At Your Service: Online Concierge Business Caters To Vermont Vacationers
Travelers are increasingly booking accommodations in private residences through sites like Airbnb, VRBO or HomeAway — but staying in someone else's house or condo means there’s no front desk to call when you need something.
Online concierge services have been springing up to fill that role, including one that recently expanded into Vermont.
Big international concierge services love to brag on their websites how they’ll do whatever it takes for clients, like arranging a dinner on an iceberg or bringing a baby elephant to a temple in India (really, you can read about that here).
As concierges go, Emma Griffith is no less customer-oriented, but her tasks are a bit more down to earth.
On a recent Saturday morning, she was picking up groceries for a couple renting a condo in Killington, who were staying for a long weekend.
Griffith works for Stock The House, an online concierge service that started last year in New Jersey and last fall began operating in Vermont.
Because the couple Griffith was shopping for wanted organic food, she was doing most of her shopping at the Rutland Area Food Co-Op.
Within 20 minutes, Griffith's small cart was filled with most of the items on her list: eggs, bacon, ground beef, pasta and sauce, coffee, paper towels, salad greens and a baguette.
But the couple had also asked for red, chewy candy.
“Hmmm, do they make organic Swedish Fish? Is that a thing?” asked Griffith with a laugh.
She found a package of red and gold gummy bears and read the label.
“Oh they’re vegan. Well, vegan agave gummy bears? I think these will work,” Griffith said, tossing them into her cart.
Clients who use Stock the House can ask for items like groceries, a la carte, or they can sign up for packages of goods and services, all of which can be delivered right to their door.
The price for this convenience? Twenty percent of whatever is purchased.
Griffith, an 18-year-old college student from southern Vermont, is one of 10 company employees in the state. She earns $20 an hour for her work as a concierge, plus tips and half the service fee.
“Yeah, my friends are all super jealous!” she admits.
Domenica Mastroianni, the company’s co-founder and CEO, says the idea for Stock The House came to her after her second child was born.
“We were at the Jersey Shore at that time and I started to look for people just to help me,” she explained. “A type of service that had a one point of contact to save me the time from having to do all the research, run all the errands, that come with, you know, vacationing in a town that you don’t know as well or staying in a home that's not yours.”
When she couldn’t find the help she was looking for, Mastroianni said, she realized there was potential for a new business.
That was five years ago. Besides New Jersey and now Vermont, Mastroianni said they plan to begin serving two other northeastern states later this year, with more growth planned.
Mastroianni admitted the challenge is anticipating what customers want and having a network of local vendors who can provide it.
“We have to have everything from an in-home masseuse service, a personal chef, bike rentals, power boards, surfboards, access to ski rentals and lift tickets in the winter time, to grocery delivery.”
“And babysitting, that’s huge,” she adds. “Mom and Dad need a night out on vacation, too.”
"The goal is to not waste precious moments of your weekend, your long weekend or your vacation on shopping." — Cheryl Catrambone, a Stock The House client from Peterborough, N.H.
"It just runs a very, very wide range of categories, so that does make it difficult, but I also think that’s what makes our model unique,” Mastroianni said.
Besides local vendors, she says having knowledgeable concierges is also key, and yes, she says they’re hiring.
“We really look for folks that are immersed in the local community and culture and have a vast local network so that they can tap into some of the things vacationers wouldn’t know to tap into,” explained Mastroianni.
The focus on local vendors is something Griffith really likes about the company. So do clients, she says, and local business owners.
Griffith said she approached a local farmer near her home in Halifax, Vermont, about being one of Stock the House's preferred vendors.
“He sells his eggs at the local food co-op, but he has issues selling meat because he only slaughters a few animals per year which isn’t enough for most stores,” she explains.
But Griffith says for the occasional client who wants locally raised beef, it could be perfect.
“And I think shopping from the farmers is the heart of being local, beyond just the co-ops, actually going to the farms,” she says.
Standing outside her car in downtown Rutland, Griffith whipped out her phone one last time to check her shopping list. The last item was a bouquet of fresh flowers, and she’d made a point of ordering it from a new florist in town called Blossoms 'n More.
Blossoms 'n More co-owner Celeste Smith appreciated that and hopes they’ll do a lot more business together.
“I think having a concierge service is going to bring more interest to local Vermont businesses,” Smith said enthusiastically. “I’ve never heard of this, and I think it’s fascinating.”
Thirty minutes later, the bouquet of flowers and organic groceries were in the hands of Griffith’s client, Cheryl Catrambone, of Peterborough, New Hampshire.
Catrambone says her work weeks are crazy busy, so paying extra to have her vacation condo stocked just made sense.
"The price was not an issue at all," she said. "I really am spending very little above and beyond what I would spend in the car anyway. And if you deduct the cost of gas and my time, then I'm spending a lot less. … The goal is to not waste precious moments of your weekend, your long weekend or your vacation on shopping.”
Catrambone says she travels to Vermont a lot and will be using Stock the House again. She just wishes it was available everywhere; With luck, Catrambone adds, it’ll become like Uber.
Correction 9:30 a.m. 02/02/2018 An earlier version of this story stated Stock The House launched five years ago. In fact the idea for the business came five years ago, but the business was launched last year.