- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

WASHINGTON AT WORK

Scott Kerman makes a living doing other people's errands.
Personal Attention Inc., a personal concierge service he founded 14 years ago, does everything from home organizing, furniture moving and housesitting to automobile pickup and drop-off, personal shopping and handyman work.
"We act a lot as a personal assistant," Mr. Kerman says.
On this day he is visiting Ardie Jackson, an elderly woman who has someone from Personal Attention accompany her to her neighborhood stores once a week.
"They've been my salvation," says Mrs. Jackson, who has been using the service since March.
She's just one of the more than 1,000 clients who pay Personal Attention for just that: personal attention.
"We set this business up to be professional but the goal is to be an extended family member," says Adrienne Kerman, Mr. Kerman's wife, who owns Personal Attention and runs the operation behind the scenes.
The hour or so visit with Mrs. Jackson includes a walk to the drugstore to pick up a prescription, to the market for her weekly groceries and to the library for a new book.
Mr. Kerman, 35 and his client banter like old pals. They've never met before but have spoken on the phone several times.
Mrs. Jackson, who has a bad back, needs help getting up and down the stairs, reaching cans on high shelves and holding the bags from her shopping excursion.
This isn't a typical day for Mr. Kerman. He is usually answering phone calls, out meeting new clients or spreading the word about Personal Attention. But from time to time he doesn't mind rolling up his sleeves, too.
The company is housed on the lower level of the Kermans' Bethesda home. The basement has been transformed into a two-room call center where they both answer calls and connect up clients with the more than 100 independent contractors.
The contractors, who are not employees, range from retirees and housewives to college students, sales people and executives.
"We try to find the person who will fit that job best," says Mrs. Kerman, 31.
Although the contractors' schedules are in a database in the computer, the couple also has an easy-to-read erasable board on the wall a cheat sheet to show them quickly what's happening with each client.
On this busy day Personal Attention has about 50 active jobs that include housesitting, some light furniture moving, home-office work and grocery shopping.
The list of chores usually runs the gamut. Some of the most popular errands include waiting for the cable company at a client's house, personal shopping or bring-ing a client's car to the Motor Vehicle Inspection station.
While the cost of the service varies, the average price is about $25 an hour. The car inspection costs $80. Light moving or handyman work could be $35 or more per hour. Mrs. Jackson pays $50 a week for the service, which entitles her to a two-hour visit with Personal Attention.
The contractors get about 60 to 65 percent of the cost of the job.
"People are shifting their priorities a bit," says Mrs. Kerman. "When their professional life cuts into their personal life, they will write a check to have someone else do [their errands]."
Personal Attention's face-to-face contact with a client usually ends after an initial meeting when the client first signs on with the company. Personal Attention has house and car keys and credit cards of many of their clients who want the work done without being bothered.
Their clients request the service either on a regular basis like Mrs. Jackson or retain the company for individual chores.
"People are starting to realize their time is more precious," Mr. Kerman says.
Personal Attention has added 200 new clients this year and just won an exclusive contract to handle the concierge service for Charles E. Smith Residential Realty Inc., which has more than 20,000 apartment units. The Kerman's are even looking into expanding to other cities including Boston, Chicago, New York and Seattle.
That's a far cry from the number of clients when Mr. Kerman started the business after he graduated from American University. He was living with his sister at the time and in exchange for rent he did about 20 hours per week of errands and chores for her. As a result Personal Attention was born.
In the company's 14-year span Mr. Kerman has had his share of outrageous requests.
Personal Attention has saved pews at church during crowded holiday Masses, shipped a client's entire wardrobe via Federal Express to where she was staying in Florida upon her request and picked up a stranded motorist at 3 a.m. One client even asked the company to write a "Dear John" e-mail letter to her boyfriend. For $75, Personal Attention did it.
The Kerman's, who have 18-month-old twin boys, use their own service to manage their time, too, admitting that it's a necessity for their busy lives.
"We utilize this company," Mrs. Kerman says. "You can only do so much in a day."


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