Shop Talk

Running errands, doing mundane chores for others

Nancy Schwartz goes grocery shopping for a client. In 2012, she started Loblolly, a concierge service in Raleigh.
Nancy Schwartz goes grocery shopping for a client. In 2012, she started Loblolly, a concierge service in Raleigh. TERI SAYLOR

As a graduate student in Massachusetts 20 years ago, Nancy Schwartz needed a job with flexible hours she could work around her studies.

She began running errands and doing mundane chores for friends and neighbors, taking care of things they didn’t have time to do themselves.

One of her first jobs was helping an elderly couple host a special dinner for their kids.

“We did take-out,” said Schwartz, 56. “I helped them choose the restaurant and the menu. I picked up the food, set the table, brought out fresh flowers for the table, and all they had to do was enjoy time with their kids.”

After the dinner, she washed dishes and cleaned the kitchen. She earned about $250 and a wealth of good will and positive reviews.

As word about her services spread beyond friends and neighbors, she got busy.

“The business grew like wildfire,” Schwartz recalled.

But after five years, she sold the company and spent the next several years working in marketing and for Habitat for Humanity.

In 2008, she moved to Raleigh to be near friends after losing her job.

After working a series of part-time jobs, Schwartz started a new concierge service in 2012, and named it Loblolly to give it a sense of place among the North Carolina pines. She spent the first year laying the groundwork.

“I talked to people, I did a ton of research, I wrote a business plan and I built a website,” she said.

In 2013, she started marketing to potential clients. It hasn’t been easy, she admits.

“I don’t know many people here, and in Raleigh, people are not as familiar with this type of service as they are in metro areas, so I am introducing a new idea,” she said.

Face-to-face marketing at networking functions has been her best promotional strategy. She also markets through social media.

She works with relocation services, which market Loblolly for move-in services like unpacking, doing laundry, preparing meals, making beds, and hooking up appliances and electronics. She also partners with designers to help with furniture placement.

Schwartz contracts with other companies that use her services as part of their employee benefit packages. Gas, which is her largest expense, averages a little more than $200 a month, so limiting her territory to Raleigh keeps that expense under control.

Her price ranges from a flat fee of $25 for single chores such as returning a library book to $45 an hour for lengthier services, such as light gardening, pet sitting, or preparing a meal for a client. Her ideal clients are those who have her on a retainer.

“I have clients I call on Monday morning and they give me a list of things they need me to do for the entire week,” she said.

Yet there are things she will not do, such as babysitting, picking kids up from school, anything that involves medical care.

Her hours fluctuate, depending on workload. Some weeks she works 60 hours.

She supplements her income with a part-time job at The Container Store in Raleigh, but she’s committed to providing her services to busy executives and families in Raleigh.

“I love helping people,” she said. “Every day brings something different; I have the opportunity to be creative, and the possibilities are endless.”

Teri Saylor: @terisaylor

Advice from Nancy Schwartz

▪ Do what you love.

▪ Build a strong foundation

▪ Be consistent. Do what you say you’ll do, and deliver what you say you’ll deliver.