Personal Time Saver: Alex Fontaine
Cash-rich, time-poor Londoners are the lifeblood of Alex Fontaine's successful concierge business. The Startups.co.uk award winner tells us how she made it.
Time, as they say, is money. With the increasing number of people squeezed for time as they attempt to juggle work, children and leisure, Alex Fontaine realised that the hectic pace of modern life could result in profits for her business idea.
Alex set up Personal Time Saver Ltd in 1994 after realising that increasing numbers of ultra-busy London employees didn’t have enough hours in the day to undertake a variety of tasks.
“Society has changed,” Alex explains. “There are more single people, wives now work full-time and people have to work loner hours – work conditions are changing.”
Alex’s concierge business tends to almost any need the capital’s population may have, from dog walking to the construction of a tree house. From £50 an hour, Personal Time Saver will undertake the most trivial of jobs for those who are cash-rich but time-poor.
The business has travelled a long way since Alex started it up with little more than a bicycle and a laptop. Personal Time Saver is now a properly structured business and has gained more than its fair share of media coverage, having featured on BBC2’s New Servants in May 2004.
“My key to success is to maintain 100% excellent service,” Alex says. ” I only spent what I earned on business expansion and never borrowed money in the beginning and never have to now.
“I was willing to take on small jobs to prove my worth and work long hours for little return to boost my reputation by word of mouth.
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“Expansion does not necessarily mean success or extra profit though and I’ve found it more profitable to downsize again and maintain exclusivity and increase hourly rate and decrease volume.”
Alex’s story is all the more remarkable considering the hurdles she’s had to overcome to make it in business. Having survived alcoholism and a violent assault, she found the strength to make a success of Personal Time Saver.
Her efforts were recognised at last year’s Startups Awards, where she triumphed in the Women in Business category. She admits that being a woman in business was initially tough.
“In the beginning I encountered many negative people and was patronised – it’s easy to back a winner but it takes guts and intuition to encourage the future successes,” she recalls.
“I don’t necessarily think the status of women in business has changed but I know I have changed. I no longer care whether people believe in my ideas because I know they work and I am successful.
“I know I can make mountains move, get things done, make clients very happy, rise to any challenge and never accept the answer ‘no!’
“With my drive, experience and determination I’m no longer concerned if people think I can’t do something because I’m a woman. Gender has nothing to do with it – it only is to those who are small minded and those are the ones to avoid.
“Sometimes builders don’t like being told what to do but then they don’t get the next job! It’s all about providing a top service.”