If you’re not on the concierges’ list, you’re not doing business
High Country Business Review
VAIL ” Victor Rossi is one of the gatekeepers to Vail’s tourist trade.
Rossi is the head concierge at the Sonnenalp Resort in Vail. The heart of his job is to steer guests toward everything from a good meal to an exciting off-mountain adventure to a referral to a doctor if altitude sickness strikes.
“The guests see us as a definitive source,” Rossi said. “We really have to know the product well.”
Knowing the product, in this case, means knowing, or at least knowing about, scores of local businesses that cater to tourists.
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That wealth of knowlege doesn’t come easy. Rossi, who’s in his seventh season at the Sonnenalp, probably knows Vail’s businesses as well as anyone. But he’s always learning. Businesses come and go, and established businesses start new ventures every year. Between finding out what guests want, then pointing them in the right direction, it’s a daunting job.
Learning what guests want, then getting it for them, is at the top of a concierge’s list of skills. In Vail, for instance, it isn’t enough to know someone wants, say, a good steak dinner in a town with plenty of fine restaurants.
“An experienced concierge interviews a guest,” Rossi said. “That’s how we find out what they want.”
Sometimes, though, even the best concierge will come up empty.
Marci McCleneghan is a conceirge at the Great Divide Lodge in Breckenridge. A copule of seasons ago, a couple from Texas wanted a helicopter sightseeing ride. The closest thing McCleneghan could find was a company in Rifle, about a two-hour drive away.
“The best I could possibly do would be have the pilot meet them in Eagle,” McCleneghan said. “So I wasn’t able to help them out.”
But most of the time, concierges can find just about anything, then give a referral.
The people who want a piece of the tourist spending pie want referrals from Rossi and the 200 or so other concierges in the Vail Valley.
Getting those referrals takes work. And, like much of life, sometimes there’s no substitute for a handshake.
Dr. Charles Tuft last fall started Alpine Mobile Physicians. He has a partner, Larry Brooks, who essentially founded the emergency room at Vail Valley Medical Center, and all the doctors in this hotel housecall service has full privileges at the hospital.
But another mobile doctors’ service has been in the area for several years, so Tuft needed to get out the word to local concierges.
He put on a presentation for the Vail Concierge Guild fall meeting last year, and attended another trade show as well. In between, and still, he’s hit the streets.
“The most important thing is the person-to-person contacts,” Tuft said. “I go to every lodge, and talk to concierges, desk clerks, anyone that will listen, and make my pitch.”
Tom Eddy’s another believer in the personal approach. Eddy, owner of Black Tie Ski Rentals in the Vail Valley, is just finishing his first full season in business. He credits the success he’s had so far with the groundwork he laid last fall.
“It took a lot of face time in the fall,” Eddy said. “We needed to get our foot in the door.”
Face-to-face meetings are critical, especially for a new business, Rossi said.
“Without referrals, they really need to go face to face,” he said. “A transportation company, for example, needs to show us their insurance, that their appearance is what it should be.”
There are a couple of local conceirge groups as well, and both have meetings in the fall. Those sessions are another way to meet new business people, or renew acquaintances.
Competition for business can be fierce, and concierges are often in the middle of it.
Eddy said he handed out gift baskets after a good Christmas season. And Tuft recently hosted a reception for concierges at an Avon coffee house that included the giveaway of a trip for two to Mexico.
Many hotels have lists of preferred businesses, Rossi said. Those are businesses with a track record of giving tourists what they want, when they want it.
Sometimes, though, a newer business will get in because the competition is already busy.
“It can come down to the convenience of booking,” Rossi said.
Once that happens, a business owner’s fate is in his own hands.
Eddy, who provides in-room fittings for gear, as well tuning and other services, got busy around Christmas. Like any business, he’s had his ups and downs. But good word of mouth from guests can translate into more calls from concierges.
Rossi is well aware of the competition, and tries to spread out his calls and referrals as well as he can. For instance, he said he’ll alternate calls to the two mobile physicians’ businesses that serve Vail.
At hotels owned by Vail Resorts, business referrals are a matter of contract. That’s the way things work at the Great Divide Lodge. McCleneghan said the top of her hotel’s list is occupied by companies that sign contracts with the resort company to provide services. If those companies are booked, concierges will then go to their other list of companies, the one drawn up the old-fashioned way.
No matter how the list at the concierge desk is made, the bottom line is treating the customers right.
“If we call and they come, that’s important,” Rossi said.
And, despite the giveaways and other incentives, Rossi said people who stay in the concierge business very long follow a fairly strict code of ethics.
“The bottom line is service to the customer,” Rossi said. “You are paid by the hotel, and have a responsibility to take the best possible care of the guests.”
– Introduce yourself: This is esppecially crucial for new businesses. Phones are fine, but there’s no substitute for a handshake.
– Tap the network: The Vail Concierge Guild meets every fall. Go, and bring your brochures.
– Get referrals: It’s hard to do for new businesses, but even a few happy clients can help.
– Show up: It sounds simple, but nothing can blow a chance at another referral like a no-show for an appointment.
– Deliver great service: This is a service economy, after all. One happy customer will lead to more. The reverse is also true, of course.