The Personal Touch

Entrepreneur turns good taste, love of luxury into lucrative venture

Philadelphia resident Chaka Fattah Jr. has always had expensive taste whether for high-end restaurants or Cartier watches. In December 2005, Fattah started tending to the expensive tastes of others, launching American Royalty (www.americanroyalty.com), a luxury travel and concierge service that caters to business owners, corporate executives, athletes, and entertainers.

“We help people with a variety of requests,” says managing partner, Fattah. Individuals pay $24,000 a year and corporations $120,000 for the privilege of calling on American Royalty to do anything from securing front-row tickets to NBA games to locating limited edition Ferraris.

While customer service is key, access to wealthy individuals is even more critical. Someone who has never rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous need not apply, says Katharine C. Giovanni, author of The Concierge Manual (NewRoad Publishing; $29.95) and chairman of the International Concierge and Errand Association (ICEA). Fitting in with the nation’s power brokers was easier for Fattah than for most 24-year-olds since he is the son of Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.). Even so, Fattah invested heavily in looking the part; new high-end suits took up much of the $25,000 in personal savings he spent in startup costs. Inspired by the traditional hotel concierge, independent concierge companies began springing up about 20 years ago, Giovanni says. Today, ICEA estimates that it’s a multimillion-dollar industry.

Since the luxury concierge market is so exclusive, much of the marketing takes place via word-of-mouth.

“We might get a call at 3 a.m. saying a client needs a jet in the morning,” says Fattah. “We have access to one of the top private jet companies in the country, so we’re able to make that happen.”

American Royalty earned $100,000 in revenues in 2006. With 10 employees and 20 clients — one of them corporate — Fattah expects to make $500,000 in 2007.

Industry veteran Katharine C. Giovanni offers five starting steps for a luxury concierge business:

Do your research. Know what’s expected of a personal concierge. Along with Giovanni’s book, read Start Your Own Personal Concierge Service (Entrepreneur Press; $15.95). And join professional trade groups such as the International Concierge and Errand Association (www.icea.org) and the National Concierge Association (www.nationalconciergeassociation.com).

Narrow your market. Luxury concierge companies are doing one of two things, Giovanni says: “Some are making themselves very exclusive so they’re only available to the filthy rich, while others are setting up different levels of service.” That way they can have packages that appeal to different incomes.

Create partnerships. Find clients by developing relationships with companies also catering to wealthy individuals. For example, offer some of your services to country clubs as a part of their member benefits packages. “By the time the client finishes golfing, their items are in the trunk waiting for them,” Giovanni says.

Compile resources. Anticipate the needs of potential clients and locate people that can help meet these needs. “Have service vendors and companies from every walk of life so you have your bases covered,” says Giovanni. For example, have a list of concert promoters you can turn to for securing hard-to-get tickets.

Hire personable people. Choose

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