DURHAM — Tina Travis had been laid off from her job as a merchandising manager for Performance Bicycle, and she was moving forward in an interview process with a big company that could offer her a six-figure salary.
But after spending 25 years in the merchandising industry, Travis wasn’t feeling it.
She didn’t want to buy another shoe, another sweater or select clothing lines two seasons ahead.
“My heart left it,” said Travis, 49.
So over the summer of 2009, Travis explored potential franchise opportunities. But she kept shying away from the large investment they required.
Meanwhile, neighbors in her Chancellor’s Ridge neighborhood in Durham asked her to help them with various tasks, such as opening the door for a furniture delivery or giving them a ride to therapy after a hip operation.
Finally, a neighbor said Travis should be errand girl for Chancellor’s Ridge.
“It was ... like the heavens opened up,” Travis said. “I was like, ‘No. I am not going to be errand girl of Chancellor’s Ridge. I am going to be errand girl of Durham.’”
In October of 2009, Errand Girl concierge services was born. Nearly four years later, Travis employs seven part-timers. In July, Errand Girl moved from Travis’ home and having employee meetings at coffee shops to an office on Highgate Drive, just off N.C. 54 in southern Durham.
Errand Girl services – most of which cost $25 per hour, plus mileage and require 48-hours notice – include school car pool, orthodontist appointments and after-school activities. The business’s employees can stand in for a receptionist, pick people up at the airport, go grocery shopping, walk dogs, host events, clean up after Thanksgiving dinner, serve as notaries and even babysit.
“We provide task services to help busy families and small businesses,” Travis said.
To start her business, Travis invested in business cards, magnets for her car and commercial insurance. She told her company’s story and distributed business cards at coffee shops, salons and at various networking opportunities.
Travis’ first customer was her hair stylist, who needed someone to shop for supplies and decorations for a breakfast she was hosting.
“It was fun,” Travis said.
Meanwhile, Travis joined a Durham chapter of Business Networking International, a networking and referral program. Travis said BNI, which emphasizes word-of-mouth referrals among chapter members who pay dues, was a perfect fit. Since Errand Girl was picking up strangers’ children and going into their homes, she knew it needed recommendations from trusted sources.
“I realized that the way Errand Girl was going to connect with Durham was through a personal endorsement,” Travis said.
By December 2009, Travis had hired two part-time employees help with the after-school pickup rush. She paid for commercial insurance on their vehicles as she established systems that ranged from accounting to safety procedures. She also set up standards on how to greet clients.
“You have to set your foundation,” Travis said. “The stronger your foundation is, the better your business is going to be because you have a system to fall back on.”
Errand Girl averages about 12 appointments a day, but Travis expects that to increase during the homecoming and holiday seasons.
“Right there before Thanksgiving – when nobody wants to do their Thanksgiving shopping, or pick up their relatives from the airport or prep their house for their relatives to come,” Travis said.