Romantic dinner on an iceberg? 'Batcave' in your home? Hong Kong firm turns wishes of China's wealthy into a reality
The Quintessentially Group turns dreams into reality for those willing to pay for it
The past 10 years have flown by for Emma Sherrard Matthew, chief executive of Asia-Pacific for the Quintessentially Group. She started the exclusive concierge service in Hong Kong a decade ago with four people and it has since grown to more than 80 staff.
"At the time our services were unknown, and the idea of outsourcing part of your life. But now we're a niche in the marketplace," she says.
Following the mantra, "the more you give, the more comes back to you", Matthew began marketing Quintessentially by getting to know potential members and "sharing access", telling them how the services would be useful to them. While she admits these specialised services are not for everyone, some were soon hooked.
Recent requests include a romantic getaway to New Zealand where a couple had a private meal set up on an iceberg; arranging a marriage proposal on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge with one day's notice; and a request from an avid Batman fan who wanted his own "Batcave" in his home.
Quintessentially doesn't just cater to individual members, but has a growing roster of corporate clients and banks that are keen to learn more about their high-end customers. With 62 offices around the world, including Ulan Bator, which opened 18 months ago, and Ho Chi Minh City, in April, there is a wealth of data the tailored service has banked up.
"They want to understand their clients' tastes, what they like to buy, where they like to go on holiday, where they like to eat. People want to enhance their lifestyles, they want to be seen," she says.
In the beginning, people had perceptions that Quintessentially was a credit card with a concierge service, or even a discount card. "In Asia, people don't expect to pay for service. But now they understand that if they want front-row tickets to an exclusive show that's sold out, they have to pay for it," Matthew says.
And not only does Quintessentially satisfy requests for exceptional experiences, but also everyday chores such as managing pedicure and manicure appointments, sourcing organic baby milk and finding a set of school uniforms elsewhere because they are already sold out in the city.
Matthew observes while the renewal rate for a Quintessentially membership is 80 per cent globally, there is a low referral rate - meaning no one wants others to know they use the discreet service because it makes them look good.
The concierge service is now focusing on the China market, with outposts in Beijing and Shanghai, which are supported by the Hong Kong office to fulfil requests, mainly outside of China.
"Mainland Chinese clients are looking for overseas experiences. Six weeks ago we got a request from a client who saw the Fast and Furious movie and requested via WeChat to drive the cars," Matthew says.
"He and his friends went on a private jet to Croatia and from there Montenegro to drive the cars on a racetrack. A few years earlier the craze was with Downton Abbey, with clients wanting to hire butlers, tutors and housekeepers," she says.
The chief executive adds mainland Chinese clients are younger and educated overseas so they are familiar with looking for things online, but want to find limited edition fashion items or find schools to have their children educated abroad.
"They are also looking at health and wellness, an area we are not too familiar with," adds Matthew. "They want to look after themselves and it can range from spa treatments to getting health check-ups."
When she started Quintessentially, Matthew recalls the first year being a struggle. "You get to know yourself and your limitations, so you hire people who are better than you. I've been through so much since then that there's no situation I can't handle."
Your wish is their command
- A member in South Africa wanted a fake great white shark to take to the beach and photograph - he wanted it to look as realistic as possible. After contacting movie-prop companies and toy shops without luck, Quintessentially contacted the local fish taxidermist and found a stuffed great white.
- A last-minute request came from a member in Hong Kong who wanted to surprise his colleague in the office for his 30th birthday. The office was filled with almost 7,000 balloons with just a few hours' notice.
- The company was given half a day to find a pet jellyfish after a member in London decided it was this season's must-have accessory. We convinced the manager of an aquarium to personally install the tank and jellyfish and give the proud new owner a 30-minute lecture on the difficulties of keeping a jellyfish healthy at home.
- A potential member in Hong Kong was looking for coins from eight different countries outside China and Hong Kong. The person wanted two coins from each of the countries and wanted them as fast as possible. Everyone in the office went through their purses, wallets and drawers and collected all 16 coins in an hour and a half to satisfy his request.
- A request for a customised life-size edible cake party costume for a birthday party.
- A member wanted to propose to his girlfriend in style in Egypt. Quintessentially hired the Egyptian pyramids for a private engagement party on three days' notice. Four hundred of his family and friends were flown to Cairo, where they watched the bride-to-be arrive in a horse-drawn carriage while being serenaded by an opera singer. After being proposed to with a £7.5 million (HK$89.7 million) Tiffany diamond ring, she fortunately said yes.
- A member wanted to surprise his wife on her birthday so Quintessentially organised a flash mob in Times Square (New York), including pictures of them on every billboard.
- A member wanted to get their hands on a rare Patek Philippe watch which normally had a waiting list of seven to 10 years. A vintage timepiece was found within an hour.
- A member, obsessed with James Bond, wanted a special birthday so Quintessentially organised an extra special 007-themed adventure that included filming a high-speed car chase in a special-edition Aston Martin.