Downtown Company Offers Concierge Service Without the Hotel

Remember the frustrating wait when the hotel couldn't find your reservation? How about the big evening that fizzled when the five-star restaurant's service was anything but out of this world? Does it seem as if Murphy's Law always jams into overdrive at the most important moments?

When Sarina May and William Lefiti asked themselves the same questions, the answers were yes, yes and yes. So instead of complaining, they came up with a unique solution: Elite Concierge, a membership-based private, corporate and entertainment concierge service. The company recently moved Downtown.

These days the know-it-all wearing the "concierge" badge isn't just found in expensive hotels. Take it from the National Concierge Association, which cites the growing popularity of independent concierge services within service-oriented industries such as insurance, banking and entertainment. To stay ahead of the pack, Lefiti and May developed a membership business model that allows their organization to build better relationships with their customers and a network of vendors.

A concierge service with some "juice" is especially important in Los Angeles, says May. "It's such a showy and extravagant town," she explains. "A lot of these places are very hard to get into and you can be treated quite rudely by door people and wait in line for hours."

Elite helps reduce waiting time with what it terms the "Premier Card." Sort of like a platinum credit card on steroids, Premier Card holders open an account with $500 to $10,000, and Elite books their reservations and services. When customers show up at the establishment, no cash or credit cards are needed, just a flash of the card and a signature. A monthly statement from Elite shows usage and service fees.

May says Elite is busy adding entertainment sites—such as Hollywood's Sunset Room—and services to its list of vendors. Lefiti adds that Elite Concierge also handles events as small as family birthday parties, can make travel arrangements and provides event management for major business groups. For non-member customers who just need a concierge service on special occasions, Elite works on a straight fee-for-services basis.

She Started It

Lefiti began his career in the hotel business at Hilton Head, South Carolina, and moved north in 1996 to the ultra-competitive world of New York City's premier hotels. He met May, who grew up in San Diego and moved to Los Angeles to work in the film industry, while doing business in Manhattan.

Lefiti, 32, and May, 30, left New York in 1998 and launched their company in August 2000. "The idea came from me," May says. "William didn't really consider this field something he could see himself doing, but there's so many different kinds of events that we can be part of."

Elite has a winning formula, according to Brian Dyches, president of Los Angeles-based Retail Resource Group, and a Premier Card holder. He spends 140 days a year on the road, and depends on Elite for his travel and hotel arrangements.

"I like the premise of going into a restaurant and not having any hassles with the bill," says Dyches. "Even if it's just a dinner that doesn't have any hiccups, or the fact that the LCD [presentation] projector works perfectly. I travel on the road too much to want to handle those details."

Not all of Elite's services are as grandiose as those required by Dyches. Says May, "I've always had a real love for people and assisting them in some challenging area, or even something as simple as going to the grocery store."

Although Elite Concierge might seem a bit overqualified for getting the groceries, running errands is one of the many personal services the company offers. Others include providing certified nannies, automobile care, luxury health care and private chef services.

"People might be surprised at how reasonable it is to have a private chef come out to their house," May notes. "We're not talking 50 bucks, but there are many different kinds of chefs and things people can do that they probably don't realize they have access to."

For example, Elite works with Christian Pierre, founder of Private Chefs International (PCI), to place chefs for their clients. "He's one of the most well known chefs in the world and handles business leaders like Bill Gates, plus many celebrities," says May.

Life in the Loft

Lefiti and May live and work out of their 3,400-square-foot artist loft on 7th Place, near Downtown's Toy District. The firm selected the locale in part to break from the conservative image of many concierge services.

"As much as we're working on a higher level we want people to know that it's hip and cool to be a concierge and not old and stuck up," says May.

"The loft is a nice place to hold meetings and people love to come here," May continues. "It's a little oasis and people are very surprised when they walk in." A 26-by-15 company logo is painted on one wall of the contemporary-styled space. The floor plan is open, and a group of work stations accommodates a freelance squad that rises and falls as the company's business dictates.

Providing such a high level of personal service and attention to detail does make for some hectic and unique moments at the loft. Recently, a client called and gave Elite just two hours to arrange an elaborate party for his wife's birthday. On a different occasion, a customer asked Elite to buy and deliver a birthday present for a dog. "We really try to get whatever our clients need," Lefiti says with a laugh.

Lefiti and May expect a combination of travel jitters and the holiday season to boost business in the coming months. They are working on expanding their reach in Downtown, and credit the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce with providing great networking opportunities. "It's a word of mouth process," explains Lefiti. "We haven't thought about doing massive marketing because we're catering to a small exclusive group."

For the future, Lefiti and May envision partnering with dating services to offer high-profile dating packages. The all-inclusive deal would treat couples to the kind of night on the town usually reserved for the city's biggest spenders. "It's almost like being a celebrity or a millionaire without actually being one," explains May.

But how close to a millionaire do you have to be? "We all have times when there's things we'd like to do that would be like splurging on ourselves," answers May. "You can go out and have a great time, but it doesn't have to cost a fortune."

Considering Lefiti and May's attention to detail, it doesn't have to set Murphy's Law into motion either.

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