On any given day, Key Concierge’s Susan Robinson can be arranging a boat picnic, securing a private yoga instructor or supervising the installation of a Dora the Explorer bounce house for a client’s six grandchildren, as she did one breathless weekday between this past Christmas and New Year’s.
With dozens of owners of estate-sized properties who count on her company to care for their homes while they jet in and out of town, Key Concierge has found gold by tapping into our affluent market.
“Our clients run the demographic spectrum, including parents of young children,” says Robinson, “but generally they’re between 55 and 65 years old and still running businesses up North or in Europe or Asia, including one in Japan who runs businesses all over the world and gets to his Longboat Key home maybe once a year. This is their second or third home, and vacation time here is erratic because it’s whenever they can get away from work. These are people who tend to fly down to Sarasota on a moment’s notice for the weekend and need nannies, masseurs, personal chefs, private yoga instructors, flowers—everything.”
Key Concierge charges a flat monthly fee based on the home size and services provided—visiting the home weekly or even daily to make sure “everything is as it should be,” Robinson says. Her company can pay the household bills, take care of the cars and boats, and make sure that the household staff is cleaning properly, the air-conditioner filters are changed regularly, the lawn and pool are maintained and the pest control company shows up on schedule.
Some clients also have them on retainer “and we’re literally available to them 24/7,” she says. (Robinson declined to quote the retainer fee.) “They’ll call and say they’re coming into town this week. We open up the house and make sure it’s cleaned. The refrigerator and wine cellar are stocked. We take their cars to Dolphin or Rectrix so they’ll be waiting when they fly in by private plane. We’re at the ready for any services they need while they‘re in residence.”
Many clients will have family joining them, and the company often has requests for children’s activities. “They’ll ask us to hire a tent and a band, and put on a party for a family reunion,” Robinson says. “We’ve been asked to find a photographer for family beach photos and to secure child care when the family’s personal nanny, whom they usually bring to Sarasota, is on Christmas break. We will secure tickets for theater—we just bought 16 tickets to Willie Nelson at the Van Wezel for a client—but that doesn’t pop to the top of the list as frequently.”
Robinson and her husband, Ferruh Muktar, founded Key Concierge 10 years ago after retiring from corporate careers in international marketing and customer service with Fortune 500 companies. “We’d had a vacation home on Lido Key for several years,” she says, “and came up with the idea for Key Concierge when we were thinking of ways we could live and work in paradise—we wished we had had access to these kinds of services ourselves.” From starting out as a husband-and-wife operation, they now employ eight.
They found their affluent niche with the very first client—the Boston-based trustee of a waterfront estate who was referred to them by his realtor. (“We managed the house for him until it sold a year later,” Robinson says.) Indeed, realtors are their second biggest source of referrals, after word of mouth. “We spend a lot of time at MLS meetings and making presentations at realtors’ offices,” Robinson says.
Now even people who live here year-round can use their services. “We were noticing that more than occasionally we were getting requests from full-time residents for our concierge services,” Robinson says. “We got a call from a woman in New York whose daughter in Sarasota got engaged, for example, asking us to deliver champagne and Waterford crystal glasses to her. We spun off a company, Concierge Sarasota, to take these one-off requests. It’s a tiny, tiny company, but we developed it because people had a need, and we said we can fill it.”
Then 18 months ago, “We started getting calls from locals looking for full-time staff, maids, chefs, and they figured I might know these people. That’s how our high-end staffing company, Estate Relations, was born. We specialize in placing high-end staff in high-end homes. It’s just getting off the ground; we’ll see if it makes any money.”
Robinson says the key to success in working with the affluent market is discretion. “We are unbelievably discreet about our clients—celebrities, titans of American industry,” she says. “When they get here they want to get away from the stresses of work, put a baseball cap on and go incognito. We provide them the privacy they so crave.
“Your word is your word, and you have to follow through. That’s how you build trust.”