Janet Freel looks over her list of errands for the day. She has to get batteries, light bulbs, dog food, kitty litter, and printer ink. Then, she has to pick up clothes at the dry cleaner, return library books, mail a package, and get gas. And she has to finish all this by noon because, notoriously, the cable guy is going to be at the apartment sometime within a “five-hour window” to hook up service. But she’s not doing this stuff for herself. This is for her clients. Freel is a personal shopper and a concierge.
“I’ll do anything you ask, as long as it’s legal,” says Freel, a 20-year personal-shopper veteran.
There are over 27,000 personal shopping businesses in the U.S., and 96 percent of them are located near high-income areas where residents have disposable income. They range from fashion-focused image consultants to glorified personal assistants, from house cleaners to stand-in house sellers. And they’re making it possible for overbooked, overworked individuals to keep at their ambitions without forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning. Freel, who also employs six part-time workers, charges her clients $30 per hour.
“I don’t know what I would have done without her,” says Mary O’Brien, a registered nurse in Des Moines, whose husband is an architect. “My husband and I both work full-time jobs, and we have two children. If it wasn’t for this service, we would have fallen behind completely.”
Freel makes families’ lives easier, but her services are also valuable to a few local businesses, too, as she often picks up temporary work or clerical tasks. “I’ve been using her service for at least 10 years,” says Diane Cronin, manager of McCormick Advertising Agency in Johnston, Iowa. “She comes by twice a month and purchases company groceries and office supplies. She also runs errands for all of our employees. It’s a perk for them.”
With such a high demand for extra help, personal shopping isn’t just a way to make some extra cash on the side. PayScale estimates that some personal shoppers make upward of $80,000 annually. But that’s not the only reason Freel, and others like her, do the job.
The Business of Relationships
Kathryn Newhouse has been called the “marriage saver.” She owns Concierge Madison in Madison, Wisconsin. Her goal is to offer busy couples an extra set of hands with household chores so that no family time is compromised. “I had a residential cleaning business before I started doing this,” she says. “I fell in love with helping people in their homes.”
Newhouse has been in business for two years, and she charges $45 an hour with a two-hour minimum. She’ll do laundry, put up and take down holiday decorations, organize wardrobes, and even detail cars. Nothing is too far out of her range. Really: “One time, I helped a lady in Texas sell her home,” Newhouse says. “She wanted to do a ‘for sale by owner.’ I did all of her showings, gave tours, and told the potential buyers and Realtors about the history and details of the house. I acted as a Realtor without actually being one, and she was able to sell her house with my help.”
For Brian Orsberg, who owns Gopher Errand Services in Milton, Wisconsin, bringing an eclectic mix of skills to the table is essential to maximizing his customers’ satisfaction — and his wallet. Orsberg has played handyman, web designer, computer technician, and even manuscript editor. He has played taxi driver during a barhopping spree and played nurse for an aching college athlete in need of heating pads and hot water. And for all that he’s doing, getting started was the easiest part. “There’s a low startup cost,” he says. “I started in 2010. I didn’t require any permitting because I’m basically working out of the home. All you need is a smartphone, a computer, and a car.”
Drive and Dedication
Freel picks up her clipboard and looks over her list for the day. New requests have just come in. She has to drop off some video rentals and pick up an item at the Kohl’s “One Day Sale” in Ankeny, Iowa. Plus, she’s meeting with a prospective new client later today.
She picks up her smartphone, turns on her Bluetooth headset, and delegates orders to her employees. She climbs into her minivan and drives off to tackle her list.