Superwoman Takes Care of the Little and
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.
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
Sherry LaReaux is a freelance writer based in Rockville, MD.
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