x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

From Eminem gigs to space travel, UAE members club makes it happen

The Life: Luxury lifestyle group Quintessentially helps its Middle East clientele keep up with the Kardashians by securing access to memorable events.

Caroline Hargreaves of Quintessentially Lifestyle, the private members club, wants to take the company to the next level. Christopher Pike / The National
Caroline Hargreaves of Quintessentially Lifestyle, the private members club, wants to take the company to the next level. Christopher Pike / The National

When she arrived in Dubai from the United Kingdom three years ago, Caroline Hargreaves used Quintessentially, the private members club that also offered a concierge service, to get her 12-year-old labrador swiftly and painlessly through customs. As an elite member of the group, she also once used the company to secure last minute, front-row tickets to an Eminem and Jay-Z concert that could otherwise not be had.

But now the tables have turned and the former Goldman Sachs banker finds herself overseeing the growth of Quintessentially Lifestyle, as it is now known, in the UAE and the Middle East.

Being a member "gives you a unique perspective on what you want quality-wise and what else you would like to see as well as what you are happy with", says Ms Hargreaves.

She joined the company four months ago and her job is to "take the company to the next level" as the brand repositions itself as a "luxury lifestyle group" and expands its services.

"It's [no longer] just about requests; it's about understanding people's lifestyle and what they need to enjoy what life has to offer," Ms Hargreaves says during an interview at her office in Jumeirah Lakes Towers.

"You get to know [members] personally and they trust you with a lot of information because that's the only way you can be proactive and say: 'Have you heard about this new product, this new club, this person you should really meet?' You become a bit of a serial networker for them. It's not just they want to come and talk about what they are doing in their personal life, but also in their business life."

The Dubai office has already added Quintessentially Travel, Quintessentially Escapes and an online social service, Quintessentially Eleqt, to its range of businesses. More are expected to follow.

Emma Sherrard Matthew, the company's global chief executive has been watching the Middle East from her base in Hong Kongfor some time, poised to move when Dubai started to get back on its feet after the 2008 financial crisis. While Quintessentially's wealthy individual members remained loyal during that time, corporate activity took a hit.

Both women agree that Dubai's buzz is back.

"There is greater demand now," says Ms Hargreaves. "Psychologically [we've] turned the corner and people are wanting to go out more and spend more on very specific items. "

Emiratis and expats in equal numbers make up the membership, which is capped at 2,000. Second-generation residents - especially of Indian descent - are also signing up. Members pay Dh9,000 (US$2,450) for basic membership, and all the way up to Dh170,000 for elite, invitation-only membership. The Dubai office also looks after members in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

Globally, 56 per cent of Quintessentially's requests are restaurant-related and that is mirrored in the Middle East.

"Restaurants, nightclubs, hotels: that's where we are your best friend. [Helping you] if you are out of your comfort zone," says Ms Sherrard Matthew.

But it's a "dining experience" that clients are now after, asking the company to arrange for the chef to appear at the table and talk to diners, explaining how he prepared the meal and matched foods.

Another current trend in the Emirates is art. Members ask Quintessentially to source specific works, suggest pieces to buy as an investment or, again, arrange shows with the artist present who can explain his inspiration.

"We also do a lot of meet and greets, including when the Kardashians were in town" says Ms Hargreaves.

And while everyday requests are the company's bread and butter, there are requests that are "quite unusual", she says.

Recently, she had to work out how to accommodate a request for space travel - a present for a UAE member's wife's 40th birthday. She pulled it off.

Quintessentially Escapes also recently arranged a Bond experience with car chases, hot women and the client getting shot at.

The idea was so "he could truly feel he was James Bond for the day", she says. "We did that in Jordan for the scenery."

What if a client ask for something that is beyond the realm of the possible?

"More often than not we can pull it out that bag," she says. "It's never a no for us. We offer alternatives."