Superwoman Takes Care of the Little and
Big Details

By Sherri LaReaux


Too much to do and not enough time to do it? Call Ellen Epstein to do it for you. Owner of Concierge America, Epstein would be well-suited in a cape and superhero outfit. There's practically nothing this Washington woman can't or won't do for her clients.

Like most business ideas, Concierge America started simply enough. Back in the days before website shopping, a friend who was recently appointed as ambassador to the European Union asked Epstein to go to Neiman-Marcus and pick up a certain dress for his wife. "There must be a market for people who aren't members of the State Department," thought Epstein, and with a friend, the idea for an ex-patriot concierge service blossomed. Advertisements in European publications piqued interest in the company-several clients trickled in, such as an ex-pat in Mogadishu who requested Christmas gifts from the L.L.Bean catalog.

But Epstein and her partner realized they were only scratching the surface. Epstein read somewhere that the White House operators needed only four calls to find anyone in the world. "I wonder why it takes them four," she told her husband. "I could do it in two." So she decided to utilize her skills and broaden the spectrum to cover domestic needs as well.

These days, Epstein, a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), is a one-woman show. She handles the personal affairs of busy people, seniors who need extra organizational assistance and travelers. Her key ring jangles from the weight of 30 different keys--people trust her to pick up the mail, pay bills, and check the answering machine. She draws the line at cleaning other people's homes, however, though she can interview and hire a cleaning professional if a client wishes.

When it comes to challenges, Epstein is afraid of nothing. Once upon a time, a 57-year-old widower hired her to organize his files. He was so pleased with her gung-ho attitude and professionalism, as a single father of four children, and an extremely busy traveler, he made a special request: Find me a wife.

"Sure," Epstein said. "I can take care of any problem you have." Since then, she has passed on the names of six or seven women, including another client for whom she instrumented a move into the DC area. While no wedding bells have sounded for the gentleman yet, "He's having a great time dating," says Epstein. "He has liked every single one of the women I set him up with."

The matrimony request is far from the oddest challenge Epstein has ever encountered. "I had to get somebody a glass eye," she says nonchalantly. Another client hired her to find a machine that would insert tea into tea bags. Epstein laughs about the time a client asked for her help importing a rare bird from Honduras-no easy task, as different ports have varied regulations on whether the imported animal can be the actual bird, an egg or the semen! And then there was the time she was contracted to secure 400,000 barrels of oil overnight, every single day, for three years.

Epstein's success has inspired her own two sons to start a similar company. SilentFrogs.com connects people who have domestic needs, such as raking and bagging leaves or fixing small appliances or picking someone up from the airport, with local individuals who have the time and energy to do those things. At times, Epstein passes along projects to SilentFrog.com, where she can find a person proficient in database entry to computerize a client's address book, or with the muscle to clear out the contents of a basement.

Whether it involves mundane tasks people just don't want to do, or intriguing projects that require serious detective work, Epstein's job isn't suited to everybody. What is it that makes her so effective at getting things done? She says she's learned that most people connect to others quite like themselves, whether professionally or socially. According to the Harvard Six Degrees of Separation Study, most of us tend to move "vertically" through society, associating with those who share common interests.  "Movers and shakers" however, connect with people of many different backgrounds and specializations, moving "horizontally" and serving as people connectors.  As a result, they make excellent problem solvers because they can find people with the right skills for tackling any problem.

"I'm amazed at how many smart people aren't that good at problem solving," says Epstein. "They can't figure out how to go over, under, around or through [a problem]. She understands that her skills are unique and valuable to her clients, and Epstein is proud of her detective skills. "I'm a personal service business," she says. "I make things happen for people."

Her dedication to her job is relentless. Epstein admits that she only gets about four or five hours of rest each night. The business phone in her home rings at all hours of the day and night-and she doesn't seem to mind. Perhaps Epstein's energy and impetus comes from the on-going high-energy challenges that come her way. Currently, an Israeli company has contracted her to write and post job listing for a sales manager, telemarketer and administrative assistant. Epstein will review applications, interview and hire the team, and have them ready to work when the company moves its operations from Israel to New York City within the year.

For more information on Concierge America, visit www.conciergeamerica.com or call 301-986-0418. For more on Silent Frog, visit www.silentfrog.com.


Sherry LaReaux is a freelance writer based in Rockville, MD.
 

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