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  • Elise Hickey

"The Road to Domestic Staffing" ~ by Shelby Morgan

By Elise Hickey: 2/18/24 

 

In the heart of Rhode Island, a unique business is thriving by catering to the exclusive needs of households throughout New England and beyond. Bellevue Domestics Home Staffing Agency, founded by Mat and Elise Hickey in 2018, has established itself as a premier boutique staffing agency in the state.


Historic Bellevue Ave; Newport, RI - 1800s 
Historic Bellevue Ave; Newport, RI - 1800s 

Join us as we sit down with owners Mat & Elise to learn more about Bellevue Domestics Home Staffing.  


What is a Home Staffing Agency, and why Bellevue Domestics?  

A Home Staffing Agency is like a matchmaker, but instead of finding love, it finds the perfect staff for your home. Think of it as a bridge connecting talented individuals seeking employment with households in need of exceptional service and care. 


As for the name, we named our agency after Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island. It's not just any street; it's a chapter straight from history. Think about the homes from the Gilded Age that line that street. Bellevue Avenue was the path the elite traveled in their horse-drawn carriages, but it was also the path the household staff traveled to get to work. It was literally the road where the elite and those who supported them came together. 


Naming our agency Bellevue Domestics was our way of tipping our hat to that heritage. When I look down Bellevue Avenue, I see more than just asphalt and street signs. I see the people who made those grand homes operate smoothly–and usually from behind the scenes. That's the spirit behind why we called ourselves Bellevue Domestics. We're the “behind-the-scenes” part of making fine homes function. We’re the bridge between great staff and great homes.  


Where does your story begin?  

Our story began on Block Island, RI, where we met while working in the service and resort hospitality field. The island’s population goes from around 1,000 year-round residents to approximately 20,000/day in the summer season, so the hotels and restaurants on the island cater to a great range of people. That’s where we learned the importance of exceeding client expectations, and it’s ultimately what led us to the position of estate managers for an historic private estate in Newport, RI. Initially it was a great leap going from commercial service to private-home service, but that’s really where it all started. Over the next decade we gained an enormous amount of first-hand knowledge and expertise in the home staffing industry through our experiences managing upscale homes in Newport, Palm Beach, New York, and The Hamptons. 


What inspired you both to start this business? 

While we were managing Ochre Point in Newport, RI, it was our job to hire the summer staff. The estate was large, as was the multi-generational family who stayed there in the summer, so we usually had anywhere from 10-15 staff each season, including our kitchen staff who preceded us when we started.  


But in the summer of 2011, we were tasked with hiring a new private chef, and it was probably the spark that started Bellevue Domestics, even though we didn't officially open our agency until 2018. During that search, we encountered some amazing professionals, but the most important factor for us, besides the expected skills and references, was, “Who will be the best fit for the position?” In order to determine that, we decided that we would be brutally honest about the demands for the job–which required working six days a week cooking breakfast and dinner each day for anywhere between 2 and 30 people as well as cooking for the children and any special events that were planned. It was a big job, and it was probably the most important role to fill in the home. We knew what the family’s expectations were, so we clearly communicated them to each candidate we interviewed. Some candidates politely withdrew their applications, and others said things like, “I’m not putting my life on hold for that job!” Which was fair either way. No harm no foul. Eventually, we did find the perfect match; he came all the way from South Africa and stayed with the family for ten years. It was a stressful yet satisfying endeavor.  


In 2015, we chose to leave that position, so that we could care for Elise’s mom as her health was failing. When she passed, we set out to find a similar role.  That experience was eye-opening because while we made sure that we were up front with potential candidates when we were doing the hiring, we quickly learned that many staffing agencies don't share a similar practice. We actually had one agent tell us, “Just stick it out for 90 days or so, then if you don’t like it, leave.” We didn’t know it at the time, but we’ve since learned that that particular agent’s contract stipulated that she didn’t get paid unless we lasted 90 days. So she had no interest in our well-being or the client’s long-term satisfaction; she just wanted to get paid.  


When we started Bellevue Domestics, we swore that even though this is a job for us, we would never misplace a candidate for our benefit alone. It’s a bad business model. Clients and candidates will eventually see through this, and it’s really just a terrible practice, in our opinion.   


What sets Bellevue Domestics apart from other home staffing agencies in terms of the services you offer and the clientele you cater to? 

I believe that what sets us apart from other, often larger, agencies is that Mat & I have actually done most of the jobs we are seeking to fill for clients. We have managed estates; we’ve mowed the lawn, done the housekeeping, laundered the clothes, cooked and served meals, planned and executed events, managed calendars/expenses and travel, hired and fired staff, accommodated all sorts of preferences for a vast array of principals, and executed all of these jobs while living on the property. That gives us a unique perspective.  


Could you elaborate on the vetting process you use to ensure that the professionals you place are not just skilled but also a good fit for the specific needs of each home? 

The initial resume and cover letter is step one. If we like what we see on paper, we’ll invest the time in a phone call or Zoom interview, or both. During these conversations, because sometimes it takes more than one to truly get a feel for someone, our goal is to understand the candidate’s experience as it pertains to private home service, their work ethic, and their expectations. There are a lot of people out there who think, “I managed my own home and laundry successfully, so I can manage someone else’s home too.”

Unfortunately, that’s not a realistic approach. These homes have extravagant features, top-of-the-line appliances, custom textiles, irreplaceable antiques, and priceless artwork that is far beyond what one will likely find in an average American’s home. To compare one’s regular home operations to a high-net-worth individual’s is simply not fair. Couture wardrobes alone can cost more than one’s entire home furnishings, and their care requires next-level thoughtfulness and experience to properly maintain and care for them.  


Candidates who are experienced in private home service understand this, and it’s where we determine “fit.” Candidate presentation, appearance, and communication skills are also very important to us. If we’re putting forth a candidate, we want to know that he or she will represent us in a positive light. And of course we require a clean BCI/DMV record and strong references.  


How do you maintain a personalized approach in your service? 

One of our greatest assets aside from our practical experience is the fact that it’s just us–Mat & I. Therefore, our clients only deal with us, and we’re accessible seven days a week for extended hours when necessary. We are a one-point-of-contact operation. I feel that that also sets us apart from many of our competitors.  


What are some of the challenges you've faced in this industry, and how have you overcome them? 

As a boutique staffing agency, we may not have the resources that larger agencies may have–whether that’s legal, accounting, marketing budgets, etc. As a result there have been some learning curves for us. For instance, we’ve lost money in some cases. We paid to place ads and/or run background checks (not to mention our time), only to learn that the principal found someone through a friend. We were literally out over $500. That’s why we now require an initial deposit (which we then take out of the placement fee).    


Of course there are other challenges like competition. If families place the same position with multiple agencies,  it’s a dash to the finish line because we all source our candidates from similar places. And one last element is the candidate. He or she may not be interested in the position for a number of reasons, so even when we think we have the perfect fit, it’s not a done deal unless it’s a done deal.  We learn something new each day! 

 

What are your plans looking ahead? 

As we continue to grow Bellevue Domestics, our goal is to expand our reach. We obviously know Newport the best, but having grown up in New England, we know Boston, Cape Cod, Nantucket, and New England overall just as well. Plus, we’ve also worked in The Hamptons; Greenwich, CT;  Palm Beach & Wellington, FL as well, so we really do provide a one-of-a-kind staffing agency perspective. 

 

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