As my interview with Lucy Challenger comes to an end, she leaves me with one last piece of wisdom after an interview crammed full of highlights: “You can fake a watch, but you can’t fake a butler.”
The entrepreneur behind Mayfair’s Polo & Tweed, Lucy makes for an impressive interviewee. Having founded her first company at the tender age of twenty-two, Polo & Tweed is her latest project. Acting as a recruitment and training service for luxury domestic professionals, Polo & Tweed finds candidates for the most select roles imaginable.
Whilst the closest many of us, including myself, get to domestic servants is watching Carson and Mrs. Patmore on Downton Abbey, there is an increasing demand for their services. The role of modern domestic professionals is, in many ways, far removed from the traditional stereotype, not least in the wage and lifestyle they command.
As Lucy eloquently points out, gone are the days of the “upstairs/downstairs” arrangement that characterised the bygone era of domestic servitude in Britain, replaced by a growing global desire for domestic professionals covering an array of skills.
It’s an intriguing world that remains incredibly guarded. Lucy’s professionalism kept my prying questions at bay, but she afforded a superb insight, into a little-publicised world, in this exclusive interview with Luxurious Magazine.
HM: Tell us about yourself.
I’m the CEO and director of Polo & Tweed. Polo & Tweed specialises in placing VIP staff within homes around the world. Our clients are high-net-worth individuals- celebrities, royalty and anyone who needs full-time or part-time staff for their home. So everything from butlers through to chefs, housekeepers, nannies, security, chauffeurs. Essentially we place anything that revolves around family life.
HM: How would you describe the company ethos?
The company ethos is very much a discrete and personal service. We really go the extra mile with every client. I lead the team, from our Mayfair base, and I speak to and will meet each and every client that comes to us. So in this day and age when we’re so used to picking up the phone and being greeted by an automated voice, I do away with that and provide the client with twenty-four-hour access to myself and the team. We give a really tailored and bespoke service to every client.
HM: Polo & Tweed is a unique recruitment company. What inspired you to create it?
Polo & Tweed is about client satisfaction. Every business has to think about the bottom line but that wasn’t the driving force. Having had to hire staff for my own home, I realised how much of a personal and intimate experience it is. The clients I help get the same experience. It’s about providing a service the client is happy with and keeping them as a client for life.
HM: Any strange requests?
The name of the game, as any butler would say, is to be confidential and discrete. We have had a range of unusual requests, but one must remember it’s not unusual to the person making that request. For you and I to discuss a five-bedroom townhouse with elevators may seem strange, but for these clients it isn’t.
I once had a client based in the Middle East. In the Middle East, you have a male and a female area, even in quite westernised families. Each area requires staff of the same gender and the female principle needed a female butler. She very much wanted her butler to be her confidant, which is quite typical. But she also wanted her to teach her yoga, how to bake and flower-arranging.
So we searched our database for a female butler who was a trained yoga expert and also enjoyed flower arranging and baking.
HM: Did you succeed?
We did and had a number of applications for the role! It’s amazing how multi-talented and multi-faceted our butlers are. More and more we’re getting requests for female butlers, especially in the Middle East due to the lifestyle requirements there.
HM: How much does it cost to employ a butler these days?
It varies depending on the level of the butler. It is also dependent on whether they are going into commercial or private. If we focus on the private area, which I specialise in, an entry level butler is looking at anywhere between 28-40k per annum.
Mid-level butlers are looking at anywhere between 40-60k, and that’s after 3-6 years experience. For a senior butler, typically taking 7 years to achieve such status, it varies. We have placed for positions paying up to 250k, so it’s an incredibly lucrative career.
Interestingly you don’t have to be conventionally educated, you don’t need a degree or a PhD or to be highly trained. Which other industries like Law, accountancy or medicine require, and in which you require years of study before commanding such salaries.
Butlers don’t need this, but they are fantastic at silver service and the art of service. It’s just phenomenal and that’s what gets them the really big bucks.
HM: Why do you think that there’s such a need for luxury domestic service?
Look at the net-worth of the world at the moment: London, Monaco, Zurich, China, the Middle East and more than ever, India.
In such places, people have come to expect a certain standard in their homes, so although we don’t have this upstairs/downstairs experience, people want their home run like boutique 5-star hotels. So they expect there to be a turndown service, the linen to be dry cleaned every day and for fresh orange juice and newspapers to be delivered in the morning.
They want that hotel experience in their own home and many of our clients have houses around the world. So if you fly from property to property you want to still feel comfortable and at home. You expect it to be perfect, with beautiful flowers arranged as soon as you walk in the door.
All these things that make a lifestyle, our clients want. So that’s why there’s such a demand for domestic luxury service. Whether it’s a full-time housekeeper and cook or a big team of staff from a butler through to an estate keeper and multiple housekeepers and maids.
HM: You offer training too. What does this involve?
We get a lot of requests from clients who have had say a butler or housekeeper for many years and have built up a strong relationship with them. Maybe they feel, for whatever reason, that they’re not quite hitting the mark.
Maybe they’ve recently started to entertain more and they expect the staff to serve or to greet the guests. Perhaps that isn’t quite meeting the level of service they expect, so instead of employing someone else, they reach out to us and we send a specific trainer into the home to assess and train the staff.
So it’s done in a relaxed and non-judgemental environment. We also provide this service to hotels and fly trainers across the world, even to private yachts, to help step up service wherever it’s needed.
HM: What sort of skills do you need to get into Domestic Luxury Service?
A lot of white-collar, educated individuals want to move into butlering. The first thing to remember is it’s not all glitz and glamour. Of course, you will work in phenomenal residences and with the high-net-worth of the world, but you have to, at your very core, want to please and serve.
In Britain especially, we particularly sneer at service and think it’s beneath us. But actually, to serve beautifully and with true passion, you have to have it within. If you have that ability and the want to reach that perfection in the art of service, then that’s the starting point.
So whether you’ve been trained in an academy, come to me for one to ones or whether you’ve actually worked as a butler already. It’s the desire that will get you on the ladder.
HM: Aside from the wages, what would you say the core benefits are?
Well, often you get to travel the world. You do it very well too, in terms of comfort. Private jets and super yachts, you experience a luxury lifestyle few attain- albeit you do so through your principle.
Principals are very generous people. Because the butler often becomes part of the family in a sense, they generally get very nice retirement packages. They also garner a lot of respect and admiration for their work and if you do it well then you can expect a very long and fulfilling career.
HM: What does the future hold for Polo & Tweed?
Well, every day is an adventure. I hope the brand and the company continues to grow and that we get to help many more wonderful families, principals and individuals.
Be it a normal family who just require a nanny or a high-net-worth family looking to employ seventy staff across their properties. I just see the brand providing that extra level of service and continuing to grow and flourish.
HM: You do a lot of charity work. How important do you think it is for luxury brands to help out?
It’s interesting because I think a lot of luxury brands do help, albeit slightly subtly. For me, what you take out you should put back in. We discuss with the team how we can give back each month. I think the world does go round through people giving back to society. So I really feel strongly that philanthropy is important.
Polo & Tweed – Where and how
Polo & Tweed are based in Mayfair, London.
To find out more, visit their website: www.poloandtweed.com
About Henry McIntosh