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Where to Shop When You Want to Buy Time : Personal Service Providers Do the Job

January 31, 1991|PAULA M. JHUNG

Julia and Chuck have it all: thriving careers, two children, a three-bedroom ocean-view home in Carlsbad, and a garage full of Boogie Boards, bicycles and backpacking equipment.

Trouble is they have little time to enjoy it.

Julia puts in marathon days as the owner and operator of a string of dance studios, while Chuck is on the road all week as a trouble-shooter for a computer company. Weeknights the couple can be found nuking frozen meals, overseeing homework, and preparing for the next work day.

Weekends are taken up with supervising a house-cleaning and yard service, shopping for groceries, running errands, paying bills and shuttling the kids from piano lessons to the soccer field. There's little time left for the biking, beach and mountains that drew the couple to North County seven years ago.

"We moved here from Manhattan to get out of the rat race," said Julia, "But we seem to have created a suburban version for ourselves out here."

It is the same song being sung by many with overscheduled lives. Besides the demands of jobs and families, there are dogs to be walked, paper work to be handled, thighs to be firmed, and homes, cars and clothes to be maintained.

On top of that, Harris Polls show working hours have increased by 20% in the last 18 years while leisure time has dropped by 32%. In short, there's just too much to do and too little time to do it.

What we all seem to need is a personal shopper, secretary, valet, rolled into one. Someone to take care of all the niggling details that rob us of the time and energy to do the things we really want to do.

Recognizing a market for everyday services, time-convenience peddlers are cropping up all over North County. For $10 to $25 an hour they will do just about anything--from cleaning out the dog run, to doing your grocery shopping, to helping you look like Martha Stewart at your next party.

Here's a sampling:



This 4-year-old Rancho Santa Fe company, made up of husband and wife team Barbara and Michael Armbruster, help clients zero in on their most time-consuming and burdensome jobs, and for $25 an hour, take over.

"We do so much of this stuff we can do it faster and more efficiently than the average person," said Michael. "Time is a valuable commodity. If you're in business, you should focus on business and not waste time on personal errands."

One of their clients, Dr. Harvey Shapiro, dean of clinical affairs and chairman of the department of anesthesiology at UC San Diego Medical Center, says the couple has given him his weekends back. While Michael oversees the remodeling, and will eventually manage the duplex Shapiro owns, Barbara takes care of his grocery shopping, dry cleaning, trips to the vet and dog groomer, gift buying, and other trivia that used to eat up the Del Mar doctor's time.

"If I had asked Barbara to find me a wife, she would have done that too," said Shapiro.

Instead, Barbara is orchestrating the upcoming wedding for the doctor and his busy attorney-fiancee, from finding the wedding gown and addressing invitations to coordinating the caterer, florist and photographer.

Michael, a former concierge at the Hotel Inter-Continental, and Barbara, a former schoolteacher, find tackling clients' daily chores a piece of cake, and welcome the more challenging aspects of the job--like locating a popular model car three days before the luxury tax went into effect.

While her client recovered from an emergency appendectomy in the hospital, Barbara phoned all over the county searching for a Lexus. She was having little luck until she remembered that another one of her clients owned a dealership. She not only found the desired model, color and options, she got a rare discount as well.

Another time the couple sprung a client out of the dog house when he forgot to pack his wife's favorite dress on his way to meeting her in Wisconsin for a formal shindig.

After the panicked client called from a stopover in San Francisco, Michael sped out to Fallbrook, hunted down the neighbor holding the house key, found the dress, shipped it overnight express, and saved a marriage.

"We like the feeling we get from helping someone out in a pinch," Michael said.


726-9509 "The time crunch is grabbing everyone by the juggler," says Joyce Poe, owner of Services Poe-Pourri in Vista.

The one-woman, 1 1/2-year-old operation logs up to 70 hours a week during busy times doing everything from ferrying puppy poop to the vet to be analyzed, to setting up office systems, to shopping for furnishings and art.

"I don't do anything clients can't do themselves," she said. "It's just that they don't have time or the inclination. They don't want to stop at the dry cleaners, the market and the drug store, all the things that are required to make a home run smoothly. What they do want is time to spend with their families."

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