living in a building with concierge services or a doorman/concierge combination is a plus. “Certainly more and more buildings are putting in concierge services,” she says. “It is definitely appealing to people. New York is a high-stress place to live. It takes that much more pressure off you in your day-to-day life.”
In the past, the difference for a resident may have been whether or not a building had a doorman. Without a doorman, for example, you could not mail order a box of light bulbs because there would have been no one there during the day to sign for them, says Braddock. Nowadays, with the concierge service, not only is there someone there to sign for the light bulbs, now there is also someone there to install them and have the lights on when you get home. “This kind of service compensates for the higher cost in today’s buildings,” says Braddock.
That Little Extra
That extra level of service is the hallmark of a great concierge service, says Giovanni. “It’s customer service above and beyond everybody else.” Instead of being thanked and saying “you’re welcome,” for example, a concierge may say “It’s my pleasure” instead, to underscore his or her desire to provide the best care possible for their client. “The last thing you want to see in the lobby is someone with their feet up on the desk, saying, ‘What do you want?’ to a client,” says Giovanni.
It is also a matter of providing the services that people want and need. That is why a service like The Spot Experience, a concierge service for pets, has become so popular. “In today’s evolving luxury market, where amenities such as fitness centers, pools, saunas, children’s playrooms and meeting space are commonplace, dog concierge services are in high demand and being viewed as an essential component in the lifestyles of busy, high-end residents seeking the best quality of life for their pets,” says Mitch Marrow, founder and CEO of The Spot Experience.
And again, service is key. “Owners are looking for trusted service knowing their dog is receiving the highest caliber of care and service by an experienced staff when they are not home,” says Marrow. “The Spot Experience’s dog concierge program is based on the highest standards of professionalism, credibility and accountability. (We wanted to offer) top-of-the-line services, personnel and protocol, giving residents’ peace of mind regarding pet care while they are away.”
For a lot of residents, the service and care provided by concierge becomes a necessity and not just a luxury. “Some people become addicted to concierge-type services,” says Braddock.
And it can become their go-to solution when a problem—any kind of problem—arises. Giovanni cites an instance that occurred a few years ago when a client was out of town on business and became trapped in a hotel elevator. Instead of phoning 9-1-1 or the hotel’s front desk, the man’s first instinct was to call his concierge…who promptly answered the phone, called the man’s hotel and soon had him free from the broken down elevator.
People who excel in the concierge business are natural born problem solvers, says Giovanni. “A good concierge doesn’t give up,” she says. “They create magic out of a hat. Some of it is training. Or they are just one of those people who can find anything, anywhere, anytime. They have great contacts and they are willing to go to the 20th page of the Google search, not just give up after the second. It’s a way of life, not a job. It’s who you are, not what you do.”
A good concierge must be willing to do just about anything—within reason and the law—for their client because there is no doubt that if they are in the business long enough, they will get some fairly unusual requests. Giovanni knew of one concierge on the West Coast who was asked to find a reindeer, put it in a pen and care for it for the entire 12 days of Christmas. Another time, a panicked pet owner called his concierge asking how to deflate an agitated and highly expanded blowfish. The answer? Put on rubber gloves because its spikes are poisonous and then scratch its belly. A third very hearty and brave concierge took the call of a woman grieving over the death of her cat. The woman asked her concierge to go to Sears, buy a cooler, transport the deceased pet to the taxidermist, have it stuffed and then return it to the owner. “I don’t know why all my stories involve animals,” Giovanni says with a laugh.
Whatever the need and whatever the occasion, for thousands of residents throughout the city it is a relief to know that someone is there to help. Whether it’s dog walking, getting great theatre seats for a mother-in-law or just being the friendly face that greets them in the lobby every day, a talented and dedicated concierge makes life better and easier. For people struggling to find enough hours in the day to live, work and play, few services are more important than that.
Liz Lent is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.