When Susan Ho was mulling over a name for her concierge company, she decided to call it Good Neighbor Concierge in honor of her childhood hero, Fred Rogers. She doesn’t wear a red sweater like Mr. Rogers did — Ho’s favored attire is a blue polo shirt emblazoned with the company’s logo. Her goal is to try to make a difference for people, whether it’s shopping for a Hermes purse or cleaning up kitty litter.
Ho is first generation Chinese-American, daughter of immigrant parents who owned a Chinese restaurant. She wanted to be a cardiologist but reality sank in when she saw her grades in chemistry and physics. So she went to Plan B — sports medicine. Ho found a job as a clinical data manager, reconciling clinical trial data until motherhood came along, when she became a stay-at-home mom.
After that, like many women reentering the workforce, she wanted to reinvent herself, somehow earning an income with flexible hours. Maybe an online store? Open a gym? Then she read an article in an entrepreneurial magazine that talked about becoming a personal assistant, or concierge. “You’d be good at that,” her husband said. “Become an errand runner.” It sounded a little demeaning, being at the beck and call of strangers, but also appealing – she could set her own schedule, run around the city, and use her ingenuity to get things done. She created a website and paid a lot of money for marketing — one of her mistakes, she says — and waited for customers to come.
But her phone didn’t start ringing until she started networking through a professional group and talking to acquaintances about her services. Her first customer was a single mom physician in Newton who needed help organizing her pantry and finding tutors for her special-needs son. From there, word spread, and now Ho, 48, is busy. You might find her standing in line at the registry (a necessary but dreaded task), wrapping presents, house-sitting, booking cruises to Alaska, dog-walking, or picking up dry cleaning. “It’s always a fascinating cycle of things that need to get done,” says Ho. The Globe spoke with her about being a personal concierge.
“I want to call the shots and go to work in my pajamas if I want to. Because I’m a one-woman operation, I never put myself in a position where I take on more than I can handle. This tends to be a female-dominated industry, for whatever reason – women tend to be caregivers and nurturing, always thinking about others.
“I’m one of the few, if not the only, Asian concierges in Boston and it’s nice to stick out. Initially, I didn’t want to put my photo on my website, but then I realized the more you put yourself out there, the more trustworthiness you have. I am the face of the company and I’ve deliberately not scaled up, because people want to hire me, not someone else.
“Trust is the hallmark of being a concierge — there’s always some trepidation about letting a stranger come into your private space. With almost eight years of business under my belt, and lots of satisfied clients, I let that speak for itself. Being an insured and bonded business also helps. It means I’m serious about my business.”
“Many people think of having a personal assistant as being very extravagant. But most have something on their personal agenda that needs to get done and there are only so many hours in a day. In Europe, it’s very common to have a concierge. They are more comfortable there with having someone else do the mundane stuff for them.
“Just recently, I did a car detail cleaning for someone in Somerville, picked up a couple dozen doughnuts for a hockey team, helped an elderly client with their memory book, watered plants, yada, yada, yada. I put a lot of miles on my little Honda Fit. But I have to admit that I’m so busy that my own housekeeping and laundry comes last and often doesn’t get done. Fortunately, my husband helps out. He’s the one standing in line on a Saturday afternoon to buy our groceries.”Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.