‘Errand Girls’ a going, growing concern: SMALL BUSINESS I Local entrepreneurs expand personal concierge service

Saturday, October 30th, 2004


Peggy McConnell runs a personal concierge business, The Errand Girls Services Inc., that will do anything, or find someone who will, for clients. This day’s errand finds her at Capers filling a client’s shopping list.

All the time she was growing up Peggy McConnell’s dad warned her away from a career in a corporate cubicle.

A business owner and entrepreneur himself, he encouraged his daughter to be her own boss.

It took McConnell more than 20 years in the working world to heed his advice but now at 41, she has embraced the frenetic lifestyle of the fledgling entrepreneur with an enthusiasm that would have made her dad proud.

A blond dynamo who doesn’t like to sit still, McConnell has channelled her energy into a service that has her running around for others: The Errand Girls Services Inc. (www.errandgirls.ca). A personal concierge service for time-strapped singles and families, The Errand Girls does everything from stocking fridge shelves to sourcing the best birthday gift.

Along the way they have previewed multi-million homes for particular renters, filled in as black-garbed witnesses for a somewhat unconventional wedding (“that was an easy job. Nothing to do but just stand there,” says McConnell) and rushed forgotten airline tickets out to harried travellers who found themselves ticket-less at the terminal.

It’s a concept that is catching on but still McConnell finds herself explaining her work.

“When people hear concierge they ask what hotel I am with,” she said.

The company evolved from one that McConnell first envisioned would have an event-management focus. When she and her younger sister Joanie McConnell first launched the idea they found themselves helping to run people’s lives.

“When we first started we thought we would be an event-management company but that evolved into errand girls becoming like a personal assistant,” said McConnell. “We realized we were doing more than planning people’s parties — we were managing their lives.”

The pair linked up with Lori Petrie Mock, an event organizer with her own company, Laughing Peach Productions, and McConnell took on business partner Robyn Simons to help provide a full-service organization that would provide everything from party planning to prescription pickup. In its latest coup, The Errand Girls has been named the concierge network affiliate for Vancouver for XPACS (Xtreme Professional Athletic Concierge Services) and it has opened offices in Toronto and Whistler.

“We want to be known as — ‘if we can’t do it, we will find someone reputable to help you,’ ” said McConnell.

McConnell who still has a part-time corporate gig, working three shifts a week in computers at the Workers Compensation Board as a systems operator, said while the company has been running for the past two years, it has really taken off in the past 12 months.

“This last year has been a whirlwind,” she said. “If we can repeat the same success in 2005 that we had in 2004, we’ll be good.”

Like many in today’s corporate world, McConnell was prompted to create her own career by the uncertainty surrounding her job future.

Before she went to Workers’ Comp, she had worked in the information technology department of the Royal Bank, in a job here that disappeared when her department was shifted back east.

Now she worries the work she is doing will join the trend to outsourcing.

“Because of this constant threat in general, of outsourcing, a lot of us are thinking what will we do,” she said.

“We used to joke we’d get a job in the mailroom and now the mailroom is outsourced.”

McConnell, now the mother of two youngsters, aged 10 and 12, didn’t follow her father’s advice at first.

“My father was an entrepreneur who always worked for himself,” said McConnell of her dad, now deceased, who ran a successful cartage firm during his working career.

“He told me to stay away from the corporate world, but of course I fell into it.”

McConnell first ventured into the entrepreneurial world running a bed-and-breakfast from her Ladner home. But when her marriage broke up and the family home was sold, she had to find a new outlet for her business creativity and energy.

“I know my job as it is can’t go on forever,” said McConnell. “I have to be prepared.”

McConnell favours weekend work and nightshifts and a part-time job to free up weekdays to devote to the business.

“I tell people you can call me any time of the day or night, you’ll never know if I’ll be up,” she said.

“The phone starts ringing from Toronto any time after five o’clock in the morning.”

The pace is hectic but with many clients requiring tasks to be fulfilled — everything from watering plants and faxing bills and other important mail to clients in the film industry who are on the road for weeks at a time, to stocking a fridge for someone’s return home, to delivering Krispy Kreme doughnuts — she can plan her own schedule.

She charges $40 an hour on average, with different packages available and gift certificates like the one a Calgary man bought for friends as a present on the birth of their new baby.

McConnell’s office is run from her home on a huge working table, along with computers, faxes, printers and other office paraphernalia, while her two children do homework at one end of the table and the business buzzes around them.

“I guess the whole point of all this is if I wasn’t running this business, I would be running a marathon,” said McConnell. “I have too much energy, it’s not for everybody.

“I could never sit somewhere eight to four.”

As the business grows, McConnell hopes her role will shift to focus on administration for the most part with added staff to take on the job of running hither and thither answering errand requests.

“I don’t want to be running around, I want to spend more time with my children, my goal is to be in the office,” she said.

While McConnell is finding success — “nobody’s starving,” she says of the financial rewards, “just a little hungry once in a while, but it’s good to be hungry because you work all that much harder,” she said, adding an entrepreneur’s existence isn’t for everyone.

“It is all good and well for somebody to say, ‘start your own business,’ but it takes dedication and determination, and I have both.

“I’m definitely not a corporate, sitting in a cubicle, eight-to-four person.”

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