Unlike her socially active peers, Ayla Gurbanova joined her father’s family business with an aim to strengthen it and watch it grow. With her personal experience and hereditary flair, she confidently leads the VIP CLUB CONCIERGE AZERBAIJAN company to vast and new horizons.
BY ELCHIN AMIROV
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: You are quite young, but you already run a rather specific business. Who came up with the idea of creating a company providing concierge services?
Answer: My father came up with a burning idea of such a business back in 2008. By that time, he already had extensive experience in the service industry, which allowed him to expand the range of provided services. As for me, I had a soft spot in my heart for luxury and with exclusivity since I was a child, which surprised my parents. After graduating from university, I found an article about a concierge service company in England, written by its founder, in a glossy magazine. After reading it, I realized that it was the sphere where I wanted to work, so I asked my father to allow me to join forces with him and learn all about the family business.
Q.: The culture of using concierge services has not quite yet developed in our country. Was it difficult to enter the local market with this business?
A.: You’re absolutely right. In 2008, presenting the club card and talking about its advantages, we really experienced emotional stress but in a good sense. We understood that, as pioneers in the local market, we would have to explain what this card was for. On the other hand, we had to be ready to fulfill the wishes of our clients. Being the first was our main advantage! Therefore, a great responsibility was assigned to us. In developed countries, concierge services are an integral part of business people’s lives. These services are clearly associated with wealth and luxury, as well as a lifestyle that envisages attending various status events, living in expensive hotel suites, etc. We understood that a concierge company provided services mainly for wealthy people who had refined taste and very high requirements for quality. Therefore, working with such a profile of clients is a big challenge.
Concierge services appeared in Azerbaijan in the early 2000s, and gave the ‘wow’ effect. Sometimes people reacted a bit inadequately. Though our clients’ portrait has changed a lot over the years, it still happens quite often that they don’t know what they need and cannot describe their problems. It is our manager’s task to get to the bottom of the matter and offer the client what he really requires.
Q.: Do you communicate with your clients by yourself or do you usually prefer to stay hidden?
A: Every client has a personal secretary ready to fulfill his or her requests 24/7, wherever the client is; some even have a personal manager, who also participate in implementing the tasks, when required. Our company employs real professionals. A high level of foreign languages is the first thing we pay attention to while hiring our employees. It is a crucial requirement, since we provide services all over the world. During an interview with an applicant, it is also important for me to understand the life position of a person, how honest and client-oriented he or she is. Knowledge of key services, goods and brands is also a requirement. As for me, it will not be true to say that I stay hidden. We all love to communicate with our clients, and, of course, they can turn to me if necessary.
Q.: It is clear that you work for a certain circle of people. What are the criteria for inviting them to join the club? And what kind of clients do you prefer not to work with?
A: I cannot say that we have a certain criteria for joining the club. We don’t like the idea of dividing people by class, but I understand what you are talking about. The reputation of the client is probably the most important thing. Now we are working with our existing client base. Marketing promotion at this stage is just by word of mouth. We will neither hang up banners nor shoot videos and air them on TV channels. Confidentiality is the basis of our work. We have two levels of cooperation, which differ in the number of services, but the quality of service is equally high and impeccable for all clients. However, it is true that our clients are people who, in one way or another, have made their way in the world.
Q.: Have you ever had clients who left you for your competitors?
A.: No, because we don’t have competitors (smiles).
Q.: What was the most unusual order you’ve received?
A.: We’ve had a lot of unusual orders, but maybe I can tell you about one of them. We were asked to organize a dinner at home and find a decent concert or opera online, so that “there was a reason to dress properly”. We offered the client food and wine delivery and found several online events. As a result, he chose a broadcast of the opera ‘Carmen’ at the Bolshoi Theater, dressed himself up in a tux, and had a great time.
Q.: You lived in Europe and were a client of the concierge companies. What, in your opinion, is the main difference between a local and a European client?
A: We always strive to optimize our time, financial spending, physical efforts. European clients understood a long time ago that these tasks could be entrusted to another person – a concierge. That is probably the most important difference. The second difference is that European clients appreciate the concierge company, which is a kind of like a guardian angel. He is always with you, 24/7 available by phone and ready to answer any question.
Q.: Have you ever been unable to fulfill an order for any technical reason?
A.: We are ready to fulfill any client’s desire, if it is ethical, within the law and if it is at least theoretically feasible. I would not like to dwell on this point, but sometimes we get requests that are unacceptable for ethical reasons. Therefore, our organization has very strict ethical rules.
Q.: Many concierge companies noted that the number of orders considerably increased during the pandemic. How has the pandemic influenced your company?
A.: Before the transition to self-isolation, all work processes were quite normal. The requests were like: open a cinema for a client at night, find the best bather and bring him to one of the regions, open a restaurant with a Michelin star at 10 am, and so on. In the first days of hysteria when the pandemic began, we were asked to find ventilators, various antiseptics in large volumes; there were requests for charters in Europe, as well as a house in a remote area (where it was possible to live autonomously for about 15 days). However, everything calmed down pretty quickly, and some unusual orders poured in again. Before self-isolation, the most popular requests were restaurants, flights and hotels. Now we have more orders related to medicine and health, leisure, delivery of water, food, wine, gifts and flowers. But the main trend is the desire to preserve existing habits in the new circumstances.
Q.: What do you like to do in your free time?
A.: I love travelling. I think the more countries and cultures you get to know, the more you develop as a person.
Q.: Is it difficult to work with your own Father?
A.: Of course not. On the contrary, it is a pleasure. In any difficult situation you definitely feel the support of your loved one.
Q.: Are you an only child?
A.: No, I have a beloved twin sister. She lives in Paris, and despite the distance, we are very close.
Q.: Have you ever wanted to move abroad?
A.: No, I have always loved Baku very much and never saw a reason to leave it. I believe it has everything in order to realize one’s ideas and desires.
Q.: Could you share your plans for the future?
A.: If we are talking about business, then at this stage we are interested in corporate cooperation and various forms of partnership. This is what we are working on currently.
Q.: What are the main principles of your company?
A.: Once upon a time, people who constantly sacrificed themselves, their interests and time for the sake of others, were called saints. Today, concierges play this role. It is true! It is impossible to succeed in this profession, if you don’t love people and the world sincerely and don’t want to be available at any time of the day. Our main principle can be expressed with the famous words of Pablo Picasso: “Everything you can imagine is real!”