Service-oriented businesses thriving in NWA

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 182 views 

It used to be that hiring someone to perform tasks like cleaning a house, fixing the family’s food or taking care of the family pet was a service only the rich could afford and it was a sign of being elite.

In Northwest Arkansas, the service industry is thriving and services are available to people of most backgrounds and socio-economic standing. From errand running, dog poop scooping, cooking, to personal organizing. There are companies that cater to the busy lives we now lead and many do so at rates that are more affordable than some might assume.

“We see our business as a benefit, not a luxury,” said Laurie Malloy, who co-owns Simple Spaces with daughter, Jenna Rulhe. They are members of the National Association of Professional Organizers.

The business is about two and a half years old and it includes primary services such as home staging, organizing and relocation.

“When we go into someone’s home, we work with a lot of home-based businesses,” Malloy said. “We help set up systems for them. It’s nothing negative at all. It’s just helping them be more efficient and organized.”

Malloy gives the example of a supplier executive who was relocating from a 3,600-square-foot house to a 970-square-foot apartment at their new assignment in a different city.

“We helped him decide what to take and what to leave,” she said. “Those are tough decisions. We help them through that process.”

When people arrive in Northwest Arkansas, the company offers services that include helping them get organized as they unpack so that chaos is not created from the get-go. Sometimes people simply need someone to keep them accountable, almost like a personal trainer except for organization.

“There are three kinds of clutter: mental, financial and physical clutter,” she said. “If you can’t clear the clutter (problems arise).”

Sometimes the work they do is with stay-at-home mothers who find they often lose items or lose track of time easily. By working with their calendar, Simple Spaces is able to help prioritize tasks and develop a more functional system.

Many service businesses center around taking care of the family pet. From scooping waste from the backyard to dog walking, there are a growing number of businesses that manage those basic needs.

Solgave Animal Solutions has been in Northwest Arkansas less than a month, but they are already growing a clientele.

Their goal is to help heal and change lives of both humans and animals. The company’s cornerstones are animals, nature, healing and balance, said co-owner Jared Ritter.

Ritter and his wife, Sunniva, offer tools to help accomplish the philosophical side of the business including pet sitting, behavior modification, dog walking and in-home kenneling. They also help choose the right breed of animal to fit the family lifestyle.

When they work with families and their pets in the home, they can work on behavior issues that might be rooted in many circumstances including stress or fear on behalf of the animal. Helping a family understand their dog’s role is another component.

“Everyone requires a purpose and dogs need a purpose,” she said. “That is what they get when they go on a walk.”

The Ritters explained that most people willing to pay for a dog walker are often the type so busy that they can’t do it themselves, but they realize the value of the service for their animal and the overall family dynamic. A better exercised dog will be less destructive, for example.

Some of the services available are done on a “freelance” business. For example, Brian Sutton is a local real estate agent who sometimes offers in-home cooking services for families frequently on the go. He goes into their home and cooks meals, sometimes a week or month at a time. Then when the family comes home, they have a healthy, home-cooked meal ready for them.

“It’s usually really busy people who work long hours and the last thing they want to do is cook,” Sutton said. “Lifestyles are so hectic and sometimes cooking for themselves is out of the question.”

Sutton said he thinks people are outsourcing everyday tasks more because tasks that are mundane like cooking used to be common knowledge, but now many are not so common.

“They are used to opening a box and learning to cook well takes time,” he said. “In their lives, they don’t have time to learn.”

When a person asks about service businesses in Northwest Arkansas, one of the first names that comes up is The Errand Girl.

Owner Sue Blumenfeld describes it as “a full-service errand business that puts the personal back in personal assistant.”

The services include house cleaning, mobile notary, surprise deliveries, grocery shopping, staffing for hostesses, bartenders and food servers, home watch, dog walking, pick-up and delivery of “almost anything, personalized gift shopping, transportation, letter writing, relocation services, organize files, provide temporary office help, courier, in-home meal preparation, take car for maintenance and cleaning, welfare checks for seniors and loved ones, organizing, party planning, care packages for college students, pet sitting, … and the list goes on.

“When a lot of people call, they say ‘I have this strange request’ or ‘you probably won’t do this but…’ We very rarely disappoint or come across really strange requests that we haven’t seen before,” she said.

One might think that this kind of service would have only been necessary in recent years since the population boom in Northwest Arkansas. The business has been going strong for 16 years, however.

“More and more families seemed to have both adults working full-time outside the home and people were working longer hours than ever before,” she said of why she started the business. “I heard comments from people about never having time to do this or that or needing to be at their child's sporting event and not having time for other family responsibilities.”

The needs have changed and increased over the years.

“In the beginning I wasn't even thinking about the lack of public transportation in this area but now that is one of the biggest requests that I have,” she said. “For the first 15 years people were always asking me to refer them to a reliable house cleaner. A little over a year ago we decided to add that as one of our services also because it was requested so often.”

Blumenfeld agrees that it’s the busy lifestyles and a better sense of time management that makes services businesses like hers more popular.

“Companies have become so demanding of their employees that it leaves little time for errands. Families are also more involved in various activities that people often have time 'fitting everything in,’” she said. “People are also becoming more familiar with the term ‘time-management’ that they are seeking ways to achieve this for themselves. In the future more people will be outsourcing things they don't have time for or don't want to take the time to do because they are seeing how easy it is to have someone else do it for them.”