Where to Shop When You Want to Buy Time : Personal Service Providers Do the Job

Julia and Chuck have it all: thriving careers, two children, a three-bedroom ocean-view home in Carlsbad, and a garage full of Boogie Boards, bicycles and backpacking equipment.

Trouble is they have little time to enjoy it.

Julia puts in marathon days as the owner and operator of a string of dance studios, while Chuck is on the road all week as a trouble-shooter for a computer company. Weeknights the couple can be found nuking frozen meals, overseeing homework, and preparing for the next work day.

Weekends are taken up with supervising a house-cleaning and yard service, shopping for groceries, running errands, paying bills and shuttling the kids from piano lessons to the soccer field. There’s little time left for the biking, beach and mountains that drew the couple to North County seven years ago.


“We moved here from Manhattan to get out of the rat race,” said Julia, “But we seem to have created a suburban version for ourselves out here.”

It is the same song being sung by many with overscheduled lives. Besides the demands of jobs and families, there are dogs to be walked, paper work to be handled, thighs to be firmed, and homes, cars and clothes to be maintained.

On top of that, Harris Polls show working hours have increased by 20% in the last 18 years while leisure time has dropped by 32%. In short, there’s just too much to do and too little time to do it.

What we all seem to need is a personal shopper, secretary, valet, rolled into one. Someone to take care of all the niggling details that rob us of the time and energy to do the things we really want to do.


Recognizing a market for everyday services, time-convenience peddlers are cropping up all over North County. For $10 to $25 an hour they will do just about anything--from cleaning out the dog run, to doing your grocery shopping, to helping you look like Martha Stewart at your next party.

Here’s a sampling:




This 4-year-old Rancho Santa Fe company, made up of husband and wife team Barbara and Michael Armbruster, help clients zero in on their most time-consuming and burdensome jobs, and for $25 an hour, take over.

“We do so much of this stuff we can do it faster and more efficiently than the average person,” said Michael. “Time is a valuable commodity. If you’re in business, you should focus on business and not waste time on personal errands.”

One of their clients, Dr. Harvey Shapiro, dean of clinical affairs and chairman of the department of anesthesiology at UC San Diego Medical Center, says the couple has given him his weekends back. While Michael oversees the remodeling, and will eventually manage the duplex Shapiro owns, Barbara takes care of his grocery shopping, dry cleaning, trips to the vet and dog groomer, gift buying, and other trivia that used to eat up the Del Mar doctor’s time.

“If I had asked Barbara to find me a wife, she would have done that too,” said Shapiro.


Instead, Barbara is orchestrating the upcoming wedding for the doctor and his busy attorney-fiancee, from finding the wedding gown and addressing invitations to coordinating the caterer, florist and photographer.

Michael, a former concierge at the Hotel Inter-Continental, and Barbara, a former schoolteacher, find tackling clients’ daily chores a piece of cake, and welcome the more challenging aspects of the job--like locating a popular model car three days before the luxury tax went into effect.

While her client recovered from an emergency appendectomy in the hospital, Barbara phoned all over the county searching for a Lexus. She was having little luck until she remembered that another one of her clients owned a dealership. She not only found the desired model, color and options, she got a rare discount as well.

Another time the couple sprung a client out of the dog house when he forgot to pack his wife’s favorite dress on his way to meeting her in Wisconsin for a formal shindig.


After the panicked client called from a stopover in San Francisco, Michael sped out to Fallbrook, hunted down the neighbor holding the house key, found the dress, shipped it overnight express, and saved a marriage.

“We like the feeling we get from helping someone out in a pinch,” Michael said.


726-9509 “The time crunch is grabbing everyone by the juggler,” says Joyce Poe, owner of Services Poe-Pourri in Vista.


The one-woman, 1 1/2-year-old operation logs up to 70 hours a week during busy times doing everything from ferrying puppy poop to the vet to be analyzed, to setting up office systems, to shopping for furnishings and art.

“I don’t do anything clients can’t do themselves,” she said. “It’s just that they don’t have time or the inclination. They don’t want to stop at the dry cleaners, the market and the drug store, all the things that are required to make a home run smoothly. What they do want is time to spend with their families.”

Poe has been helping Tisha Swortwood’s life run smoothly for more than a year. The Fairbanks Ranch mother of three owns her own greeting card company and is actively involved in charity work, sitting on the board of both Children’s Hospital and the Zoo’s Center for the Reproduction of Endangered Species.

Poe takes care of her filing, word processing, checkbook balancing and deliveries. She kept the Swortwood residence afloat for their daughter’s recent wedding, running errands, altering the bridesmaid’s dresses and keeping track of replies and gifts.


Poe has a wealth of experience to draw from. She has owned and run a dress designing business, provided secretarial and time-management services to small businesses and served as a managing partner of an import company where she says she learned how and where to get the best goods at the cheapest prices.

Poe charges $18 an hour for her time, and does not up-charge when she can buy something at cost.

“That may be part of the secret to my success,” she said. “From groceries to art prints, I’m a careful shopper. I know which cleaner can get the spot out and where to get the best coffee at the best price. I don’t call Neiman Marcus when I know I can get it wholesale.”




You might say someone who owned and operated a security company, was the first female paramedic in California, holds a pilot’s and scuba diver’s license, is a former model and current, actress, director and producer, understands the need for saving time on the small stuff.

“I wanted to create a business where I could use everything I’ve learned and fill the needs of the client,” said Diane St. John, owner of Exclusive Concierge in Escondido.

The 5-year-old company goes beyond errand-running and coordinates and plans special events, like romantic dinners on the beach, complete with butler, flowers and Champagne. Exclusive Concierge also organizes major fund-raisers, puts together travel packages, game show parties, incentive packages for corporate clients, and buys gifts extraordinaire.


For Christmas two years ago, one of her more romantic and well-heeled clients wanted to do something really special for his wife.

St. John dreamed up a “Twelve Days of Christmas” theme where each day a gift was more elaborate than the last. One day his wife found a silk peignoir draped across the bed amid a scattering of rose petals. On another she came home to find a stained-glass window in the living room. Next day it was a piece of sculpture placed on a pedestal and specially lit.

St. John confirms that people are holding onto their money a little tighter in these recession-filled days, but they’re still treating themselves. The gifts she suggests are less flamboyant though not necessarily less imaginative, and travel is closer to home with personalized weekend getaways to Laguna Beach, Las Vegas and downtown San Diego.

St. John also specializes in finding rare items and hunting down scarce tickets for plays, concerts and sports events. She and her staff of five have also been known to locate long-lost-loves for clients; like the young man who wanted to find an old college girlfriend who had moved to “somewhere in New York” seven years ago.


Before St. John put a private detective on the case, she ran a public announcement in several New York newspapers. The girl’s father happened to see the ad, and the couple were reunited. However, when the client found his old flame was only interested in finding a new daddy for her child, he grabbed the next flight to San Diego.

Exclusive Concierge has a reputation for throwing legendary parties for both their private and corporate clients. They recently staged “A Night at the Races,” ordering in the film and sealed results of real races, setting up betting windows, rolling the film between dinner courses and awarding prizes.

They have also staged murder-mystery parties and game shows with props and masters of ceremonies.

“A lot of time we have to sell the game idea,” said vice president of services, Kimberly Paquette. “We’ll hear, ‘Oh God, give me a break, adults don’t want to do that.’ But, once they get into it, they love it, it brings out the little kid in them.”


St. John charges by the job, not the hour, usually adding a 15% charge over the cost of goods and/or vendors.

“We ask the budget, and let you know if we can do the project for the price or not,” said Paquette. “Since we know whom to call and where to get the best deal, we can often save you money.”


431-0385 Ginnie Flores’ 4-year-old, one woman, Carlsbad-based service is as basic as Exclusive Concierge is elaborate. For $10 an hour, plus 25 cents a mile, Ginnie will do your errands, shop for your groceries, and wait for repairmen. The former postal worker will also drive you to the Amtrak station in Oceanside for $10 and Lindbergh Field for $20 and wash and gas your car on the way home. And, while you’re away, she’ll watch the house, water the plants, and feed and hug your dog.


A large part of her clients are housebound, like Richard Thorstead of Vista. He used Errands Plus for his twice-monthly grocery shopping, but when Lucky Stores offered its new delivery service, he decided to give it a try.

“Maybe I was one of their first customers, I don’t know,” said Thorstead. “I called in the order in the morning, and it didn’t come until 10 that night. And the produce didn’t look that great. I’m not blaming Lucky, I’m just spoiled by Ginnie.”


431-9153 At 3 months old, the Concierge’s Desk in La Costa is the new kid on the block. But its owner, Kathleen Truesdale, has been around that block a few times as the chef, diet adviser, and operations manager at the Golden Door Spa in Escondido. The former model has also managed the spa at the Meridian Hotel in Coronado, as well as a resort in the Catskills, and has run trade shows and conventions for an international sporting goods company.


Truesdale has built a job around her skills. They include setting up and managing bachelor homes, wardrobe and accessory shopping, coordinating business events, helping with moves and entertaining.

La Costa real estate agent Marty Sullivan refers clients who have bought second homes in the area to Truesdale.

Sullivan said that people who are only here part of the year want to come home to milk in the fridge, fresh sheets on the bed and flowers on the table.

“Kathleen makes it look like a welcoming committee has been there,” said Sullivan. “She not only understands the needs of travelers, she has exquisite taste.”


Building contractor Lynne Epperling, who divides her time between her business in Malibu and her weekends in Rancho Santa Fe, has Truesdale come into her North County home on Fridays to oversee the cleaning lady, buy groceries and run errands.

If Epperling is having a party she’ll leave a list for Truesdale, who will buy the wine, pick up the hors d’oeuvres, arrange the flowers, and set up the table.

“All I have to do is put out the ice and light the candles,” said Epperling.

“She’ll also accessorize the outfit I’ll be wearing,” said Epperling. “She’s really good at that.”


“I work hard during the week,” said the Malibu builder. “On the weekends I want to relax and spend time with my husband. For the $20 an hour she charges, it’s money well spent.”

ALSO... Essential Services

Bonsall, 726-3789

Owner Terry Rude will shop, house-sit, shuttle you to the airport, act as a courier, do your bookkeeping, and organize your office for $15 an hour. When the former bartender-office clerk-construction worker was offered a job as a personal assistant a few years back, she thought, “Why limit myself to one person?”


On Call Services

Fallbrook, 723-3445

For 21 years Nancy Lake acted as her dentist husband’s receptionist, bookkeeper, secretary and all-around assistant. Today she does all that for her clients, as well as run errands, garden, and house-sit for $10 an hour.



San Marcos, 744-7447

Bob Netherton shops the Price Club and other wholesalers, and will truck those office supplies and cases of toilet paper into your home or workplace for a variable percentage of the cost of the order. Or for $20 he’ll deliver, unpack, and set up a piece of furniture, or hook up a large appliance. Mileage within 8 miles is free, and orders can be phoned, faxed, or mailed in.

“When I do the shopping, there’s no impulse buying, no loss of employee hours and no wear and tear on people or cars,” says Netherton, who has been shopping five days a week for the past three years.

Lucky Stores



Phone in your order to Lucky’s national toll-free number by 10 a.m., and Lucky says you’ll have it between 12 and 3:30 p.m. the same day. Call in after 10 a.m., and it should be delivered by 9:30 that night. Lucky charges $12.50 for same-day service, and $11.95 for next-day service. Seniors and the handicapped get a $2 discount on next-day service only. Orders must be in by 9 p.m. for next-day service. No minimum or maximum order.


Rancho Santa Fe, 756-3726


Prices are higher at this gourmet grocer, but for $5 they will deliver within Rancho Santa Fe and to a few neighboring towns east of Interstate 5 and west of Escondido. Orders must be in by 11 a.m. for the guaranteed delivery of 1 to 2 p.m. No minimum or maximum order.