Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

A big idea

Posted by shannonclark on August 16, 2004

To big for just myself, so I’m writing up my first thoughts here and hopefully will get someone interested in working on them further. These are inspired by the August 2004 issue of Trendwatching from the UK which is one of the most useful, well written and interesting news letters I get via email (and is free which makes it even better and more astonishing).

The idea is inspired by their recent discussion of the trend of 5 star hotels partnering with developers and opening up residences (often called “The Residences”) that are attached to and serviced by the services of the hotel. Offering a new form of urban living which they point out is very different from gated communities and also well suited to the needs of duel-income families (catering from 4 star restaurants, full 5 star hotel ammenities such as large spas and health clubs, possibly even maid service).

Trendwatching then suggests “why doesn’t someone offer 3-star service on a street by street basis”?

Ah-ha goes a little light bulb in my head – indeed, why doesn’t someone offer this?

What I envision would be:

– An urban service offering, perhaps starting with high rises around Chicago, but possibly best suited for loft developments and/or low rise condo buildings – especially in areas such as the West Loop, Bucktown, Wicker Park and the South Loop. Areas that while filling up with upscale homes and condos, are lacking many of the convienances of other parts of the city (nearby dry cleaners, groceries, drug stores etc).

– The service would be a bundle of offerings – maid service, handyman/engineer on call, groundskeepers (snow removal, watering of plants indoors and out, landscaping), grocery delivery, meal delivery from a number of restaurants that might not otherwise deliver, concierge service for help with party planning, event tickets, restaurant suggestions/reservations.

– The service would be priced on a monthly minimum basis with additional services added to a monthly bill and reconciled (potentially charges over a certain amount would be secured by a credit card – but part of the point would be ease of use). Probably the marketing would be to condo associations suggesting that this be added to the association fees, perhaps offsetting some current association costs such as snow removal etc.

– It might be difficult to assemble the “right” mix of services, but my thought would be to start with “best of breed” providers currently in each area, negotiate a level of service from the, negotiate bundled pricing and then work on the details. For example the offering might allow for health club membership at an upscale, in neighborhood health club without requiring an initiation fee or yearly contract (other than the contract with this service – though “full membership” in the health club might be an add-on)

– The philosophy of the service would be service. It would be very people intensive, but if successful would have a great deal of scale to offer to help offset those costs. For example, maid service negotiated on a building by building basis would allow a small set of maids (cleaning professionals) to work very effectively setting up a schedule for an entire building instead of traveling to different locations across the city multiple times each day. Likewise if all the buildings on a given block hired the same snow removal/landscaping services snow plowing and lawn mowing could (at least for common areas such as sidewalks) be much faster as well as more effective overall in adding value to the neighborhood.

– If done well and as I envision, this would help discourage “gated communities” and enhance the value of non-gated, smaller condo/loft buildings. Potentially the service could also offer value-added services such as a common package room on each block (or very near to each block) with pre-negotiated agreements with major package delivery services to leave packages with the package service if residents are not home (instead of leaving notes attached to the door requiring running back and forth and many calls to eventually get the package)

In short this service might help transform neighborhoods of low-rise development into “virtual” 5-star (or at least 3-4 star) high rise building living, with at least some of the features also pulled from the concepts of the 5-star residences that Trendwatching is tracking.

As I am considering moving from a high rise with many ammenities to a low rise, smaller building, this is something that I am giving a lot of thougth and consideration to – how much do I value the building ammenities such as the package room and having engineers on call (though not free). Will having more space and more ammenities in my home make up for a lack of them in the overall building? (I’m looking at a place nearly 3 times as large as my current condo).

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