So you say you need an extra 8.7 hours in your average day just to get halfway down your to-do list? And that most of the personal services you need are hanging out the "closed" sign just when you're finally getting off work? No sweat: We went in search of all the myriad mobile services that do house calls, from tailors and personal chefs to pedicurists and personal trainers, and found a wealth of such time-savers. Of course, there are a few direct-to-your-door services that have been around since Grandma's day, from the milkman with his noisy glass bottles to the, er, odoriferous diaper service. But there are also some really cool ones out there in greater Baltimore that you might not have thought of. So, whether it's a low-tech phone book or your computer keyboard, let your fingers do the walking: Here are our 10 favorite home services, both time-tested, and, well, a little over the top.
Gee, Your Hair Looks Terrific!
Leslie Storms, Hair Sylist
For 25 years, Leslie Storms has been on the road, styling hair on television and movie sets (Ladder 49, The Wire, Flags of Our Fathers, and Wedding Crashers, to name a few) and gussying up the candidates of various political stripes for state and national election campaigns. (Yes, to style a Democrat or a movie star, you'd better be a union member and she is: the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 798.)
She has even been summoned to Washington's halls of power to make over the manes of the Clintons, Sen. John McCain (the hair was not the issue, as you'll see later), Tom Brokaw, and others. So you would think she might want to give the road-trip gig a rest, especially since she stays plenty busy running her hair-styling and finishing salon in Hunt Valley, Faceworld Cosmetics, and is starting her new Pink Consignments "designer resale" shop as well.
But steering her brushes, blowers, and beauty products into people's driveways (for $125 an hour or so) is how she made her name, and she can't give it up.
"It's still my passion, and I still have a lot of people who won't let me go," says Storms. "What I do is an integral part of fashion and hair and makeup and all that—it just means I have to hire people to run my shop." So we had to ask, with all the VIP elbow-rubbing she's done, what were her most challenging moments?
In terms of sheer numbers, she'd give the nod to her job of styling 100-plus men and women—including Kirstie Alley and Tim Allen—to look like the Amish for the movie For Richer or Poorer.
And in the category of light refraction? "I'd say it would be keeping the bald heads of Sen. John McCain and [Democratic strategist] James Carville from becoming too reflective for the cameras during the heat of the summer in Wedding Crashers," she offers. Then there was fighting off the overprotective Secret Service while attempting to trim then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's eyebrows—"Oh, and, not flirting with Bill Clinton," she says with a laugh.
A Chore Thing
Bridget Gatewood, Personal Concierge Service
It's been a year since swearing to yourself that you'd straighten out that filing cabinet packed with yellowed mortgage refi papers; months since you promised Aunt Elma you'd take her shopping; and weeks since scribbling on a Post-it note to call a plumber to fix that bathroom drain (which, of course, means waiting around from "10 to 3" for him to maybe show up).
For Mason-Dixon Concierge, every day is about tackling such chores. From providing transportation to and from appointments to housecleaning and personal shopping, there's little they haven't done. "Just the other day, I was ironing labels onto a woman's clothes," says company President Bridget Gatewood. "Then I had a client a few weeks ago who had me put her dog down for her. She couldn't handle it, so she asked me for some help."
Sound like a job even stranger than yours? Maybe, but these people are good at it, and at typically $35 or more per hour (or on a long-term retainer), quite affordable for both private and corporate clients.
"The personal shopping we do is upscale, sometimes for professional people and sometimes for celebrities, either local figures or people who come into town for an event," says Gatewood. And, of course, for many VIPs, everything is an emergency: "Sometimes their assistants will call out of the blue and ask us to do such and such right away," she says. "If we can do it, we will."
Of course, there's a recession on and there's also some wierdness out there, so in Gatewood's business, the concierge service is not the only one that gets interviewed before the deal is sealed: Gatewood also personally interviews new clients herself to ensure her staff will be safe, that everybody will get paid as agreed, and that the fit is a good one.
"Every day is different," says Gatewood. "But it feels good being able to do something for somebody else, to help them with things they can't do"—or simply don't have the time to do.
Victor Pascal, Master Tailor
In this job market especially, first impressions are important, and that means looking good. That's why Victor Pascal finds that his business of designing and creating tailor-made men's suits and shirts actually does better when the economy is rough. After an initial meeting in his store to discuss what type of suit you are looking for, he'll visit you at home for fittings or for additional suits.
A native of France, Pascal trained in design schools in Paris and worked for years with designers Ralph Lauren, Adolfo, and Christian Dior. While he enjoyed the designing, he found that for some people, buying even high-end designs off the shelf wasn't good enough—they wanted to buy clothes that fit them perfectly. His father was one of Paris' top master tailors—he apprenticed under him starting at age 14—so, in a sense, he's returned to his roots.
"Everybody is different," says Pascal, whose typical custom-made suits start at about $1,300. "Every body is different. My clients want clothing for their bodies and no one else's." Makes sense. Because people in Pascal's line of work will tell you that an ill-fitting suit makes you look 10 pounds heavier. And who wants that?
Paws and Effect
Bridget Graff, Pet Groomer
When she was in college, Bridget Graff thought maybe she would enjoy a career related to animal behavior—she ended up getting the certification. Later, she thought a massage therapy concentration would be better, so she took those courses, as well. In the end, though, she ended up in a calling that draws a bit from both disciplines: a mobile pet grooming service.
While doing a stint at Pet Smart's Grooming Academy, she went to a pet expo in Pennsylvania where she met a mobile groomer and got hooked on the idea. "I researched it for quite a while and became absolutely fascinated by it," says Graff, a Jarrettsville resident whose business serves four-legged clients in Harford and Baltimore counties. There are no career conundrums, now: "It's the best thing I've done so far."
After six years in grooming and two years on wheels, she's got it down to a science, to the tune of $65 to $180 per pet, depending on what size creature we're talking about (giant breeds excepted—her limit is 65 pounds).
Her cheerfully decorated and heated towed trailer is equipped with electricity, hot and cold running water, and all the bells and whistles that the bricks-and-mortar groomers have, except that it comes to your door—sort of like a little RV for pets. Kitty or Killer can order up a massaging bath (that college certification is starting to come in handy here), a brush and fluff during hand drying, a pedicure, ear-cleaning, paw-pad clipping, or a trim of the client's choice, including classic AKC-breed styling and poodle styling—all topped off with a bow or bandana.
She's also tuned into the health of her client's pets, and learns as much as she can about vaccination status (she'll ask for proof the pet is up-to-date) and health issues of the dog or cat.
"Coming to the home is easier for the dogs or cats and it's certainly easier for the clients," says Graff, 27. "It works especially well if, for instance, a dog is aggressive with other animals at the groomer's, is sick, is very large, or if the client simply doesn't have time to drive back and forth to the groomer."
And the animal behavior programs in college have come in especially handy, too: "I'm pretty good at understanding cat and dog signals—I think it's given me a leg up on reading behavior."
Joaquin Fajardo, Estate Manager
So, ok, the manicurist just left, but you've got the personal trainer coming Tuesday, and the personal chef Wednesdays and Saturdays. How are you going to keep track of all this TLC? All you need now is an estate manager like Joaquin Fajardo. Think professional overseer/jack-of-all-trades/butler-on-steriods: He not only coordinates all of the meal-planning, but he will also plan for parties, manage contractors, do minor household repairs, and clean up after everything is over. Best of all, he will blend into the background with finesse and grace. "You have to be a swan in this business," he says. "You can't see it moving, but somehow it gets from one side of the lake to the other without leaving a wake." Fajardo cut his teeth at the Four Seasons Hotel and the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, as well as in the service of a couple of very demanding celebrities. Plus, he knows a thing or two about food: He is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. So whatever you have for him won't be a problem—he's dealt with worse.
Cinnamon Bowser, Nail Care Expert
It was a pregnant roommate that got Cinnamon Bowser started down the career road of mobile manicurist. "She wanted to have her toenails painted before her baby was delivered, but she couldn't reach her feet," recalls Bowser. "And I couldn't find anyone to come to her house and do it for her." So Bowser started Nail Taxi, a company that will come to home or office to give manicures and pedicures. The four-year-old operation also serves hotels, hospitals, and corporate events. For $75 an hour and up, she has painted nails for guests at bridal showers and for mothers and daughters out for some girl time. Her favorite part? How much a small thing like a manicure can brighten someone's day.
She also loves learning something new every day. "I could write a book of all the little tidbits I pick up here and there. One client told me all about poisonous snake venom while I painted her nails." Guess you have to talk about something.
Candace Grasso, Trainer
You've got the brand new exercise outfit (still in the package), the shiny new fashion gym bag, the trial gym membership you've never used, even the exercise machine in the rec room (you know, the one you use for drying your socks). No problem: Candace Grasso of Fit Is It can get your butt in gear. And since she's also a nutritionist, she can not only coach you through a workout (she doesn't want to list her prices), but will also help you plan your diet and learn about what your body needs. "I'm sort of like a therapist," says Grasso. "I talk to people every day for the first two weeks, holding them accountable for what they're doing and eating. I call my range of services 'wrap-around care.'"
If you want a virtual personal trainer, Grasso has also created audio workouts that can be downloaded from iTunes, so you can listen to her on your own time. If nothing else, Grasso's sheer energy is contagious. She not only works as a personal trainer, but also writes a column for Smart Woman magazine, does a weekend health segment on WBAL-TV, works with doctors as an online nutrition consultant, and is a member of the Power Bar Team Elite (think Michael Phelps and Lance Armstrong). And all this after recovering from a broken neck suffered in a bad car accident. Beat that.
Kelly Wilkes, Massage Therapist
At the end of a long day, you've got a mild headache, your feet hurt, your back is killing you, and you can't get over the temper tantrum the boss threw at the office. What you need, buddy, is a nice massage—or maybe some yoga. Or maybe both. Though a lot of the clients at the six-year-old Ojas Wellness Center come directly to one of its three Baltimore centers—which offers everything from massage and yoga to skin care and waxing, Pilates, and various health-related workshops—they also offer massage therapists and yoga instructors who visit their clients' homes. They've even sent out an acupuncturist. "We've seen all kinds of people," says Ojas owner Kelly Wilkes. "We have worked a lot in-home with elderly people who can't get out of the house and pregnant women," she says. "We also work with patients who are recovering from an injury, and I personally worked for a long time with a quadriplegic patient who needed special care."
If the yoga and massage combination sounds a little weird (typically at $70-90 per hour), it shouldn't—both will help you relax and get in tune with your body. So as long as you have enough space for them, they can bring a portable table, all the necessary lotions, and even some soothing music to get in the mood. It's all about the "fluid of life," the supposed translation of the word Ojas from Sanskrit, or so goes the company line: "Through regular massage, organic skin care, yoga and Pilates classes, and acupuncture, you maximize the body's essential energy, bringing you back to your natural state of perfect health," it claims. That does sound pretty nice, though, right? Especially when it comes to you. After 12 hours of small wins, losses, and draws in your stressful private and professional life, it's a great way to end the day.
Chef Kim Tyrie, Personal Chef
Sure, Kim Tyrie of The Virginia Daughter, A Personal Chef Service, can whip up a mean dinner right in your own kitchen for any special occasion, but, when asked, she also offers a novel twist: stirring American history into the mix.
She's cooked for bridal showers, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and other special family occasions. But as a student of Colonial times who grew up near Williamsburg, Virginia, her real love is creating 18th century recipes using authentic ingredients, pewter and period china, even dressing in period costumes to serve up her Colonial-themed dinners and tea parties.
"I come from a long line of great Southern cooks—my company name is dedicated to my grandmother—and have a special interest in 18th century cooking, tea parties, the old recipes, and so forth," she says. "I enjoy dressing up for the period dinners, too—it's like going back in time for the evening."
For the Kingsville mother of two college-aged boys and former legal secretary, word has spread quickly of her prowess in the kitchen. "I love to cook and feed people and entertain, and friends began to ask me to help them cook for events, all volunteer of course," she says. "So I decided to make it a business."
Holly Millman, Organizer
With a background in both psychology and education and 20 years of experience in the corporate world, Holly Millman seems to have what it takes to get things done. And in her latest incarnation as a personal organizer, she also has what it takes to make you get things done and turn the kitchen junk drawer that is your life into something frightenly tidy.
No, she won't go through your junk mail for you every day and she won't follow your toddler around picking up discarded toys and putting them back. What she will do is teach you how to keep your time, space, materials, and information in order (at $65 an hour). Her goal is to give you the skills to bring order to your life where there was once only chaos, whether it's help with paperwork overload, getting your 6th grader to do his homework, or sorting out a houseful of dusty memoribilia you haven't looked at in years. But Millman isn't just about working with private individuals in their homes: She also gets things organized in the business world.
For one recent client, her success with the business owners' smart but distracted children inspired them to bring her into the family's catering business as a consultant. "I helped them with their staffing, organizational charts, filing systems, and business plan," says Millman. "Then I went into the homes of the company officers and principals and did the same sort of thing for their personal systems and spaces."
"The people who come to me are typically highly intelligent but don't have the skills to manage their time and information and work space. I help them function better in their lives. The same is true with kids—they're the reason I left commercial real estate, so I could use my background in psychology and education and work with young people again. The kids I work with test very high but often have frustrating functionality and organization challenges associated with attention deficit disorder. As for the adults, that problem doesn't just go away because you got older."
With Millman's coaching, her adult and child clients create efficient systems so everything can get done in a timely manner, which relieves stress. (No, really, it does.) It also means you might have a little extra time for you. Imagine that.