Zebrano Life Style Solutions

National Post

Wendy Davis, a former sales and marketing rep for Hallmark Cards, Sears Travel, and Carnival Cruise Lines, founded Zebrano in 1999 upon discovering she wanted to use a private concierge service but couldn't find one that suited her needs. She named it Zebrano after the African striped wood, because it was luxurious and because the layers would represent the variety of services she planned to offer. More than a decade in business and with eight employees, Zebrano is an established player in the sector.

There are just two employees in the loft-like office on the day I arrive. One sits quietly near the entrance, organizing a luxury kayaking trip for a family to see orcas and humpback whales in British Columbia. The accommodations include heated tents and four-poster beds. The rest of Davis's team checks in with her at regular intervals with e-mails and texts from their respective concierge duties around the city. The back wall of the office is lined with hundreds of coloured folders, each representing a request in the throes of completion. Davis admits she designed the office to resemble a trading floor.

"Everybody can hear everything, and we bat things around, so it's very collaborative," she says. In the hours I spend following her around, Davis's phone never sits quiet for more than a few minutes.

"My cellphone works in the Andes," Davis tells me over lunch at a bagel shop in Forest Hill. It's a fact representative of Davis's work-life balance—relatively non-existent, she admits with a laugh. Athletic and tanned, she applies the same level of intensity and precision required during her days as a member of the national lightweight rowing team to her work as a concierge.

On the day Apple's newest iPhone became available, her entire team rose at 3 a.m. to be first in line for online orders for clients, and to get around the two-item limit on purchases of new models. "We were on the phone with each other, and we'd e-mail going, ‘I got my two,'" she recounts with a grin. For another memorable request, she and her team managed to fill an overnight order for 5,000 Timbits so that a client could make a splash at the office.

Beyond resourcefulness, the concierge business is ruled by attention to detail. Davis keeps a folder of clients' travel itineraries next to her bedside. When clients are on trips planned by Zebrano, her staff calls ahead to hotels and service providers to ensure arrangements are in place. The goal: solve problems before the clients become aware of them.

During my visit, Davis takes me to a client's new home in Bedford Park, where one of her employees, Angela, is overseeing construction of a new storage space. The room will house floor-to-ceiling shelving and a wine fridge, which Angela photographs to note the make and model. The details will be filed away in a "household manual" for the homeowner, a woman named Mariam. That way Zebrano can easily access all of the relevant information should Mariam or her husband ever have a problem with their appliances—or even their TV remote. The house is also kept on a regular maintenance schedule: eaves are cleared seasonally, and furnace filters are replaced every three months.

With the storage space on track, Davis can sit back and breathe for a moment—she seems to have thought of everything. But instead she's down the hall in Mariam's laundry room, concerned that the small space won't have a suitable place to hang wet clothes to dry.

"What if we get a hanging bar, on a string?" Davis wonders aloud.

A concierge's work is never done.