For most people, 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 South Florida 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.’”
In South Florida, this kind of service is becoming more of an expectation than a luxury as more buildings than ever before are offering it. “A lot of international buyers are attracted to high profile buildings or luxury condominiums on the ocean in the South Florida area,” says Bill Worrall, corporate vice president of The Continental Group, a management firm in Hollywood. “And these buyers are commanding more services as opposed to the traditional Northeast snowbird who wants to retire here. With most international buyers it’s as if they assume a luxury building will come with concierge services.”
To address the rising demand for concierge services, more and more condos—particularly larger ones, like the 304-unit Prado and 228-unit City Palms in Downtown Miami, but also smaller communities like the 60-unit Esplanade Grande—are including them in their amenities offerings.
“I think a concierge is an added luxury to somebody’s lifestyle,” adds J.C. Whitner, co-founder of the Miami-based concierge service GR8. “Especially in a place like Miami, it’s generally a place where people tend to spend a lot of money and having connections and knowledge of the hot new restaurant or club is information that’s hard to come by”
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. “Residents usually seek help from concierges for everything ranging from maid and cleaning services to help with watering plants if they will be out of town for several months, to arranging transportation to and from the airport,” says Worrall. “But the big thing right now is for the concierge to get the hot ticket for the resident. There’s that restaurant that’s totally booked up months in advance that you can’t get a reservation for, the same goes for events and concerts and a well-trained and well-connected concierge can make sure that you are booked and you have a reservation for the places no one else can get into.”
“With us it’s having the access to the inaccessible,” adds Whitner. “With high-end clients either a concierge will provide these services or they will have their secretaries or personal assistants do it. And those people might not have the connections that we do, or the resources or the tools, and that’s where we fit in nicely.”
Concierge service first made its mark in the hotel industry. Out-of-town guests 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 concierges 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. It also provides more professional variety and opportunity for those employees, she says.
In other instances, buildings may provide residents with remote concierge services versus having a staff person 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.”
The Grovenor House Coconut Grove development is a 32-story, 166-unit condo overlooking Biscayne Bay that offers a wide array of amenities, including a temperature—controlled infinity pool, private clubroom and space, private elevator lobbies, wine cellars, and in-unit touch panels that connect residents to the community's full-time concierge service. According to developer Ugo Colombo, having a concierge ready and able to assist residents with whatever they need went hand-in-hand with the development's other deluxe accoutrements.
And, 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.”
Worrall agrees that living in a building with a concierge services or a doorman/concierge combination is a plus. “Concierge services tends to support higher property values in the building. You attract a higher tax bracket and echelon of buyer to that building,” he says. “A lot of these working professionals might work 60 to 70 hours a week and they really appreciate having that person who can take care of their dry cleaning and make reservations at that hard-to-get-into restaurant and take care of different things for them during their busy work week.”
Experts believe that 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. 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.
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” 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.
“We actually have a group of our own concierges,” says Worrall. “They get together and share connections and they also bring buying power. So when a lot of venues open they will reach out to a concierge because they know they will bring them business. Concierges have a lot of power.”
For a lot of residents, the service and care provided by concierge becomes a necessity and not just a luxury. “Concierge service in the right residential building is really an enhancement to a lifestyle,” says Worrall. “And that’s what residents look for when they go buy in a community or in a condominium building, they are looking for a particular lifestyle and they are looking for everything to support that lifestyle and concierge services tend to fit into a particular lifestyle.”
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. The concierge 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. 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 and asked 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 region it is a relief to know that someone is there to help. Whether it’s dog walking, getting great theater seats for a mother-in-law, or just being the friendly face that greets residents 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 South Florida Cooperator. Staff Writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.