Personal Shoppers: A Lifestyle Business

Mark Henricks writes an interesting column over at Startup Journal called “Lifestyle Entrepreneurs.” The focus is on entrepreneurs who start certain businesses, in part because of the enjoyable lifestyle they offer. The careers he covers are varied and pretty interesting.

His most recent column is about personal shoppers. These are people who love to shop and do it for other people for a fee. They make a decent living and have a lifestyle they love:

Laurie Ely began a grocery-shopping service for elderly residents of Chicago nine years ago while seeking ways to earn a living while caring for her three young children. The divorcee often helped her mother shop for food and found herself frequently approached by other seniors in the supermarket asking for help reading labels or reaching high shelves.

She printed a flyer identifying herself as “Laurie the Shopping Lady,” offering to do similar chores for pay, and posted it in her neighborhood store. “Esther told Ethel, Ethel told George, George told Myrtle, and tomorrow I’m shopping for 18 elderly people,” Ms. Ely says. She fills phone orders three days a week, towing as many as five carts as she shops. She spends more than $100,000 annually at her favorite chain, which qualifies her for discounts.

She charges a 15% commission on purchases and an $8 fee for each order, which works out to under $20,000 a year. But her services extend beyond shopping — she often finds herself bringing elderly customers cash as well as changing light bulbs and engaging in conversation — an equally in-demand service for lonely seniors.

“I’m the most-appreciated person in the whole wide world,” Ms. Ely says. “They always say they don’t know what they’d do without me. And I don’t know what I’d do without them. If I didn’t have this work, I wouldn’t be able to live in the home I live in. And I’m done by 3 o’clock so I can go pick up my kids.”

While you’re at it, check out the other Lifestyle Entrepreneurs columns. You’ll begin to get an inkling as to why the numbers of self-employed continue to grow.