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Outsourcing holiday shopping
By Lauren Beckham Falcone
Friday, November 23, 2007

One man’s to-do list is another man’s treasure - especially around the holidays.

Outsourcing holiday shopping, decorating, wrapping and basic running around is more popular than ever. In fact, a recent Roper Starch poll found that 53 percent of people said they would take a personal assistant over a personal trainer.

Fini Concierge of Boston is reaping the benefits - the company has seen an annual increase of 75 percent in holiday-related client services in the past three years. Co-founder Chantal Boxer says she has Martha Stewart to thank.

“When we meet with clients, there’s typically a pile of seasonal magazines and catalogs on a table with glossy spreads of elaborate and thematic decorating and gift ideas,” she said. “But people forget: Behind every elegant host and beautiful pictorial, there’s a team that brings those scenes to life. With work and family demands, few people today have the time to plan and decorate for the holidays, but that’s what we do all across the city.”

So does Winston Flowers’ event designer Susan Surprenant, who spends her Decembers whipping McMansions into winter-wonderland shape, complete with Christmas trees, wreaths and all the opulent trimmings.

“In the past couple of years,there’s been an increase in home installations,” she said. “They want the magazine look, but don’t have the time. It’s not like years ago, when you reused old family ornaments. Now people want a theme.”

An average design and setup by Winston’s - typically with long-lasting greens, magnolia garlands, poinsettias and cranberry accents - runs an average of $2,000.

“I do my own house and I always tell my husband, ‘Do you know how much it would cost you if I hired me?’ ” she said.

Of course, some people actually like decorating. What people don’t like doing? Schlepping, parking and waiting in line.

That’s where The Opportunity Man comes in. Mark Rubino, 21, of Danvers began his errand business in September after his bosses, Matt Siegel and Billy Costa at Kiss-108 radio, would pay him to do things such as pick up dry cleaning or drive their kids to hockey games.

“People who are busy need things done, and I’m the guy to do it,” he said. “I’ll pick up presents. I’ll go wait in line for the toy you need and if it’s only in New Hampshire, I’ll go wait in line there. You want PlayStation 3 and need me to get in line at 2 a.m.? I’ll do it.”

Rubino charges a minimum of $20 an hour “depending on the location of the job.” Recently, he drove to New York City and back to run an errand and charged a mere $150. But he doesn’t think his price is the reason he gets so much work.

“People are so busy,” he said. “It’s a tough time of year to get anything done, never mind shopping for specific things. I’m just here to help.”

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