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Cult of convenience
No task is too small for the personal services industry. Why not? We're willing to pay.
April 1, 2005: 11:33 AM EST
By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The worst job in the court of Henry VIII -- other than queen -- may have been "groom of the stool."

When the king relieved himself, it was the groom's duty to clean up. Down there.

A subsequent monarch abolished the position, perhaps after realizing that wiping was a task even a king should do for himself.

Still, I wouldn't be completely surprised if some entrepreneur were to launch a modern-day groom business.

If a service saves effort or time, after all, a certain breed of consumer will probably pay for it.

A poll in the U.K., for example, found that a majority of those surveyed prefer to hire people to perform even simple tasks, from sewing buttons on clothing to fixing breakfast.

Stateside, it's hardly worth asking whether we would rather have things done for us than to do them ourselves. The answer is obvious.

We're all worshippers in the cult of convenience.

Help is on the way

No chore is too small for the growing "personal services" industry.

Take shopping. Americans are the greatest consumers the world has ever known, yet we now need help buying stuff.

The use of personal shoppers is growing at about a 20 percent a year, according to the Association of Image Consultants International, a trade group.

This sort of extreme consumer pampering isn't just happening at ritzy enclaves on Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, either. Macy's offers personal shoppers.

Some parents even hire consultants to help get their kids ready for the school year.

"In a small but burgeoning movement, parents are hiring personal shoppers and image consultants," USA Today reported, "to ease the back-to-school shopping burden."

Pictures need hanging? Hire a hubby. Closets need organizing? Rent a wife. When gutters or sinks need cleaning, the modern solution is to contract out the work.

On Craig's List, the Web classifieds, one entrepreneur offers to go to Ikea to buy furniture for you. Another will charge you $15 an hour to assemble it.

Meanwhile, out in San Francisco, a "Jane of all trades" makes money organizing other people's photographs. She can work with digital images, too.

In New York, a service called HungryPod will take your CD collection and burn it onto your new iPod (prices begin at $1.50 per disc).

For $50 more, owner Catherine Keane will make suggestions about other bands you might enjoy. She'll even buy them from iTunes for you, at a price of $25 an hour for labor, plus the cost of the song.

In fact, technology has spawned a raft of other new services to help with fancy electronics gear. My favorite: TV color consultants.

Say you just bought a giant-screen plasma TV. You get it all set up, turn it on, and somehow the color doesn't look quite right. You tinker with the remote control, but nothing seems to work.

Turns out, you can hire a specialist.

He will come to your house, take a measure of the room's light, the placement of the television and other factors. He will then readjust the system, pixel by pixel, to give you a perfect color picture. Cost: $225 to more than $1,000.

According to the Los Angeles Times, they do a brisk business in southern California.

The Good Life is a weekly column that chronicles products, people and trends in luxury consumer goods, travel, and fine food and drink. Write to:  Top of page


The Good Life
Service Industry
Consumer Goods
Gordon T. Anderson
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