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Army Veteran Turned Business Concierge: No Task Too Big or Too Small and Failure is Not an Option
One of the life lessons you learn as a Soldier is that there is no such thing as failure. You adapt and overcome. You are part of a team, and that team depends upon every member. That means you can’t personally fail, because your team fails. And in the Army, failure can be a matter of life and death.
Christine Zika of CZ Concierge Services is a former Staff Sergeant of the Missouri Army National Guard with 13 years of experience as a Military Police (MP). She served in Saudi Arabia, Kosovo, Germany, and here in Missouri. Failure is not a concept she understands.
Zika started her business much as she went into her career as a Soldier—as a matter of happenstance. She joined the Guard two years into college after her parents told she’d better find a way to support herself because they couldn’t pay for college anymore. She was taking a Military Basics course while studying Public Relations in college so she could learn to rappel off a building. To finish the course she had to talk to the Major in charge of the program. Her friends told her he would try to recruit her. She responded that she was a tree-hugging pacifist who would never join the military and she needed the “A”. The Major told her about the GI Bill, Student Loan repayments, and bonuses, and since she was about to leave college she listened. She went to see a Guard recruiter. Zika laughs and says, “The recruiter told me the Guard wasn’t stressful and they never see action.” That was in May of 1990. In June she was in Basic Training and she was back home in November. In December she was activated, and in January of 1991 she was in Saudi Arabia guarding prisoners with an M16 in hand and a .45 at her hip thinking it looked a lot like war. (She was later on the other side of that fence as a recruiter. A friend’s son wanted to join the Guard but his mother didn’t want him to see combat. In one of life’s ironic twists, she recruited him into Field Artillery but the Guard later made him an MP.)
Zika happened into the business world in much the same way. She was working for the Shriners and her position was eliminated after 7 years. . She had never even worked in the for-profit world and had no desire to start a business. She and her aunt were having “what if…” conversation. Her aunt was joking about starting a business where women could fool their husbands into thinking they were doing more at home than they were actually doing in a day. In order to do that, they figured they would need an errand runner. That conversation sparked an idea with Zika and within a week and a half she was in the Veterans Business Resource Center’s (VBRC) Bootstrap Program. (The VBRC is partially funded by the SBA and is one of SBA’s resource partners along with SCORE, the Small Business Technology Development Centers, and the Women’s Business Center.) She attended classes for several hours two nights a week for six weeks. During that program she put together her business plan and less than a month later she was in business.
Zika is an enthusiastic supporter of Darcella Craven and her staff at the VBRC. She speaks of Craven’s passion for the Veterans she serves. Zika says she wouldn’t have the business she has if it wasn’t for Craven and her staff. They not only taught her how to write a business plan, but how to hire employees, how to handle business finances, licensing, and other information. They consult with and mentor their clients.
So what exactly does Zika’s company do? She says they are “that extra pair of hands everyone needs” and that “no task is too big or too small”. They create time management solutions, plan and execute special events and projects, assist with work/life balance, provide relocation services, do research, or just about anything else you need done. If your business or your employees have an issue, Zika can handle it. To paraphrase Ghostbusters, “Who you gonna call? CZ Concierge Services.”
Zika has a network of service people at her fingertips. If your plumbing is backed up and you have to be at work, she’ll get a plumber to your house. If Fluffy needs a walk, and you have to work late, Fluffy will be walked and the pooper scooper will be used. If your dry cleaning or your library books need to be picked up she’ll make it happen. If the cable installer is coming, someone will be there to let them in. If you need your shopping done, she’ll do that. If you need a birthday party planned for your child she can do a great party. She can also do a fantastic corporate event. One company had seven executives come into town for several weeks. She found them housing, picked them up at the airport, made sure they got lunch delivered daily, made sure they were transported where they needed to go, and kept them within the company’s budget. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and anyone who works for her better not be either. She is willing to tackle any job. She frees a company’s employees up to do the jobs they need to do. She takes on tasks within the company or within the employee’s lives that are distracting them from what they need to focus on at work. She’s like a combination of the shoemaker’s elves and a fairy godmother—although you do have to pay her! One’s mind spins at the distasteful tasks that could magically be done. In a cost/benefit analysis, there are some things that are not worth personally. Imagine handing off those tasks!
Zika is also a huge supporter of St. Louis. She loves the area and considers it home. Those out-of-town executives noted how enthusiastic Zika is about St. Louis. She told them all about all the great things to do in the area while they were here. She gives back to the area by volunteering to do all the social media for the Shriners Hospital Ride (a 75-mile motorcycle ride to benefit the Shriner’s hospital). She plans to do more in the future and has done more in the past, but her hands are full since she’s the only business concierge service in the St. Louis Metro Area and one of her employees just went back to school full time. And yes, Zika did finally finish college, even though it took her 16 years. Remember, she never gives up! And if you thank her for her service, she’ll tell you she is thankful for the opportunity and for what she learned while serving.
St. Louis has one of only 15 VBRCs in the country. The VBRC can be reached at www.vetbiz.com or 314-531-8387. SBA’s St. Louis District Office can also put you in touch with the VBRC, the WBC, the SBTDCs, or SCORE. You can reach the St. Louis District Office at 314-539-6600.