Whether it’s backstage passes for a Beyoncé concert, a holiday on your own private island in the Maldives or a table at the hottest new restaurant in London before its official opening, Quintessentially has built a hugely successful business around a little black book of lifestyle contacts that opens up ultra-exclusive experiences for its members around the world.
So what happened when the COVID-19 pandemic halted international travel, dining, entertaining – virtually everything the business revolves around – overnight?
“Suddenly, we didn’t have anybody trying to organize holidays or book restaurants because these simply didn’t exist for a period of time,” Quintessentially’s International Managing Director, Sam Bolton, tells The CEO Magazine. “We had to very quickly pivot towards what was both of interest to our members and still available to access.”
It was then that a company-wide ethos of ‘lifeline, not just lifestyle’ was born, as Quintessentially’s global workforce of 450 lifestyle managers, specialists and advisers picked up the phone to call their members around the world to find out how they could help ease the challenges of this unprecedented period.
“We found ourselves organizing online tutors for members’ children who were stuck at home all day, or repatriating elderly parents who may have been abroad,” Bolton continues. “We also kept up communication on the health front, with updates about vaccines and where our members should go or who they should speak to in order to access what they needed.”
What was, at the time, seen as a temporary shift has now become a permanent part of Quintessentially’s core business: its concierge offering. “We thought we would just go back to our ‘ordinary’ work of facilitating the extraordinary,” Bolton reflects. “But this has really become an additional string to our bow.”
Particularly in countries where the concept of concierge is already well established – such as the United States and the United Kingdom – these “functional” requests, as Bolton calls them, have started to grow.
“More and more members are reaching out for things they wouldn’t previously have done,” he says. “For instance, we have a specialist education department in the United Kingdom that helps the children of the global elite identify the right schools or thrive at university, and so on. During the pandemic, many more members began to rely upon our education specialists to guide them and their children through the rapid changes to the school and exam systems, and they have continued to do so now things have gone back to relatively normal.”
For corporate clients, the big businesses who take up a membership for its senior management team, this value-add is a serious perk. “They may not be the stories that would make the front page of The Daily Mail in the same way as flying teabags to Madonna in New York would, but it’s the type of service that, intrinsically, is of much more worth to our members.”
Bolton says that since resourcefulness is a hallmark of every Quintessentially team member, the shift from “glamorous” to now also encompassing “functional” was relatively seamless. It also helps that, as a team, “we also hate the answer no”, he explains.
Bolton shared some of the new functional concierge requests Quintessentially’s lifestyle managers around the world were receiving.
“In December 2021, a member in the United States requested a decorator to outfit the exterior of his mother’s house with lights, a nine-foot [2.75 meter] tree and a manger. Crucial was the requirement that the decorator made no direct contact with the client’s mother, who was still shielded due to the pandemic. The same client also asked their dedicated lifestyle manager to find and modify an affordable handicap-accessible vehicle for his mother,” he says.
“Another member asked their lifestyle manager to plan a four-month remote working trip across the United States for himself, his wife and their two dogs. At the start of each week, the lifestyle manager sent through an updated itinerary detailing upcoming stops, suggestions for sights, activities, restaurants, campsites and hotels and more.
“And in Croatia, a member couple have turned to their lifestyle manager to liaise with approved agencies to create a short list of potential nannies for the upcoming birth of their first child.”
Today, Bolton’s role is to oversee the 30 partner offices that are structured as franchises, separate from the seven hub offices that the group wholly owns. But having started out as a lifestyle manager himself when he first joined the company in the mid-2000s, Bolton perfectly epitomizes the Quintessentially spirit with his particular aversion to the word “no”.
“I remember taking a call on the night of December 23 during my first year with the company,” he recalls. “At the other end of the line was one of our members saying that, thanks to us, they had managed to secure a Hèrmes Birkin [handbag] in Paris for their partner for Christmas, but that they couldn’t get across the English Channel to collect it in time themselves.”
That was at 7pm in the evening. Twelve hours later, on Christmas Eve, Bolton found himself on the Eurostar speeding towards Paris. “Hèrmes sent a car to pick me up and I was greeted in the store with a glass of champagne,” he says with a smile.
“The member had biked their credit card and passport over for me to pay with, and once I’d made the purchase, I jumped on the train back to London and dropped the handbag off to them that evening.” From there, he headed to join his own family’s festive celebrations.
But while Bolton reports a rise in the concept of functional concierge requests, there’s still a huge appetite for the lifestyle services Quintessentially unlocks for its members – and not only in established centers like London and Dubai.
In countries where the concept of the luxury lifestyle is still fairly nascent, Bolton says the Quintessentially team often act as introduction agents into the type of exclusive experiences money can buy.
“Essentially, we’re saying to our members, ‘You’ve got this wealth and we’ve got the expertise on how you can best make use of it.’”