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Marsha McVicker is always buzzing, and not just from all the coffee she chugs at the Starbucks across from her Chicago office. She works 80 hours a week, frequently flying out of O'Hare International Airport at 6 a.m. to check in with employees in, say, Oklahoma City or Naples, Fla. It's often 10:30 p.m. when she gets home. After a few hours of sleep, the 38-year-old might be up again to write herself a reminder note. The only time she's not thinking about her job is when she's in church on Sunday morning or in the gym twice a week, boxing.
So what keeps McVicker occupied? People as busy as she is. McVicker is founder and CEO of Errand Solutions, a seven-year-old company that supplies concierges to take care of pesky errands for the time-crunched employees of hospitals and other big companies.
Its 80 "sanity savers," stationed within offices at Errand Solutions' clients, mostly manage drudgery: handling dry cleaning or getting a car washed. To do so, they call on hundreds of prescreened vendors. But the concierges have also found a seamstress to make Halloween getups for lab rats and vetted tutors for an autistic child. Errand Solutions bills employers for its errand runners' time, and employees pick up the costs of a particular service. "Our philosophy is to help anyone in any way," McVicker says, "as long as it's legal and ethical."
After a rough start—Errand Solutions had only one client its first 18 months—the company now has 35 clients with a total of 250,000 employees at 265 locations in 15 states. Add guests at the Hyatt Regency Chicago and patients at hospitals such as Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, and Errand Solutions boasts that it serves 1.7 million people a year. Revenue topped $8 million in 2006, up from about $4 million the year before. Still, the company lost money last year, after two years in the black, because it expanded too fast. "You know what they say about startups—it's going to take twice as long and as twice as much money as you think," she says.
After earning a ba from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, McVicker spent seven years as a congressional aide in Washington, D.C. Feeling burned out, she returned to Wisconsin to study supply-chain management in graduate school. Her work included a white paper on dot-com darling Web-Van, which got her thinking: Why deliver only groceries?
Rather than becoming a one-person shop like other concierges, she pitched big companies. With $100,000 from the university in exchange for an equity stake, and about the same from a dozen friends and family members, she opened Errand Solutions in 2000 in a hall closet at the offices of her first client, Kraft Foods' Oscar Mayer unit in Madison.FRIENDS AND FAMILYCharlotte Chaney, assistant hospital director at Vanderbilt, says it hired Errand Solutions in 2004 after employees complained that work schedules were eating into their home lives. Though Chaney was at first wary of a startup, McVicker's team was more flexible and enthusiastic than the other two finalists. "They just knocked our socks off," says Chaney. Errand Solutions runs 3,000 to 4,000 errands a month for the center's 11,000 employees, and staff satisfaction is up.
McVicker is painstaking in selecting service partners. She has a three-strikes-and-you're-out policy on botched jobs. Her advance teams secretly test potential vendors and run background checks to make sure they are licensed and complaint-free. Then they review their books. Many outfits don't mind the examination because Errand Solutions can bring in so many new customers. Tito Roldan, who runs a car wash in Pasadena, Calif., says business has doubled since he signed up in January, 2006. And McVicker herself is busier than ever. She wouldn't have it any other way. By Michael Arndt