When You Need Another You
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Initially, the busy McLean couple hired Ezra Glass for a few mundane chores, like waiting for the cable guy. But over time, they began giving him more intimate tasks -- planning their last-minute vacations and picking up their kids from time to time.
Now Glass takes their cars to be serviced, is a house- and dogsitter and advises them on their home audio-visual system. He planned the funeral reception for a relative, taking the death certificate and the suit for burial to the funeral home.
"We've come to rely on him more and more," said Ken Nunnenkamp, 46, a lawyer. "He'll essentially do anything we can't get around to. . . . You definitely get spoiled by it."
Forget the dog walker and errand runner. Today, some busy two-career families are turning over virtually every aspect of their existence to lifestyle managers. These hired hands, who charge a monthly membership fee or up to $100 an hour, become like an extra member of the family.
Lifestyle managers have searched for a reliable used car for a client's 16-year-old or taken over their scrapbooking project. One wrote an online dating profile for a client. Others have negotiated overseas adoptions or bailed their clients out of jail. Another was handed a brown paper bag full of insurance documents from a client's recent surgery with the command to sort it out.
"People are ceding more and more of their lives to others," said Glass, a Potomac native. "It's going to be a huge trend around here. Our clients are mostly suburban families because they have a whole range of problems to deal with -- kids, carpools, dogs, houses."
Three years ago, Glass co-founded a lifestyle-management company in Rockville named Serenity Now, a name inspired by an episode of the television show "Seinfeld." It's modeled on similar lifestyle-management firms in vogue in Europe, where clients pay a membership fee for round-the-clock advisers who can cater to their every need, including entree into chic clubs and restaurants. Glass's clients pay a membership fee that ranges from $450 to $1,500 a month.
Once, lifestyle managers were a perk for celebrities and professional athletes. But now, families are hiring managers to help them through their busy lives, or at least the boring parts. Experts say the industry is on the rise because people are overwhelmed by basic tasks, their increasingly fragmented lives and long commutes. In the Washington region, high median incomes have also helped the boom.
Pets need constant attention, not just someone to walk them. One of Glass's employees flew a dog to Colorado so it could spend a summer with his family in Aspen, Colo. Other helpers changed the TV channel daily at one client's house; her beagle liked the Animal Planet network, but the client didn't want the dog watching its more troubling animal-rescue shows.
Lori Welch's JCL Services Ltd. in Alexandria offers a "personalized, customized approach to lifestyle management." She has gone so far as to complete homey projects like scrapbooks for clients too stressed out to do the hobbies that once calmed them.
One of the best-known European lifestyle-management firms, Quintessentially, started a Washington branch over the summer and has 100 clients. The "Q," as it is known, was started in London by a nephew of Camilla Parker Bowles and earned early fame by catering to rich and famous clients such as Madonna (to whom they air-expressed her favorite herbal tea bags, according to the British media) and Jennifer Lopez (for whom they found a dozen albino peacocks). Locally, Quintessentially managers arrange restaurant reservations and tours of the White House.
Personal concierge services and errand running, industries that have grown exponentially in the past decade, are embracing lifestyle management as well, said Katharine Giovanni, chairman of the International Concierge and Errand Association.