You won’t find Zandra Baheyadeen sighing impatiently while standing in long lines to buy or return merchandise this time of year. She’s more than happy to do the vexing holiday task … for a fee.
Baheyadeen owns ZanCan, a personal assistant and concierge services company, though her clients — harried mothers, clueless bachelors, busy business people — are apt to think of her as a cheerful elf to whom they can outsource their holiday stress.
And outsource they do, hiring her and other local concierges to do an almost infinite array of chores including wrapping and delivering gifts, cleaning, decluttering and organizing homes, setting up for parties, decorating Christmas trees, waiting for repairmen, getting vehicles serviced, washed and licensed. And right now, business is bustling.
“Yeah, everyone wants their houses cleaned and their shopping done for the holidays,” says Connie Eads of Connie’s Concierge Services in Lee’s Summit. “Business increases about 20 percent during November and December.”
Eads spends a lot of time making husbands and bachelors look good by researching then offering lists of gift options.
“They want to look like they did all the work,” she says. “And they want it wrapped so it doesn’t look like the store wrapped it.”
Baheyadeen sees a similar pattern among her male clients, who often call at the last minute.
“Women aren’t afraid to outsource,” she says. “Men, when they call, they’re in a shambles. Most don’t have kids, but they want the hot toy at the last minute for their 3-year-old niece. They’re falling apart when they call. They’re in dire straits.”
Baheyadeen was out one crisp, sunny morning in late November returning online merchandise and shopping for gifts or, as she called it “a day I get to have a lot of fun. I get to spend other people’s money.”
Her clients on this day were mostly women: a stay-at-home mom who is married to a surgeon and does a lot of volunteering; a pair of young married real-estate agents with children; and a “shopping diva” who ordered evening clothes online, some of which needed to be returned.
Baheyadeen was dressed in an Under Armor jacket with a ZanCan logo custom embroidered on the front and back. At each stop, she’d pull a canvas basket embroidered with the same logo from the back of her SUV, filled with a client’s merchandise.
The first stop was Kohl’s in Overland Park where she waited in line to return merchandise, before getting a shopping cart and heading for the toy department. Her client had given her $100 to buy four toys — two for a girl, two for a boy — to donate to Toys for Tots. She picked out a Darth Vader figurine, a Barbie Styling Head, Shopkins Shoppies and a Matchbox Swamp Chopper and headed for the cashier.
The total for the items was $46.67. Her client would be very pleased that she came in so far under budget, she said. She would also be wrapping and delivering the gifts to a Toys for Tots drop-off location the following week.
Then it was on to Macy’s, just a few blocks but several minutes away, thanks to traffic.
“Between waiting for lights, finding parking spots, standing in lines, that’s what sells my business,” said Baheyadeen.
She became a concierge about seven years ago when she lost her job at a restaurant. There was a recession going on and she was five months pregnant which made getting another job difficult, despite her sunny, unflappable disposition.
Recognizing that she’s highly energetic, Baheyadeen’s husband started offering her up to run errands for friends and family members, telling them, “Zan can do that.”
Right now, she has 15 clients who use her on a weekly or biweekly basis and another 25 or so that use her occasionally, but especially during holidays.
“If it rains or snows, my phone goes nuts, because people don’t want to go outside,” Baheyadeen says. She’s worked in bad weather so much for two of her clients, that they gifted her with a Coach raincoat and boots, so she can look snazzy while doing their bidding. “Now I really don’t mind going out on rainy days, because I can wear that and look good.”
One of her clients, Kelly Papa of Olathe, started using Baheyadeen to run errands about two years ago so she wouldn’t have to drag her three young children around.
“Especially this time of year, with all the traffic and long lines, it’s just easier to have her do it,” Papa said. “It’s almost enrollment time for preschool, and the lines are always crazy, so I’m thinking of having her stand in line for me. … I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t say no to anything.”
That’s pretty much true.
“If it’s legal and ethical, I’ll do it,” Baheyadeen says.
At Macy’s, she pulls another embroidered basket from her vehicle, this one full of ladies evening clothes.
“They order a bunch of stuff, try it on, keep what they want, and the rest I return,” she says, heading for the door.
Beverly, the cashier, tells Baheyadeen that the client held onto some of the pieces too long and might have to take a reduced “sales” price for them. Baheyadeen whips out her phone and dials the client.
She asks the client if she should accept the sales price or keep and return the pieces to the client. She hangs up after getting her order and waits. The transaction takes close to 20 minutes.
“You see, for most people, this would drive them nuts,” Baheyadeen says. “They think about what they could be doing that’s more productive. This lady is a new decluttering/reorganizing client who didn’t know I did returns and had this stuff hanging in her closet.”
Beverly has sorted everything out and realizes the client can get a full return. Baheyadeen pulls out her client’s gold American Express and inserts it in the card reader to get the refunds.
As she leaves the store, she tweets that Beverly did a good job. She uses social media as a marketing tool. It can be helpful in getting what her clients want. She once tweeted about a bad experience at a florist.
“I was going in there every week to buy $50 or $60 in flowers for a client and the florist, who was new and didn’t do the right colors, was rude and wouldn’t fix it,” she says.
Someone at the florist saw her tweet and called Baheyadeen to apologize, then sent a fresh bouquet to her client.
Baheyadeen charges $35 an hour for non-driving tasks like decluttering and organizing, wrapping gifts and waiting on repairmen, and $50 an hour for driving tasks to offset gas and wear-and-tear on her car.
Her third stop is DSW where she returns a pair of strappy crystal high heels before heading to her final stop, Target, to look for two White Elephant gifts. Her budget: $50.
“I try to find fun stuff,” she says, walking briskly as she scans the store. She stops dead in her tracks when a garish suit — blazer and pants — printed with dozens of tiny Santa Clauses catches her eye.
“That is hideous. Oh my goodness,” she says, before perusing other tacky merchandise hanging on the same rack. She decides on a Christmas T-shirt with a cat hologram inside a wreath on the front, for $15, and a furry Chewbacca footed onesie suit for $25.
“Once again, I’m under budget,” she said.
All in a day’s work.