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For Rent: Aides, Wingmen, Husbands

Service providers run errands and do odd jobs for the not so rich and famous.

September 06, 2006|Cynthia H. Cho | Times Staff Writer

June Saruwatari is so organized that she has made a business of it. The owner of Organizing Maniac clocks 12-to-16-hour days helping other people eliminate clutter, set up filing systems and learn to manage their time.

But even the tidier-than-thou have their limits.

Saruwatari didn't have time the other day to hang around her Los Feliz home waiting for a repairman. So she summoned Gofer Girls, a Los Angeles company that does errands for $30 an hour.

"I run a business," Saruwatari said. "I value my time."

The rich and famous have long understood the value of hiring people to handle their chores. They call them servants or, in Hollywood, personal assistants. But now regular people are doing the math and increasingly are outsourcing life's tedious tasks to an army of small businesses.

Need someone to drive your pet around town? There's the pet chauffeur service that promises to lug Fifi to the vet or the airport.

Need help working through the honey-do list around the house? Rent a husband. For a small fee, he can rearrange the living room furniture or clean out the rain gutters. And you don't have to worry about fighting him for the remote.

Some people are so lacking in time or social skills that they can't find their own dates for a night on the town. A "female wingman" is ready to come to the rescue.

Long workdays and two-career couples have created a market for all sorts of service providers. The assistance business is becoming so common that Working Mother magazine's September issue printed a tip sheet for moms seeking professional errand help.

Using companies such as Gofer Girls can be an efficient use of talent and time, academics say.

It's the classic Economics 101 example of opportunity cost: Michael Jordan can probably mow his lawn faster than anyone else, but is doing so the best use of his time? (You answered correctly if you selected: No, he should hire someone to mow so that he could do something else, such as film a Hanes underwear commercial.)

Lisa Ristorucci came up with the idea for Gofer Girls when she was an English literature major at UCLA. She worked summers in medical offices booking appointments, dealing with patients -- and picking up the doctors' dry cleaning.

"That was where the seed was planted," Ristorucci said. "I saw how busy professionals are." Retrieving dry cleaning is one of Gofer Girls' most-requested services, along with shopping for groceries and picking up goods at department stores.

Hollywood resident Pamela Rich got hooked during a bout of poor health. The 39-year-old Realtor hired Gofer Girls to pick up some food and medicine.

But Rich, who puts in 10 hours a day during the week and often works weekends, found herself calling Gofer Girls again and again to drop off shoes for repair, deliver gifts and run assorted errands.

"I'm a busy single girl, so I first started by asking Lisa to get me cases of water and things like that," Rich said. "And then she started sitting some open houses. From there, it's kind of a decadent thing, but I got used to it."

Susan George's Marina del Rey-based company, Pet Taxi, shuffles animals wherever their owners want them to go, including veterinarian offices, dog parks or grooming salons.

Most trips within Los Angeles County start at $55 an hour. A chauffeur can wait for a pet outside a vet's office or bring a pet to the airport and send it away (about $95 for Los Angeles International Airport). Pet Taxi also whisks pets to owners who are on vacation.

George, 57, said her company made nine to 15 trips daily. Although she wouldn't disclose financial information, she said Pet Taxi had been more successful than she thought it would be when she bought it seven years ago.

"It's been paying the mortgage ever since," the Marina del Rey resident said, adding that the job has it ups (going to movie stars' homes) and downs (picking up sick pets and consoling the owners).

John de Graaf, editor of a collection of essays titled "Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America," is disturbed by the upswing in such services.

"I don't think this is a good idea," said De Graaf, a Seattle television producer of the PBS specials "Running Out of Time" and "Affluenza." "We will be much better rounded and happier people if we work less and grow some of our own food, cook some of our own food, learn to do things ourselves."

Kaile Warren believes that people these days don't have the "time, tools or talent" to do some things for themselves. In 1996, he founded Rent-A-Husband with those people in mind.

"People used to be do-it-yourself homeowners," he said. "But now, they're do-it-for-me homeowners."

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