It takes a heap of living, a poet once said, to make a house a home. How last-century that seems today, when it requires a veritable business park to keep many a modern household humming.
Wendy Poole uses so many services at her Leesburg home that she has to rely on a Treo 600 PalmOne to track them all. Poole works as an assistant to Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.); her husband, Dave Boice, runs two companies. Their house has four bedrooms, two offices, 3 acres -- and the attentions of nearly a dozen businesses.
On a Friday morning, Poole stands in front of the bathroom mirror putting the finishing touches on her makeup while Yolanda and Argelio Garcia, who own A+ Cleaner, start work around her, emptying wastebaskets, sweeping and scrubbing.
Outside, DoodyCalls is cleaning up the lawn after the family Labrador, Deshka, who gets groomed by Aussie Pet Mobile, which makes house calls. When the couple travels, a pet sitter stays overnight to keep an eye on Deshka and the cat, Beacon.
Twice a week, Carrie Lyons of Executive Cleaners picks up and delivers the dry cleaning. A team from A-1 Lawn Care Services LLC mows the grass. Summit Horticultural Services keeps the plants and flowers flourishing.
A college student spent the summer running errands and shuttling Boice's daughters to the mall and their mother's home in Herndon. Personal chef Stacey Leggat was recently retained to prepare many of the family's meals.
The kinds of businesses that help the Poole-Boice home operate smoothly are growing around the nation and especially in areas such as Washington, said Gregory B. Fairchild, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. And as more and more two-career families move in to Virginia suburbs like Loudon and Prince William, a variety of services rapidly follow.
Though the very wealthy have always paid for such services, Fairchild said, today these businesses are expanding around cities on both coasts, supported by clusters of educated career men and women who devote long hours to work.
In Washington, he said, large numbers of two-career couples with more money than time are finding a steady supply of willing workers. Big, new houses have Viking stoves and Sub-Zero refrigerators, but the occupants hardly have the time to use them. Vast expanses of lawn await manicure, but families are too busy taking the kids to the next game to mow or even sit.
"People want Martha Stewart meals and homes, and they don't have the time to create those great meals and beautiful houses," Fairchild said. "But they can hire people to create it for them."
The small businesses they call upon are scattered across a number of categories in the U.S. Economic Census, so it is difficult to come up with one figure that represents them all.
A look at a few, however, gives an idea of the trend. Nationally, landscaping services grew from $3.3 billion in 1998 to $4.8 billion in 2002, according to the Economic Census. In the Washington-Baltimore area, that category grew from $65 million in 1998 to $97 million in 2002.
Pet services, including dog walkers and sitters, increased from $494.3 million nationally in 1998 to $761.8 million in 2002, and in the Washington-Baltimore area went from $13.8 million to $22.7 million.
The economy in general is moving toward service as manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and many job-seekers find it appealing to create their own businesses cleaning houses, walking dogs or running errands.
"Essentially there's not a lot of start-up costs," Fairchild said. "You don't have to buy a retail site or stock inventory. You don't have to hire until you need someone. You don't need to hire more dog walkers until you have enough dogs."
Often the businesses are started by people with what he calls the right kind of cultural capital. They know the trends, and they're looking for a change. A restaurant chef tired of working long hours and holidays becomes a personal chef. A mother looking for a flexible work schedule sets up a cleaning business. A librarian who understands filing becomes a personal organizer. And many, many newcomers to the region find jobs with lawn services and landscapers.
Helen Alberse, an Ashburn resident and mother of four, noticed how traumatic it was for the family's golden retriever to visit the groomer. So Alberse and her husband bought an Aussie Pet Mobile franchise, taking grooming to the dogs. "Services are so big these days," she said. "Everybody's so busy around here. There's not enough time to have fun and hang out."
Indra Books quit her commute from Leesburg to the District, where she had been a government information technology manager, and opened On the Go 4 U, which provides personal shopping, organizing and other concierge services. "It's become a necessity for people here to get help," she said. "Everybody is running themselves into the ground."
Jacob and Susan D'Aniello, who now live in Charlottesville, opened DoodyCalls in Fairfax in 2000 and four years later began selling franchises. Their clients include homeowners, apartment communities and homeowner associations.
"Some people do it because they don't have time, some people do it because they don't want to do it themselves and some people are old" and can't clean up after their pets the way they used to, said Jacob D'Aniello, who previously worked as a technology consultant.
Many suburbanites who moved farther out from the city in search of a nice big yard discover the grass is the first chore they want to unload.
"They've never done it," said Gary Cogle, owner of A-1 Lawn Care Services of Kearneysville, W.Va., which serves Loudoun County and West Virginia. "They might buy a mower because it's a neat little thing."
For a few months or even as long as a year, those new suburban residents will toy with their new mower, cutting their own grass, he said.
"Then they said, 'Oh my God what did I do?' "
Cogle takes over and often sells the mower, which otherwise would sit unused in a garage.
"It's one less thing to worry about," said Poole, 39, who is also pursuing an acting career. "It comes down to time versus money. We would rather work at the things we love or we enjoy and work into our budget the things we don't like to do or don't have time to do."
Poole's husband is managing partner of MobilTrak, which monitors radio-listening habits, and they find they have a different way of life than their parents did. Her own father, Poole said, did chores when he came home from work in the evening.
"My dad wouldn't pay to valet park. When we went to hotels, he carried the bags," she said. "Our generation is the opposite."
Robert E. Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech in Alexandria, looks at it this way: Houses in the suburbs have been growing larger -- Poole estimates hers is 8,000 square feet, for example -- and when they get up to 4,000 square feet, help is required.
"When you've got 4.5 bathrooms, it's amazing how many toilets break," Lang said. "It's that point where you've got nine or 10 rooms -- rooms that you forget the purpose for and you need that room cleaned."
And people aren't satisfied with sticking a shrub here and there. They want it to look like a magazine, and a professional is required.
"The larger the home," he said, "the greater the requirements."
As houses got larger, so did the work day. William Davey, a divorced father of three who lives in Springfield, spends an average of 65 hours a week working. A personal trainer comes to his house three days a week. He orders frozen prepared meals from the Schwan Food Co. and groceries delivered by Peapod by Giant. Geri Gribben of Errands-On-The-Run has waited at Davey's home for repairmen. And Davey has hired a personal chef to cook meals for his children when they visit.
"I need to have time with my children," he said.
Theodore Johnson, an engineer, recently paid Colossal Concierge and Personal Assistant Services $80 to wait for a water company employee to neutralize the well water at his Manassas home.
"It's a hassle for me to come home in the middle of the day and wait for somebody who might not show up," he said.
Fairchild, the college professor, understands such sentiments. He employs a personal organizer, Elaine Kraus, who has a master's degree in library science. She was planning to return to work when her son was 2 but didn't like the hours she was offered and began a cleaning service instead.
She discovered a knack for organizing closets, and that took her to personal organizing, which she has been doing since 1995. "People come into their houses, dump the paper, and they never have time to go back and deal with it," she said. "We're overwhelmed with the paper coming into our houses. My clients just cannot keep ahead of it."
Fairchild said Kraus has become a combination counselor, interior designer and confidant.
"We have three kids and two careers," he said. "She has organized our kitchen, she's helped us deal with paper." The kids have too many toys, he said, and Kraus rotates them, keeping them fresh and useful. She's the one who takes castoffs to the Salvation Army or the trash.
Her business is a good example, he said, of excess capital finding a willing and inventive worker.
"It's a good thing," Fairchild said.
Left, Wendy Poole takes dry cleaning down for pickup. Above, she sees off Kaled Ben-Barka, left, of DoodyCalls, and Michael Jackson of Summit Horticultural.
Personal chef Stacey Leggat works to prepare a week's meals for MaryAnn Betz, center, and her family. Leggat travels to people's homes to cook.