Caitlin Hofherr was working for a staffing company in New York City, but had ideas of how to create a placement company that could help fulfill every household need for families who need help in this economy. So she moved back to Chicago, her hometown, and created Alter Ego Concierge, which has already changed the concept of household staffing from an expensive luxury to an affordable necessity that is accessible to everyone!
Love and Water- What prompted you to create Alter Ego Concierge?
Caitlin Hofherr- Ironically, when I was working for another company in New York that did a similar kind of business, I had friends and family members here in Chicago who would ask me if I could help them as well. I realized there was a great need for this business in Chicago and that I would love to start my own company based on the trends I was noticing with my friends’ and family’s needs. The main issue I noticed was how difficult it was for parents to find a nanny for their children if they weren’t already familiar with a network of nannies. So that has been a very rewarding part of my job in helping families find reputable nannies they can trust. I’ve donated different packages to schools and groups for people to sample our services, which has been a great way to establish a network because there are very few places that offer such an array of services like we do. We’re a one-stop shop for anything you need, including nanny services and all household needs. By donating packages to different fundraisers, it has helped spread the word and created curiosity which I’m very happy about because it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. We have donated a package to fundraisers called the “Super Nanny Search,” which involves us finding a nanny who can fulfill as many household needs as you need. So we can really help tailor the services you need for your particular family needs, and this has drawn a lot of attention to our services.
L&W- One aspect I really love about Alter Ego Concierge that seems to set you apart from other household placement servicing companies is that you are able to fill any kind of houehold need, no matter how big or small.
CH- Yes, we difinitely can. If you need someone to take down your Christmas lights, we’ll do that. If you need someone to watch your children, we’ll do that. If you need someone to plan your next trip, we’ll do that. Whatever it is, you can call us and we’ll take care of it whether it’s outsourced or we do it ourselves. We’re your planner. It sounds like a very luxurious service, and it can be, but it is also a matter of organization for people in this economy who need child care and household help because most households require two incomes. We take great care in hiring employees who people can trust- we do background checks, we check their references, we give them every resource we possibly can, such as CPR certification, to strengthen their skills and confidence in whatever position they fill. As a result, they become better employees. We don’t place illegal candidates at this point, so everyone we hire is a legal U.S. citizen, but even though they are legal many of them come from positions that were frocing them to work long hours and paying them under the table, so they were overworked and under payed. When we can get them health insurance, pay them on the books and allow them to contribute to a 401K plan, it changes their whole outlook on their work, and they become stronger, more reliable workers who genuinely take pride in what they do. It’s really wonderful to see the transformation they make from feeling unappreciated to loving what they do. We eventually want to establish training programs for workers to take to better their craft. We’re really looking forward to being able to offer that for our employees to further their skills and knowledge on childcare and any other service they provide.
L&W- I understand you are also working with businesses to help them establish personal assistant servies for their employees?
CH- That is actually a big part of what we are establishing right now. I have been developing an on-call concierge service, which is why my company is called Alter Ego Concierge. I’m working with companies right now to get them to implement systems for work/life balance for their employees. So when they hire a new employee, one of the perks they could offer could be 10 hours with a personal assistant each year. That way, if an employee is ever in a bind where their workload is heavier than usual and they need help getting their family Christmas cards sent out, they can call us and we can do it for them. So they have that kind of back-up from their company as a reward for being a valued employee. People are now working longer hours, and they are being forced to neglect the small personal tasks, like getting an oil change or sitting down to pay their bills on time, and those are the tasks that add balance to one’s life. So that is what we intend to help companies bring back to their employees.
L&W- Can you talk about how you work with families who need childcare or household help but are working on very limited budgets?
CH- One of the things we help with is when families need a nanny to work full time with their children but can’t afford to pay a full time salary, we offer to pair them up with another family to do a “nanny share,” which is extremely helpful and fills the needs of two families and the nanny. We also are able to help when a family can’t afford a full time nanny but only needs help for specific hours throughout the week. We are able to draw from our pool of nannies and fill those hours with a nanny who isn’t already working full time and can fill those hours. That way, the nanny has variety in her schedule and both families have their needs filled. We love helping families figure out a plan that will fill their needs while working within their budgets. For people in the Chicagoland area, we are also a staffing agency for those trying to find employment. We are always hiring, and we have a huge network of other agencies who do similar work but not in the same field. This is something that is of great value to us, because we are always happy to meet new people with all kinds of skills, and we are happy to help them find work if we can’t place their particular skill set at the moment.
L&W- What is the most moving moment you’ve had so far with Alter Ego Concierge?
CH- When I meet with people who have been out of work for such long periods of time and seem to be at the end of their rope, and I can help them. I had a candidate, Maria, who came to me because she had been out of work for nine months. She is a single mother raising three children and she was at a point where she didn’t know what else to do. She had been in the U.S. for ten years, and wanted to stay here. She had been laid off, and going on interview after interview but wasn’t getting hired anywhere and she didn’t know why. I picked up the phone and I called her references, and found out that no one had been checking her references. They must have been interviewing her and getting a the point where they liked her but were not willing to go to the next step of checking her references. So I suggested to her to include a reference letter on every interview she went on so people could see that right away. Within two weeks of meeting her she went on three interviews and got a job on the third interview. That was one of my first placements when I moved back to Chicago from New York, and I was so happy! The family is so happy with her that they just referred her to another family. There was just something missing in her initial package, and she wasn’t laying all her cards out on the table, which kept her from getting a job. Sometimes people don’t know this because they’re not as well acquainted with the customs here, or they don’t realize how they come across to the people interviewing them. So to be able to help them in that process and see results is an amazing part of what we do. Some candidates come to us with incredible experience, but don’t have a resume because they never needed one in the past. We create their resumes for them along with a “get to know me” questionaire that they can give to the people interviewing them to help them get to know them better. It really helps bridge any gap that may exist and give them an opportunity to create a great first impression. When I’m able to help in this way, especially now when so many people are out of a job, it’s extremely rewarding.