Keen to start their own business but seemingly at a dead end, Georgia Nicholls and Shannon McNamara stumbled across what seemed an ideal start-up idea.
The couple recently launched Melbourne Lifestyle Management, a personal concierge service that will, for a fee, undertake jobs for clients ranging from home maintenance to event management.
Nicholls talks to StartupSmart about how the business is faring.
How did the business come about?
I was working in project management and Shannon was in hospitality. We knew that we wanted to do something for ourselves and be our own boss.
We wanted to do something that utilised our skills, so we looked into buying an ice cream shop in Queensland.
We fairly quickly realised that the opportunity wasn’t as good as we’d been led to believe.
The shop was at the back end of town and the predictions for tourism were a bit optimistic.
We left pretty quickly.
So what did you do?
We were in the hotel room waiting for the plane back home when we saw an article in the newspaper about a concierge service.
It had been a vague thought in the back of my mind, but once I read the piece I realised that it suited out skills. We didn’t need to invest in premises and we got to interact with people, so it was ideal.
What convinced you there was a need for this business?
We were keen to learn more, so we did a fair bit of research.
In the US, concierge services are very much centred on the corporate market. It’s accepted there and it has caught on in the UK, too.
We realised that there were only a handful of businesses around us that did that sort of thing. We thought that would could carve out something new in the market.
We’re aimed at two income families, busy professionals and single parents. Frequent travellers, too.
How did you fund the business?
Out of our own pockets. It only cost around $5,000, which we found quite attractive. We aren’t answerable to anyone else, such as outside investors.
We launched the website in late November last year and confronted the realisation that our marketing will have to be centred around the fact you are having to trust someone to come into your home.
So, what has been the main challenge you’ve faced?
It’s a new concept for people to understand, so we have to educate the market as well as sell what we do.
We’ve been trying to balance these objectives, but it has been difficult.
I’d hoped to just push ads out and get people to sign up, but customers need to know who we are to trust us.
We have put ourselves out there and we’re working on referrals, warm leads if you like, from family and friends.
We go to business networking events and speak to local businesses about how we can work with them.
How many clients do you have on board now?
Around 15. We had a couple to start with, which was good. We charge an hourly rate in 15 minute increments, which is better than the 20 to 30 minutes that others charge.
We feel this helps us fit more into the hour. Also, we work outside standard business hours, which some others don’t do.
We aim to be as comprehensive as possible. If we can’t do something ourselves, we’ll get someone else in.
There are a lot of people in Melbourne who fall into the categories we’re looking at. Our next push will be into the corporate world.
What are the most popular requests you get?
Taking care of pets is a big one. People go away on holidays and want you to look after their pets or change the curtains.
During the GFC, there was a big upsurge in personal concierge services in the US because people were focused on retaining their jobs in a tight market, rather than managing their personal life.
We stress to our clients that they can focus on important things without having to worry about these little jobs.
So, what does the future hold for the business?
We want a key group of regular clients and move into the corporate sector.
I think that we can get a number of businesses on our books that are looking to offer this service as part of a remuneration package.
If we find success in Melbourne, there’s no reason why we can’t expand the concept elsewhere.