Real Business sits down with concierge and hospitality expert, Terry Burns, to talk about his extensive industry career and building his own brand through networking and customer satisfaction.
Terry began his career in hospitality in 1982 at the Royal Automobile Club. He spent twelve years at the club, managing sixteen members of staff and catering to members worldwide, from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
“I had a passion for looking after people, I can’t explain it, but the job felt made for me. You saw so many different types of people, all from quite well-to-do backgrounds but you really couldn’t judge a book by its cover because so many of them were generous and appreciative of the work my team and myself did for them.”
After fifteen years at the RAC, Terry was offered a concierge position at Tower 42. The iconic building is a recognisable landmark on the London skyline and the home for many businesses, restaurants, bars, and retail outlets. Terry now manages the building’s concierge service at the front desk and proudly states that there is very little he can’t source, organise, or purchase on behalf of his clients.
“I’ve been there twenty-four years and I joke that if I get lost, they’ll know where to return me, I’m so well-known. I’ve seen everything. I’ve handled every kind of request you can imagine. Restaurant reservations, classic car hire, personal caterers, you name it. I just secured a wonderful rental property in London, in the Marylebone area, for a client to celebrate Christmas with fourteen guests. It will be brilliant for them, to celebrate in the heart of London for two weeks with their own chef.”
Terry’s passion for delighting clients led him to establish his own business, City Concierge Ltd, and he has been managing an ever-growing list of private customers alongside his role at Tower 42 since 2004. City Concierge helps clients with busy schedules and jam-packed days organise holidays or plan personal events. Through City Concierge, Terry is able to provide a bespoke and niche service, handling some incredibly unique requests and providing his loyal customers with access to the finer things in life.
“I was once asked by a very good fellow if I could organise a submarine for a romantic night for him and his wife. If you want a five carat, yellow, pear-shaped diamond ring, I can find that for you. I’m here to help if you want a good deal on a Rolex or you are struggling to find a certain Birkin in a certain skin, I can make a call and it’s all done and dusted. If you need tickets to a sold-out event to impress a potential client, I probably know how to get a hold of some and have them arrive on your desk in time to impress that new customer.”
Terry has a wealth of industry contacts that makes City Concierge unique in its field, as it has been built over decades of traditional networking, outsourcing, and good reputation.
“The information I have in my head is priceless. There’s lots of little tricks and I like to make a good deal. Without being arrogant, I am a living legend, I always deliver, and I like to put a smile on people’s faces.”
Like many in the hospitality and services industry, Terry was deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. After being furloughed for sixteen months, he has found not being able to return to work has taken a significant toll on not only his business, but also his mental health.
“I’m not sitting here feeling sorry for myself, but It has been hard, it’s been hard for everyone. I’ve missed my stage at the tower. I enjoy the social aspect of the job immensely; I love meeting new people.”
Over the past year, Terry has not let the pandemic hold him back. Though it has been stressful and sobering, he hasn’t stopped evolving, adapting City Concierge into a hybrid service, managing clients and providers remotely while on furlough from Tower 42. Terry can manage and fulfil requests via email and telephone, but he is strict about his customers’ privacy and all his services are confidential.
“It’s an industry that relies on word-of-mouth and private customer testimonials. Marketing my business is a challenge because there is very little I don’t or can’t do.”
With decades of experience, Terry would say his top advice for new, upcoming entrepreneurs is simple: network. Make the partnerships and connections that you can rely on, seek advice from, and reach out to if you need help. Having a large and varied network gives you access to different experts in different industries and the connections you make in the early days may one day become loyal clients or introducers. Contacts are priceless, especially if you want to outsource certain aspects of business that you aren’t an expert in, such as marketing or finance.