The word “concierge” evokes images of neatly uniformed employees at luxury hotels, at the ready for fulfilling even the most esoteric of needs — from dry cleaning and restaurant recommendations to specific bed linens and exotic foods.
Connie Elder knows all about the guest-pleasing world of hotel management. After earning her degree in hotel management, she learned the ropes by working at The Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn, where she spent eight years attending to the highly developed needs and whims of celebrities and other VIPs. The hotel provided excellent training in meeting the sometimes-challenging needs of high-end clients.
Six years ago, she took that training and turned it into a company that aims to make her clients feel like pampered hotel guests in their own homes.
As the owner of Livonia-based Château Concierge, she’s picked up her share of dry cleaning. But Elder’s days are more likely to be consumed by overseeing renovations on the homes of her well-heeled clients (who are away at their second or third or fourth residence), planning dinner parties from décor to menu, or selecting clothing from Neiman Marcus for clients to try on approval.
“I’ve gotten a request for just about everything,” Elder says. “I like to pride myself on being one number to call.”
Elder caters to an elite clientele of metro Detroiters that includes professionals whose demanding schedules require a support staff and those who can simply afford to hire help for tasks they rather not do.
“I would characterize it as having a concierge in your home,” Elder says of her services. “It’s having peace of mind and knowing someone else is handling things for you so you can go on to more important things, like family and career.”
The Ritz, she says, was an excellent training ground. “It was always something different,” she says. “I would just be smiling and saying, ‘Certainly, I’d be happy to take care of that,’ while at the same time I’m thinking, ‘How do I do that?’”
Among the more unusual guest requests she received were demands for linens in specific colors, scarves draped over bedroom lamps, mattresses placed on the floor, a quail-egg appetizer (from a local celebrity), and — from Elizabeth Taylor — each item of lingerie folded separately and tied with a satin ribbon in a bow.
Elder saw a varied stream of celebrities at The Ritz. Through the doors came Janet Jackson, U2, Bill Cosby (“He was very pleasant”), Tom Arnold and his wedding party (“an interesting crowd”), Robin Lynch, Zsa Zsa Gabor (“She stepped on her poor dog’s foot”), Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Tim Conway (“My favorite — he would sit on the arm of a chair in the lobby and was just such a cute little guy”), Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner, and many ball teams (who “like to move a lot of furniture in the middle of the night”).
Despite having to deal with the occasional obnoxious guest, Elder loved what she did and began to wonder if there might be a local market for a home-concierge service. After leaving The Ritz, she worked on international relocations, helping executives (and their families) for companies such as DaimlerChrysler get settled locally. She began offering them her services, and, since then, has built a client list based almost entirely on referral.
These days, she doesn’t have to worry so much about putting a mattress on the floor or finding satin bows for lingerie. She’s more likely to be scheduling home-improvement contractors, seeing that birthdays are recognized properly, and planning private parties with a former Ritz executive chef.
The job gives her an opportunity to exceed expectations, a challenge she says she thrives on. It also demands discretion, tranquility, and a thorough knowledge of luxury goods.
“When you have a high-end client, you don’t want to run to Target to buy stationery,” she says. “You need to know card stock, to have a background dealing with people who are used to the finer things, to understand quality. That’s one thing The Ritz-Carlton taught me.”