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Leisure Management - Aaron Simpson

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Aaron Simpson


Serving canapés in volcanos and carpeting beaches are just some of the services Quintessentially provides for its clients. Co-founder Aaron Simpson talks to Kath Hudson about the concierge service and what wealthy people want

Kath Hudson
Simpson runs a lifestyle service for the super-rich
Quintessentially’s travel arm arranges tailor-made dream trips for its clients
A member might want to meet David Beckham

What is Quintessentially?
We started out as a concierge service, but now we have media, education and real estate businesses. As members begin to ask for things in volume, we create our own vertical markets.
The business is broken down into three main sections. Travel is one of our largest areas and can be anything from a simple flight to an extensive honeymoon or a round the world trip.
We also have an entertainment division, with the inside track on restaurants, clubs, cocktail bars and insider information on cities.

Thirdly, we have a catch-all bucket of lifestyle requests, whether our clients want a plumber, a dog walker, an experienced event manager, or to meet a famous golfer or tennis player.

Does the subscription reflect the level of service clients receive?
Membership starts at £5,000, rising to between £25,000 and £50,000 a year. We have two main levels. The first is a dedicated service where clients are looked after by an account manager who has an in-depth understanding of their needs and what’s happening in their fields of interest. So, if they like golf, then maybe we’d organise a ticket to a Wentworth charity tournament; or a backstage pass for a theatre or pop performance, if that’s their preference.
The second level is the elite level, where the client is dealt with by multiple account managers in multiple cities. This is a jet-setting clientele with multiple homes around the world.

The elite level is by invitation only. We have 30 or 40 members in each city. They can get whatever they want.

When and why did you decide to set up a concierge service?
Ben Elliot, Paul Drummond and I came up with the idea while sitting around a coffee table in my old office in Golden Square, London. Initially, we planned to set up an online members club for accessing pre-market retail items. It was 2000, when doing a website was an expensive hobby. We quickly realised this service would be a waste of time so we developed the idea into an offline private club designed to help people access the inaccessible.

American Express was doing it at the time, but they had an inventory to sell and we don’t operate like that.

It soon took off and we opened the New York office in 2002. Now we have 70 global offices and 3,000 employees.

What are and have been the main challenges?
We’ve weathered a couple of recessions in the past. The biggest ongoing challenge is maintaining the quality of service globally. Maintaining high levels of service, innovation and engagement, as well making sure that the lifestyle specialists are fulfilling the needs of our clients, presents a massive policing job, which is a constant challenge.

What training do your staff have?
We do our training in-house and look for people who strive for excellence at all times. They are trained for two to three months and mentored by a current employee, so there is vast knowledge sharing. We also have a database which has 15 to 20 years of information and is an invaluable tool. We’ve usually been asked for something before and can provide answers within seconds.

What sort of requests do you receive and can you always accommodate them?
Restaurants are still the most frequent requests, closely followed by travel. We never say no if we can help it, but sometimes we have to offer an alternative. Often it’s for the simplest requests, like a booking to the hottest restaurant in London at the time. Sometimes the restaurant just does not have a table – and we do stop short of building an extension – but we’re always able to accommodate our clients with something equally as good. It’s a case of supply and demand and sometimes demand is so overwhelming you have to supply an alternative.

It’s not common for people to ask to meet a celebrity or sportsperson, but it happens at least 100 times a year. Sometimes they want to connect for charitable purposes. We did a private dinner for the opening of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and held a charity event. JK Rowling came along and we raised a lot of money for children’s charities. It could be a request for a kickaround in the back garden with David Beckham, or a fashion show with Karl Lagerfeld.

How can you facilitate those sorts of requests with celebrities?
Ah, that’s our business! We build great relationships with all our suppliers and maintain those relationships because we deliver on our word.

Some of the celebrities and sports people are also our clients.

Building up good relationships is vital though. It used to be the three founders going to restaurants and clubs every night, but now we have a team of younger people, with far more energy.

What do you look for in a supplier?
There’s a well-trodden path to our supplier relationships. We have a business development team for interested companies to get in touch with and we are always looking for new and exciting colleagues to partner with. Partners need to be well regarded, have a great track record in delivering what they say they’re going to deliver and be willing to go the extra mile when we require it.

How do you find your members?
Members tend to come to us. We do run events and some PR and marketing, but overall allow our members tend to introduce people.

We’re growing at 30 per cent per annum, and it’s not just elite either. Yes, we do have extremely wealthy people at the top end, but we also have young architects and professionals. We’re very much about getting the right people to use the services and add value to their lives.

Everyone wants expertise in their lives. There is digitisation going on in our industry, but when you’re booking a vacation or making a real estate purchase, you might want to talk to someone who has the expertise to help you make the right decision. We can provide a knowledgeable sounding board to help someone make a well informed decision quickly – more so than a computer.

What plans do you have going forward?
We’re looking to become operators. We’re building a mega yacht and we’re looking at the hotel space, private clubs – and we already have an offer on a property in Hong Kong.

Extravagant requests

• A member wanted to watch a romantic movie on a beach near the restaurant he had booked, but didn’t want to get sand on his feet, so the restaurant staff covered the beach with carpets.

• One member’s 12-year-old daughter’s hero is JK Rowling. Quintessentially made her dream come true by arranging a meeting.

• A James Bond-obsessed member wanted to do something special for his birthday, so Quintessentially arranged a Bond experience which involved a high-speed car chase in a special edition Aston Martin.

 



A Quintessentially member got to meet JK Rowling

Quintessentially Insights
12% increase in requests related to spa, nutrition and wellness

20% decrease in nightlife requests, corresponding with the ‘health is wealth’ trend

20% increase in educational experiences

55% increase in experiential opportunities compared to luxury goods

18% increase in requests relating to the finest jewellery and watches

15% in foreign spend in UK on luxury goods from the Far East

The health effect

• The “Waitrose effect” is now the “health effect”, as people become more concerned with their lifestyles. We are seeing a strong trend for living more healthily, with a 30 per cent increase in people investing in property near parks, the river, gyms, yoga studios and wholefood outlets and juice bars.

• Extravagance and luxury is a longstanding trend among billionaires that is unlikely to change, but now they are looking for status outside the possession of luxury goods. Status is now “who I am” rather than “what I have”.

 



People are more invested in their health
A Quintessentially trip

• Eat canapés, drink champagne and listen to an opera singer during a private tour of the magma chamber in a dormant Icelandic volcano

• Dive with whales in Tonga, with the experience captured by an award-winning marine photographer

• Travel across the North Pole on a dog sled to look for polar bears

• Have the near-exclusive use of a tropical African island

 



Some members want to scour the North Pole for polar bears

Originally published in Leisure Management 2018 issue 1
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