The Changing World Of The Private Service Industry
But just as there will always be people to pay for fine whisky and beachside estates, there will always be people in need of good, qualified help. These days with the advances in communication, finding good help is no longer just a question of word of mouth. I recently chatted with David M. Bertnick, the president of IAPSP, a non-profit, trade association for the aggregate private service community, about the changing face of private service. The IAPSP is holding the 2009 IAPSP Inaugural Conference for Private Service next month, October 9-11 in Dallas Texas. Mr. Bertnick has served as a household manager, estate manager and personal assistant and has trained many others in the art of private service.
1. What exactly does your organization, the International Association for Private Service Professionals, do?
Established in 2006, the IAPSP is a non-profit, member-based, trade association for private service. It provides a platform for developing professionalism and leadership skills in the delivery of estate service. The IAPSP works to increase confidence, competency and skill by engaging its members in leadership opportunities, providing peer-to-peer networking, and sharing service knowledge within its ranks. Much of this work is done over the telephone and via the internet; however, our local chapters in Los Angeles and San Francisco meet monthly to learn from experts who provide products or services to the Luxury Market. Once a year, we produce a conference and invite the community to join us for the weekend event.
2. As you and I discussed earlier, the private service industry has changed a lot since Robert Frank wrote about it as the industry everyone was trying to get into back in 2007 as part of the research for his book "Richistan." How would you characterize the industry now?
One thing that hasn't seemed to change is the desire to break into our industry. Unfortunately, in the past, many have seen Private Service as a "fall-back" career, expecting that if worse came to worse they could "always be a domestic." This time, it hasn't worked out that way for individuals who are inexperienced or untrained in the art of private service. It seems a large portion of the wealth class has experienced the benefits of professional-level service in their homes and now has higher expectations. Even though many of them have scaled back the size of their estates - and the support staff required to operate them - they have kept the bar high in terms of who they will accept as service staff. A focus on quality, experience and expertise is now being applied to the search for estate staff as with any other type of expenditure.
3. Are private service professionals finding that their job responsibilities have shifted with the economy? Are they responsible for more?
Yes. This is always the case when any employer cuts back and re-assigns their workforce. Fortunately, professional level service providers pride themselves on being multi-talented and flexible and many have adjusted just fine. Others among us, however, tend to take on a bit more than they can handle in an effort to please their principals. It is more important now, more than ever, for these members to find positive ways to communicate their discomfort and pace themselves – burn out is damaging, inefficient and costly to the employee and employer alike. It serves no one and no worthy purpose.
4. What would you tell people who are thinking of making the leap into the private service industry?
Things are beginning to improve, but the demand is still lower than usual and the qualification requirements are high. Most importantly, Private Service not an easy "hold-over" or "glamour" type career. It is demanding work and hiring someone new is a very personal and emotional thing for most employers; a process they don't care to go through repeatedly. Unless you have very strong connections or specific skills or qualifications that make you really stand out, you should wait at least six months a to year and then ask yourself if this is a career that you can honestly commit to.
5. What advice do you give people who are looking for private service personnel?
Be clear about your needs. Be realistic with your expectations. Use proper industry titles. Be patient with the process. Remember that even though the service professional operates in your personal space, your relationship with them should remain professional. And finally... as with any specialized service, you get what you pay for.
6. What trends are you seeing in the service industry? Is the changing technology making a difference in terms of what people are required to manage?
More sophistication always requires new knowledge and maintenance procedures. Fortunately, we are seeing the introduction of technology specialists who help to keep much of it under control. It is similar to the past, when the introduction of electricity to private estates spawned the need for an electrician who could install and maintain the wires.
As to recent trends, there is a wide-variety of management software coming out right now that is designed to assist the private service professional with keeping track of everything. None of them actually "manage" the Estate, they all merely assist a living manager. Some programs are as simple as a fancy version of PDA software featuring calendars and file organizers. Others offer a user friendly model for cataloging household standards, keeping inventories organized, printing shopping lists and task sheets as needed. The higher end software products include options for tracking complex projects or events and are often web-enabled, notifying your housekeepers and gardeners of any special needs for the day via SMS or email. It seems there is something for every size and style of estate, or estate management procedure.
It is my hope this doesn't lead to "control-room" estate management, where the manager sits in front of multiple monitors all day, hidden away in a closet, performing data entry tasks and making adjustments to schedules for estates spread across the globe. It sounds much too impersonal for an industry that is most effective, and valued, when it includes that human element of true service.
7. You are running a conference in October for those in the private service industry, what sort of topics will be discussed and who should attend?
Thank you for asking. Our Inaugural Conference for Private Service is called "The Secrets of Service" and will be held in Dallas, Texas 9-11 October 2009. Here's a sample of some of our workshop topics, and the experts who will lead them:
* Mitigating Medical Emergencies - Dr. Dan Carlin, World Clinic. What can the household professional do to lessen the severity of a home medical emergency? Learn from a leader in emergency services.
* Knowledge is Power - Stephanie Breedlove, Breedlove & Associates. Here you will learn the key elements and concepts used to manage HR, Tax and Payroll issues for any size household staff.
* A Celebrity Assistant's Secret to Success - Bonnie Low-Kramen, Personal Assistant. Find out how to effectively manage your time and juggle multiple projects or employer requests without going crazy in the process!
* Image and Ethics in Private Service - Vicky Horner, Professional Domestic Institute and Services. Sustaining the right attitude, and setting and keeping appropriate boundaries can be a challenging. During this workshop you will learn an effective remedy for yours.
* Risk Management - Christie Alderman, Chubb Personal Insurance. Loss comes to every estate. Find ways to manage the effect and lessen the severity by putting proven techniques to work for you.
* Interviewing Skills - Donna Shannon, Coyote Visions Management. Interviews are tough for everyone. Learn valuable skills and practice your new techniques during this eye-opening workshop.
In its first year, "The Secrets of Service" has attracted private service professionals from as far away as Italy, England, Nepal and the Hawaiian Islands. The event is open to the public and registrants include Estate Managers, Property Managers, Butlers, Personal Assistants, Household Managers, Estate Management Couples, Managing Chefs and their staffing agents and educators. We have also received registrations for individuals operating niche businesses within the Luxury Market.
Further details, a complete schedule and registration forms can be found online at: http://www.iapsp.net