Gentry uses her extensive local network to make connections between people who want to work, and people who need help with anything and everything — from organizing special events and recruiting staff, to cleaning out basements and shopping for groceries.
“It’s unbelievable how much talent I’ve found in this community,” says Gentry, who started Geaux Girl Concierge in 2010. “We’re up to 40 people on contract, but I’m hoping we can put hundreds of people to work.”
This is a notable accomplishment for someone who started her business as a solo venture. Gentry launched Geaux Girl after staying home with her young children for two years and running a day care out of her home. “I started going a little stir crazy,” she says, “but I couldn’t find a job in Asheville, because the economy was tanking out.” She had heard of concierge services in other cities, and thought it would be a good, flexible work option for a busy mom. Gentry also knew she could build on her background in sales, marketing and development to do a variety of tasks for clients.
To get her business off the ground, she received a loan from Mountain BizWorks. “I pitched my idea to Dave Bluth [a BizWorks business developer], and within two weeks, I had seed money. And I used every bit of it for branding, marketing, business cards and a launch party.” Since then, she hasn’t spent a dime on advertising, getting all of her clients — and her contractors — through networking and word of mouth.
In her search for clients, Gentry has found that in Asheville, you can leave your fear of rejection at the door. “I don’t get turned down. In big cities, you don’t often get to talk to business owners or presidents, because you can’t get beyond the gatekeepers. But in Asheville, they’ll return your call and meet you for lunch.”
As a hard-won result of her networking savvy, Geaux Girl has developed ongoing relationships with several high-profile local businesses, including the Van Winkle Law Firm, The Ramble at Biltmore Forest and Divine Living. Biltmore Park has contracted with Geaux Girl to recruit a team to manage its pool for the summer. Arcadia Farms in Arden has hired the company to build a promotional campaign for its new line of beverage products, Proformance.
But Geaux Girl Concierge works for residential clients as well, in a process that Gentry likens to “peeling the layers of an onion.” While individuals will often call on her business for one small project — say, organizing a linen closet — it sometimes takes them a little time to realize just how many other services the company can offer, such as facilitating a yard sale, running errands or even bringing in a carpenter to build shelving.
“We have literally brought clients to tears,” she says, “because they’re so overwhelmed by other aspects of life and when they come home to see what we’ve done, it can seem miraculous.”
The way Gentry is able to offer such an incredible array of services comes back to her network of contractors. “People bring to me what they have, and I do my best to put it to good use,” says Gentry. She places importance on open communication, reliability and flexibility. “My Geaux Girls and Guys can have a life and other jobs. They can turn down any jobs they don’t want.”
She mentions a few folks she’s interviewed recently: a teacher who’s looking for extra work during the summer; a UNCA grad who wants to gain some experience while he gets his own business off the ground; and a handy retiree who could use some extra cash.
“There is a huge range of people out there who are looking for flexible work. Asheville loves flexibility,” says Gentry. “It makes me feel so good as a business owner that I can put money in other people’s hands while filling my clients’ needs.”
As the business grows, she does less of the physical work and spends more time managing the business and building relationships. But like many people who work from home, Gentry sometimes struggles with domestic demands. “The laundry needs to be done, and I could clean the toilet; but I really need to do invoicing or go to the bank to make deposits, and my office is always a hot mess,” says Gentry.
“It’s almost like I need my own Geaux Girl!”
To learn more about hiring — or being hired by — Geaux Girl, visit www.geauxgirl.com or call 335-9816.
— Mountain BizWorks helps small businesses start, grow and create jobs through loans, classes and coaching. To learn more, visit their new website at www.mountainbizworks.org.
Anna Raddatz is development and communications coordinator at Mountain BizWorks.