By James Pawle, Chairman of Signature Staff
We are witnessing a very interesting time for the luxury goods and services sector as a whole. A somewhat cataclysmic period, in a sense. Whereas some areas, such as high-end travel and accommodation, as well as in-store boutique shopping, have temporarily grounded to a halt, other sections of the luxury industry have been able to continue on their trajectory and even expand.
The modernisation of life in the 21st century has led to consumers expecting things to be made available in a more immediate and streamlined fashion. And this is no different for the High Net-Worth Individual (HNWI). As a result, some businesses within the luxury sphere that have adapted with the times have been able to grow in spite of 2020’s spate of lockdowns and seeing families spending more time indoors and in one place.
One such example of this is the household staffing market. I recently acquired Signature Staff, a 60-year-old business, which provides exclusive household staff to some of the most prominent households in the world. Our current strategy is to deploy capital into marketing, senior management hires and technology to enable us to cater for our high-net-worth clients ever-evolving needs as we move into 2021. I come from a background in private equity, and believe there is an opportunity to acquire brand leaders in specific niche industries, and then to deploy strategic investment capital focused on people and technology to drive growth.
Signature Staff handpicks maternity nurses, nannies, house managers, butlers, housekeepers, chefs, chauffeurs for households belonging to royalty, captains of industry and heads of state, amongst others. I acquired Signature Staff from Angela Hovey, the highly distinguished Norland nanny, in December 2019. I most certainly wasn’t expecting our first year to present the challenges that it has. 2020 has been hard on all brands. COVID or Brexit are words on everyone’s lips at the moment, but I am confident that – with our stated strategy, perseverance, and a bit of luck – we can turn these challenges into positives for Signature Staff.
I see the opportunity for large-scale growth as more high-net-worth families seek a personalised assistance in an increasingly digital era. Furthermore, with many families spending more time at home, and many children’s immediate school futures still uncertain, it can be a key time for our expert, handpicked nannies and governesses to become part of a new family and help to build the perfect household, to the highest standards.
If you take our business as a whole, we are on track to increase our year-on-year bookings for Q1 2021 by nearly 50%, as we look to cater for the increasing demand in these high-income households, as well as families adapt to a new way of working.
We have seen how our clients are now looking to nannies and governesses to help them through this second lockdown (and potentially more as we move into early 2021). The risk of COVID spreading within creches and schools has been on high on news agenda for some time now, and we have seen more and more industry leaders and city workers come to Signature Staff, to find the perfect ‘live-in’ support – a Nanny that can help keep the house and family running smoothly, whilst families get used to the new ‘home office’. The forecast of a delayed return to work for many parents from Q2 2021, pending a vaccine, means we don’t expect demand to slow anytime soon.
The potential for a new ‘baby boom’ in the upper-income demographic – a somewhat overlooked consequence of the first lockdown – is likely evidenced by the fact that our teams have reported a large increase in maternity enquiries of 35% for Q1 2021, compared to what the company would normally expect in Q1 of any given year. Our neighbours in Ireland are also reporting the same, as last month the Irish Times spoke with the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin who stated that it is expecting a busy January. Mary Brosnan, director of midwifery and nursing at the hospital, revealed in a radio interview that bookings for early 2021 were at increased levels relative to January 2020.
As a result of the increase in demand across the business, Signature Staff is responding with a new drive for recruitment of maternity nurses, nannies and governesses to cope with the surge in interest.
Whatever the future holds, we hope that this recent growth will allow us to continue on our trajectory, leveraging our 60 years of heritage, to help build the global market leader in private household staffing for decades to come.