Ben Elliot, the co-founder of Quintessentially, has overseen the expansion of the London-based concierge service club to 50 countries since its launch in 2000. Prior to establishing the company, Ben co-founded several other ventures including K-Bar Plc, a prestigious group of bars and nightclubs, along with stylish clubs Rock and Kabaret. He works tirelessly with Quintessentially to raise funds for charities around the world including UNICEF, the AIDS charity AmfAR, and The Soil Association. His prestigious global network, creative flair and commitment to excellence have allowed him to be at the forefront of global trends in the luxury market. He spoke with Elite Traveler in February about the needs of today’s club members, his favorite charities, and the spring trip he is dreaming about.
ET: How did you and Aaron Simpson come to start Quintessentially?
Ben Elliot: We thought there was a desperate need for personal, individualized service. In London in 2000, some corporate offerings existed but they were clumsy and didn’t understand what busy, demanding world travelers wanted. So we wanted to do a brilliant job, and base it out of London. Previously, I had nightclubs, and he came from the film industry, and we both realized we were being asked ‘where should we stay? where should we go shopping? what are the best places to go?’ I don’t think either of us imagined it would be in 50 cities around the world.
ET: Who is your typical member?
Ben Elliot: There is not one description. Only two things carry across our membership. One is, that they are all members. The second is they are busy people who expect the very best. The club consists of different ages, both men and women, some who work for others and some have their own businesses. They come from China to the West Coast, South Africa to north of Norway. Most of them have three homes, most travel on business every week and for leisure once every two months.
ET: Now, Quintessentially is much more than a concierge service. How many companies are part of the brand?
Ben Elliot: It started as a concierge club. Then, over the last couple of years we created sister businesses that make the concierge service stronger. Some are available to non-members, but not at the same rate as members. It was easy to see which companies to launch based on what services were in demand by members, and where we’d been let down by third party suppliers. So now we have our own chauffeur service, flower service, for example. The same passion that you find in our concierge service, of going the extra mile, is now represented in these 16 sister businesses.
ET: What is your growth strategy?
Ben Elliot: Quintessentially has grown spectacularly every year. We are only as good as the service we give. Our strategy is to keep what we’ve got and look after it. And all of these other bits are not in 50-some cities yet. So some of those sister companies can grow in additional places on a case-by-case basis. Because we started in London, and added New York as our second home, that remains the logical order we’ll follow.
ET: As the economy has turned, how have your members’ requests changed?
Ben Elliot: Everyone is looking for more value. So our responsibility is to get even better deals than before. We’ll ensure that being a member of Quintessentially gives you the best service, plus the best price. Our responsibility is to deliver. As for the kinds of requests, our members are still traveling, buying tickets to events, going to restaurants across the world. They want to do it in the same way as before, and maybe even more so to remove themselves from realities. Travel for January is more than this time last year. One reason for that is that we’ve grown. Two, people might stop buying certain goods, but they still travel and do a lot of things. Whatever they decide to purchase will be very valuable to them.
ET: You are also very dedicated to philanthropic causes. What initiatives do you have underway for your favorite charities now?
Ben Elliot: We set up the Quintessentially Foundation, it just started. We will be supporting four charities in 2009: two in the UK include the diabetes foundation (we lost a colleague to that recently), and a school charity in the UK. And two international charities are SAS and The Reading Room, which helps disadvantaged children in the developing world get an education. I spent this morning planning what our form of raising money would be this year, and developing initiatives. We’ll involve members, partners, and staff. I don’t think any organization of any scale can afford to not give back. What we’ll do, like we have done in New York and London, is hold large fund-raising dinners, and members will turn out and support. I am thinking of entering a boxing match against a club member to raise money this year too.
ET: You are a luxury marketer at a time when the term luxury is at a cross roads. What will define luxury going forward, and how will marketing adapt?
Ben Elliot: I think the term luxury is being used way too much and it is now debased. There will be new definitions going forward. There will have to be real provenance, value, to what you do. It already is changing. If something doesn’t have a conscience, a connection to charity, then consumers will not be interested. I think you’re seeing with some of the product brands that they are returning to what their roots were, to the craftsmanship and pedigree of what they do. All of them are concentrating a hell of a lot more on giving excellent service to their best customers. That had been forgotten when times were good and luxury brands didn’t need to think about it.
ET: What were moments in your career path that really shaped how you work today? Any mentors?
Ben Elliot: My business partner is a brilliant man. When I was younger, at university, I worked in the kitchen of Harry’s Bar. The man who owned it had an absolutely fastidious eye for attention to detail and invested most in staff. I saw firsthand how hard working and dedicated you have to be and how you have to work with the very best people who are also as passionate about what you do as you are.
ET: Any great finds and favorite destinations from your recent travels to share?
Ben Elliot: I travel a lot for work, and was just in Asia for six weeks. Japan is absolutely fascinating. One tip I have is Jamaica, which suffers from terrible PR. I went to Geejam Hotel in Port Antonio, fantastic, and for Americans it is easy to get to. Another tip is, if you want the best deals and access on the ground, use Quintessentially. I am planning a trip to India in the spring, and I want wildlife and beach time over two weeks, and the Quintessentially people there are doing it all.