“Letting the Services Come to You — At Home”

New York Times

January 7, 1988 C:1:5
“Letting the Services Come to You — At Home”

IT is the stuff of fantasy. A woman is delayed at work and arrives home with only an hour to dress for a party. Her daughter needs help with her homework; so much for bath time. She jumps in and out of the shower and wraps her hair in a towel. Thirty minutes to go. Is she frantic? No. A personal shopper has made sure she has the right earrings, stockings and shoes to go with her dress. The doorbell rings. The hairdresser has arrived.

Her evening, and her peace of mind, are saved by that irreplaceable luxury the house call. For working people on hectic schedules, for elderly people in bad weather or for anyone who needs some pampering now and then, nothing beats having professionals provide personal services – from pedicures to shopping to art placement – at home.

I spent two and a half weeks lining up and sampling as many home services as I could find that were reliably recommended. On my list were an animal behaviorist, a masseuse, a personal trainer, a hairdresser, a cosmetician, a shopper, a dressmaker, a furniture polisher and an art adviser.

Though some of these professionals advertise in the Yellow Pages, there are better ways to find, for instance, a masseur whom you would invite into your bedroom while you were clad in a bath sheet. Word of mouth is key. Providing personal services at home is almost exclusively a business of referrals; not surprisingly, the best sources are working mothers.

Because most such professionals do not keep offices, answering machines or answering services almost always take clients’ calls. That can be annoying; it sometimes takes four or five telephone calls back and forth over a couple of days to make arrangements.

Since some of the professionals work full time themselves, appointments must often be scheduled during off hours. This is an obvious advantage for clients who work full time, too. And in an emergency, the professionals seem far more willing to do special favors for favored clients, like a 6 A.M. hairdo before the early shuttle to Washington. But this happens only when the relationship is well in place.

The best thing about personal services at home is not having to travel to shops and salons and wait when you get there. The professionals are the ones who fight traffic, however, and that means they sometimes arrive late; scheduling can be a little loose.

The greatest disadvantage in home service is that it generally costs more. Here is what the sampling experiment was like: Monday: Greg Johns of F&L Associates (212-752-2879), whose motto is ”We Do Just About Everything,” arrived on schedule at 10 A.M. to see the 12-foot-long mahogany dining-room table and eight chairs that he was hired to wax. The work was scheduled for the next day, but he had a cancellation and was able to do it right away. He returned at noon and by 3 P.M. the table and chairs gleamed, all streaks and smudges gone.

He worked quietly and unobtrusively and charged $70 for what an informal survey of housekeepers pinpointed as the most miserable job in a home.

The only difficulty was reaching F&L. My first call was not returned. I called the answering service back again to arrange a manicure, pedicure and makeup session and scheduled it for a week from Thursday. This time the callback was prompt.

At 3:20 P.M., I called the Madison Avenue bookshop at 833 Madison (between 69th Street and 70th Streets; 212-535-6130), where in two minutes flat I had opened an account in person the preceding Friday. I requested a copy of ”An Incomplete Educa-tion” by Judy Jones and William Wilson.

The store delivers free anywhere from 59th Street to 100th Street, from the East River to Fifth Avenue, excluding Sutton Place. The salesman told me I was too late for Monday’s delivery and that the book would go out the next day. It arrived at 3:20 P.M. Tuesday, as promised.

At 3:30 P.M., I called Cynthia May of Baby’s Best Inc. (212-753-0349), a personal shopper for children. I asked her to find a bathrobe, fancy flannel pajamas and a warm sports outfit for my 11-year-old daughter who stands 5 feet 3 inches and wears a preteen size 14, which very few stores stock. Ms. May said she would deliver on Friday; she did, in ribbon-wrapped bags. The Lanz pajamas were adorable and cost $32 a pair. Only the blue corduroy slacks, priced at $48, had to be returned because they were too tight in the waist. The matching all-wool sweater was $28 and the cotton blouse $24. She ordered a new pair of slacks from a Boston store that caters to tiny women. They arrived in four days. The lovely blue terry-cloth bathrobe was $75. Ms. May adds her fee of 20 percent to the price of each item.

At 4:15 P.M., Janis Sarno (212-689-8761), arrived to do my hair ”for a gala,” as I put it. She was easy to reach and we booked for Monday because it was her day off. I washed my own hair and by 5:30 P.M. it had been blow-dried into the adult version of Alice in Wonderland, sides rolled up and under. My hair is straight with no body, and no one ever makes it look spectacular. This was no exception, but it did rate several compliments that evening. My husband thought it made me look old.

Ms. Sarno charged $25 for the blow-dry, one dollar less than the Penta salon on 73d Street off Madison Avenue. However, she also charged taxi fare from where she lives downtown, which brought the price to $42. If I had taken a bus or cab to the Penta salon, it would have added only $2 to $7 to the total; however, the Penta salon is closed on Mondays. Tuesday: What a massage! Kit Mc=

Culloch (212-860-8139) spent more than 90 minutes in what was scheduled as a one-hour session, giving a massage that rivaled the best I have had at the most exclusive spa. She came equipped with her own suede-covered massage table; the customer provides the sheet and towel. Despite the overtime, she asked her hourly rate of $50. The salon rate in my neighborhood is $40 an hour; her massage was far superior.

Wednesday: Mary Leck (212-666-8125) arrived promptly at 8:45 A.M. for a personal training session, an exacting combination of hands-on muscle stretching, exercises and shiatsu techniques. She schedules sessions as early as 6 A.M. She expressly tailored the session to my needs. She also continued well past the hour and charged no more than her hourly rate of $60. It is difficult to compare this type of session with an exercise class (about $11 an hour) or a gym workout. But if your needs are very specific – back problems, pregnancy, postsurgical rehabilitation – the home setting is probably preferable. I found the session excellent.

Friday: Tina Tsagdis (718-278-4716) arrived promptly at 8 A.M., to shorten a few skirts and alter several pairs of slacks and a new dress. Her prices of $15 a hem and $25 to $40 for alterations are the same as those of other dressmakers on the Upper East Side.

She said she would have everything completed in a week. I called the following Friday and she said she had been ill and needed more time. I expressed mild disappointment, since she had all my winter pants. At 10 P.M. that night everything arrived, pressed and in plastic bags. The work was flawless. The following Thursday: Pauline

Fong (212-752-2879), a cosmetician who is also a caterer for F&L Associates, was scheduled to arrive at 4 P.M. She called to say she would be late and arrived 45 minutes behind schedule. The pedicure was fine and lasted more than an hour. The best thing about it was not having to sit in a shop for an extra 20 minutes waiting for the polish to dry. The manicure took 50 minutes, the makeup 30 minutes, and I didn’t look like a clown. Total cost: $104. Last day: I imposed on a neighbor, Gail Mason, who owns two four-year-old dogs, a bulldog named Penelope and a husky called Amanda, to try out a dog trainer. Penelope, clearly the favored canine in the family, totally dominates Amanda.

The trainer, Brian Kilcommons, (212-864-3090), recommended by the Yorkville Animal Hospital, arrived promptly at 10 A.M. and spent well over an hour with Mrs. Mason, watching her handle the dogs. He helped her to understand how she was causing the problem and worked with her on how to use her words and voice. He suggested numerous correctional techniques and demonstrated how to get a better response from the pets.

Mrs. Mason had had previous experience with dog trainers and with a therapist who works with dogs. She found Mr. Kilcommons to be first-rate. She especially liked the way he focused on the owner, since it is generally the owner and not the animal who needs the retraining.

His price was $100 for the consultation, and he did not suggest a second session. He simply asked Mrs. Mason to call and let him know how things were progressing.

After numerous attempts to set a time, Carl Nardiello (212-242-3106) arrived at 11:30 A.M., as promised, to consult on art placement in the house.

He listened to our ideas, then spent two hours meandering through the rooms, moving pieces around and forming ideas of his own.

At the end he made several excellent suggestions, some we had never thought of, and gave us a number of options on several other pieces. He was very direct about what he thought should go into storage. Cost of the consultation was $300. Hanging the pictures is a second, negotiable fee.

I made a point of asking each professional why he or she elected to work in homes instead of salons or shops. All of them liked the freedom of controlling their own work schedules. Ms. McCulloch, the masseuse, is also an artist and likes to be free to paint. Ms. Leck, the personal trainer, likes giving personalized service. Ms. Fong, the cosmetician, hates the factory atmosphere of most salons. Fran Jennings, a partner in F&L Associates said that many of her service professionals are new in the business and find working through her bureau a way to build a client base.

The two and half weeks were like living out a dream. The only bad part was the price tag: $1,200, which included the cost of the child’s clothes.

Now, if there was only some way to bring the work place home, too.

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