Kirsten Martin and Anne-Marie Gabrini don’t, typically, book private jets or plan lavish parties for their clients. Rather, as partners in K+A Personal Concierge in Aurora, they’re more apt to help clients with ordinary tasks such as grocery shopping or finding a good electrician.
The two friends launched the business in 2017, after identifying a gap in the marketplace. In York Region, says Martin, “there are so few companies doing what we’re doing.”
Martin had experience in advertising, Gabrini in account management and sales, but neither had run a business before. So, they turned to the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC) for guidance, and enrolled in the Starter Company Plus program.
Starter Company Plus provides financial help, professional mentoring and other assistance to Ontario residents who want to start or expand a business in the province. YSBEC administers the program through funding from the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth.
The program includes eight instructional sessions and the section on operations particularly resonated with Martin and Gabrini. “It made us think that we should incorporate sooner rather than later,” says Martin, noting that they frequently work in clients’ homes and needed to protect themselves from personal liability. Within months of completing the program, the two women had incorporated K+A Personal Concierge, using some of the $5,000 Starter Company Plus grant toward this expense.
The program also helped Martin and Gabrini understand their target customers better. “It reinforced that we’re a viable business,” says Martin. After doing detailed market research, Martin and Gabrini confirmed that their primary customers are busy working moms (not unlike themselves) in two-income households. As well, they discovered that couples without kids make up their secondary market—people who simply need a helping hand, whether it’s walking their dog, coordinating a repair with a tradesperson, or picking up dry cleaning.
Like other participants in Starter Company Plus, Martin and Gabrini put together a business plan that included a two-year financial forecast and a marketing strategy. “The interesting part was going back over it after four or five months,” says Gabrini. “We realized, for example, that print media advertising, a big part of our budget, wasn’t really working for us. So we ended up taking those marketing dollars and putting them toward Google AdWords. That made a big difference.”
As a result, K+A Personal Concierge has extended its reach beyond York Region and serves clients in Toronto and Mississauga. Martin and Gabrini have also hired subcontractors, or “lifestyle managers,” so clients have a main point person, says Martin. “We’ve grown our team,” she says. “We now have two lifestyle managers in downtown Toronto and four in York Region.” Eventually, they want to hire an operations manager so they can pursue more public speaking engagements.
For this industrious duo, spreading the word about how they can help people simplify their lives is just part of doing business.