Keeping house

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Butlers once were cut from the same starched cloth as P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves. They served tea, polished the silver, captained the wine cellar and asked for their millionaire bosses, "Who shall I say is calling?"

Today, butlers aren't just for millionaires anymore. In fact, butlers aren't just butlers anymore.

"Butlers are now part of the household management industry," asserts Mary Louise Starkey founder and president of Starkey International Institute for Household Management.

Service Delivery Personnel

Ms. Starkey, whose business both trains and places what she calls Service Delivery Personnel such as estate managers, personal assistants, personal chefs and yes, butlers, began 20 years ago on her dining room table.

In her first year she placed just four trainees; now Ms. Starkey places six to 10 a month with clients whose wealth, she says, "often exceeds $25 million."

A staff of 30 part-time instructors help inculcate five classes a year of 16 students each (usually experienced service providers who pay $8,000 a pop for the 360 curriculum hours.) Starkey graduates are trained in skills that 20 years ago would have been unthinkable: smart-home automation, environmental allergens, low-fat cooking and high-tech security.


But if butlers have entered the brave new 21st century world of household management, their marketing has often stayed back in more simple times. Ms. Starkey estimates she spends $30,000 a year on text ads in tony publications such as Town & Country, Bon Appetit and Robb Report.

Done in-house, the ads, word-of-mouth and articles written about the company, generate perhaps 60 calls a week, with Town & Country alone responsible for "perhaps 70% to 75% of our business."

Word-of-mouth is what chauffeurs business to the Pavillion Agency in New York. Placing 600-1,000 butlers, chefs, nannies and others every year to clients who earn from $2 million to $100 million a year, owners Keith and Clifford Greenhouse are constantly recruiting.

Still, they don't train personnel, says Keith Greenhouse. "The [hired help] handles everything from windows to Windows. The sophistication level is increasing."

Besides a few ads in the New York Times and the Yellow Pages, most of their $100,000 marketing budget is used by agency CGC Advertising, Roslyn, N.Y., to place recruiting ads for nannies in such papers as the Duluth [Minn.] News Tribune Forum, Fargo N.D.


But the force behind a boom in personal services isn't small. Both Starkey and Pavillion report 15% to 25% annual growth, while service-producing jobs overall have risen almost 20% since 1990, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Bureau economist Tom Hale points out that service workers in private households "now number over 830,000," up 6.1% from 1990.

Gary Burtless, a Brookings Institution economist, notes that "the increasing gaps in relative income . . . make them more affordable," even at salaries of up to $150,000 a year for butlers, $125,000 for personal chefs and $1,500 a week for nannies.

If there's one thing more valuable than money, it's time, which may be the key to why company LesConcierges is thriving. A West Coast-based company with roughly 200 concierges located in over 20 cities from New York to Honolulu, will do anything that's "Legal, ethical and not unkind," promises Valerie Raszler, director of marketing relationships.


Besides wealthy individuals, corporations such as Sun Microsystems, America Online and Charles Schwab & Co., are hiring

LesConcierges to solve the time-gobbling problems of everyday life for employees. Routinely, such services include fixing cars, arranging wine tastings, planning Bar Mitzvahs and weddings and even picking up dry cleaning and landscaping yards.

Marketing is, again, word-of-mouth, says Ms. Raszler, "though we're amenable to placing ads."

The idea of hiring help "has trickled down to the middle class [who] simply do not have time to do basic services for themselves," says Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington.

Thus, "many of these services are aiming too high," believes Ms. Schwartz.

"They should go to Working Woman or Self magazines to advertise," she says "They should think younger, less wealthy, [to target] your working mother or even single [parent] who doesn't want to use their little free time for cooking or bill paying. And of course use the Internet. Get into subject areas and portals for the busy executive, young woman on the make, harried moms and people with discretionary income."


Candy Wallace agrees. The founder-CEO of the American Personal Chef Association, a personal service that's "rising like a souffle," expects its 1,400 members to double by next year. "Young singles, couples and families all know what good food is, but they're stressed working 10, 12 hours a day and don't have time to prepare it.

"Faster than you can open a can of Chef Boyardee," she says, "personal chefs who can be hired by the day (and will charge $200 to $350 a day or more) can do recipe planning, grocery shopping and meal preparations."

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