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A pair of ducks? Sure!

Research has shown that if 300 middle-management employees take an hour off a week to buy their groceries or pay bills, a company stands to lose over Rs 12 lakh a year, writes Venetia D'Souza.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2008 00:44 IST
Venetia D'Souza

What would you do if you had just walked out of a broken marriage with a three-month-old baby, had a great business idea and just Rs 5,000 to get you started? Well, if you believe in 42-year-old Dipali Sikand's don't-stop-to-think-just-go-by-your-gut formula, you'd simply dive headfirst. And her 12-year-old, 14-city, Rs 300-crore international concierge company Les Concierges stands testament to her conviction.

Put simply, a concierge service runs errands and fulfills requests — anything from paying bills to walking dogs. Research has shown that if 300 middle-management employees take an hour off a week to buy their groceries or pay bills, a company stands to lose over Rs 12 lakh a year.

And that's where Sikand comes in, with three broad categories of services — errands, entertainment and support services.

As she sits in her 14,000 sq ft office at Koramangala in Bangalore, Sikand recalls how she started out of a one-room apartment, with just one trusted worker known as Boogie to run errands. "It's even tougher when you have no brand name to back you. People even found it difficult to pronounce the company name. They would often say 'Less' Concierges and I would remind them that we are more, not less," she chuckles.

But the mispronounced name was the least of Sikand's hurdles. With the concierge service segment growing by 40 per cent annually, she knew an innovative list of services alone would get clients streaming in. Live the life of a rock star for a day, a private tour of Kensington Palace, an archaeological dig through the Gobi desert, procure a pair of ducks for a marriage proposal or order an ostrich feather bag from New Zealand. “You really don't have the luxury of turning down a request. You're expected to be a miracle worker,” she says.

Within the first year she had a taut business network in place. She then set about expanding her business offerings with Ms Money Penny — a front office outsourcing service.

As word got around, so did the business. Soon Wipro, IBM, Microsoft, and Hewlett Packard had concierge desks at their offices, paying Sikand a monthly retainer fee. "You don't need a lot of capital to start off because the retainer fee covers all your basic costs," says Sikand.

Today her 3,000-strong company is in the process of expanding to Philadelphia, New York and the Canadian border and has a top-secret list of celebrities like Tiger Woods and the Manchester United team. “We've reached a stage where our international presence will soon supercede our national presence and I think that's a tremendous achievement for Dipali,” says Atul Ghosh, National Head, Les Concierges (Live).

Sikand believes it’s her employees who’ve got her this far. “I’m grateful to the postman who delivers clients’ letters and the field executives who book tickets. My business would be nowhere without them,” she says.

But Sikand is not resting easy. “I’m constantly thinking of what else I can introduce tomorrow,” she says. Special Occasions for Men Service (meant to rescue men from all those sticky forgotten birthdays), and travel packages to lesser-known Indian cities are some of the new services to be on offer by the year-end.

Veer away from work and Sikand will gush about her “terribly supportive” husband and two children. “My mother has taken her business from absolutely nothing to an international network. I hope to achieve as much as her when I grow up,” says 12-year-old Aditya. And she ensures that she takes time off on cross-country caravan trips with the family. “No matter what my business commitments, the family will always come first,” she says.