In the late 70s a young woman named Sydney Biddle Barrows stood on line at an unemployment office in New York City. She showed up the next day, and the following, and for a few more days after that. With a degree in fashion and short-lived career in a downsizing department store, she was incredibly bored without a job, and strapped for money.
On her way home one day she noticed a friend unloading a brand new stereo out of a car. This friend was also on unemployment, and knowing how much the friend was bringing home weekly, Barrows questioned where the extra cash came from. “I answer phones at an escort service” the friendly nervously whispered lowly. “Oh, what’s an escort service?!” Barrows innocently chirped.
Having grown up in a conservative family and claiming to be a Mayflower descendent on her mother’s side, Barrows lived a sheltered life. Her family was relatively high up on the social register, and such topics were pretty absent from their vocabulary. Over the next few weeks she listened in earnest as her friend told her stories of her job, and the $60 take-home pay that she pocketed.
Yet when the friend rang up that a phone position had opened up and would she like to be interviewed, she had cold feet: would the office be a seedy one? Were they tied to the mafia? Was this illegal prostitution? Any fears she had, she said, were completely erased when she interviewed and realized that, in fact, it was just another assistant job, answering phones and supplying a service (years later, she would joke at her naivete at thinking the company was in line with the mafia).
After a short amount of time at the job, Barrows and her friend started questioning the quality of the company: “Even though it was the world’s oldest profession, this guy was not running it very professionally and he’d been in business for about twenty years, you’d think he’d know better, but no… Finally one day we looked at each other and said «You know, we’re at least as smart. We’re definitely nicer than he is. Why don’t we start our own service?»”
In 1979, Barrows opened her high-end escort service, Cachet.
What made the escort service unique, and what later would save Barrows from any heftier charges once her company was shut down five years later, was her sound business mind and understanding of what her customers wanted. She recognized that escorts aren’t selling sex—officially on the books nor theoretically nor physically. Anyone can find someone to have sex with, be it an associate or by paying a prostitute. Barrows realized that what her service would be selling was fantasy. And she would sell very high-end fantasy.
She started exploring her new clientele, those extremely wealthy and powerful men from all over the world. She concluded that their fantasies all really boiled down to two things:
The most expensive, the most beautiful, the most elegant, the most charming, the most fabulous, the most expensive New York City call girl was going to walk into their room… or “I’m going to call my friend… and they’re going to send over one of their pretty girlfriends to spend the evening with me”… A woman with no other agenda than to please them, listen to their jokes, be amusing with interesting conversation… The business that we were really in was providing that fantasy…”
She would coach her escorts into how to really spend time with her clients, engaging them in interesting conversation, being able to keep up on current trends and social issues, and providing them with experiences that they would remember for a lifetime. They were schooled in the vocabulary that would assist in the fantasy (such as how would you like to take care of this? rather than how would you like to pay for this? etc.)
They were trained to go out socially with their clients, to dinner or the theatre or a show. She charged each client the same amount no matter who they were or which employee they requested, only offering a slightly different scale for “public hours” where the client would be spending additional money for the time with the escort.
Even before the actual time with the escort was arranged, Barrows made sure the experience was of the utmost class and quality. She hired out of work actors to answer her phones, so they could make the scripted text she gave them sound fresh and interesting every time. She put bold, clean advertisements in local papers, black-bordered simple boxes that looked like they were engraved at Tiffany’s with only the slogan and contact information of the business included — in this way, the client was already using imagination to create their perfect fantasy. From start to finish, Barrows offered a specialty service, one unmatched in New York City at the time.
Barrows also applied savvy sales strategies to her company, guaranteeing that it truly was the most exclusive escort service that could offer unparalleled quality to her clientele.
She noted a sales model that seemed to work flawlessly: that of the cosmetics industry. A cosmetic line would offer a “gift” if a customer were to spend a certain amount of money. So when a woman walked into a department store looking for a $20 lipstick, she might spend another $20 in order to get a gift of a “free” cosmetic bag with luxe samples. Even if the woman never really used the items in the bag, she would generally spend a bit more to get it, feeling a special thrill at being given an exclusive “gift”.
During her first holiday season in business, Barrows pondered what could be her free “gift”, her token of appreciation to her most appreciated clientele. A free hour with an escort seemed cheap and would bankrupt her and her cheat her employees. She pondered again her business model, what she was selling: fantasies.
So she ordered several cases of Dom Perignon, the most expensive, the most elite, the most luxurious champagne you could buy. When a client called, the escort would pick up the bottle and bring it to the meeting. This touched the client for several reasons: primarily because the most exclusive and high-end escort agency cared enough to send them the most expensive champagne on the market with the gorgeous woman they were going to spend time with. It meant that they must have been an extremely special client, and their business was particularly appreciated. They didn’t get a mid-grade gift, they got the best.
The escort would also carry a small container of bubble bath in her purse, and offer to draw them a “champagne bubble bath”. Toted in racy magazines at the time, this was considered and extremely decadent and luxurious experience, one that the client most likely had never had before and mostly would not ever again. Barrows and her escorts offered a special experience to their clients, one that again set them apart as the most desirable company to call when looking for companionship.
Obviously, Barrows expected how this would affect her business. She noticed that no client, whether he hired the escort for an hour or four, would gulp down expensive champagne at a clip. Many times the client would linger over the champagne and the escort would get paid for an extra hour, especially if spent time in the bath (which she said the majority did). Further, the client would relay the experience to friends, how incredible and unique and exclusive it was, and most often become repeat clients and bring new ones in.
Rather than give a discount or a “free-freebie”, she gave the gift of an experience that mirrored what she wanted her business to represent.
She ran under the idea, “why would someone choose to do business with [me] versus someone who does exactly what I do?” And she did it extremely well.
For five years Barrows ran her business as professionally as possible. Every encounter was meticulously recorded, and she even sent her employees out with personal credit card machines so that her clients did not need to pay in cash under the table. She functioned with the understanding that she was providing a legal service, and made sure her employees were well taken care of and of the utmost professionalism.
In 1984 she was incredibly prepared when her company was charged with being a prostitution ring.
New York’s finest spoke on her behalf that “it was the most honest and well-run business of its kind that had ever existed in New York City”. For a while during the trial Barrows was ordered to release the names of her clientele and employees. If she were to withhold the names, she would have to plead guilty to a fourth-degree charge of promoting prostitution — a misdemeanor that did not require a prison sentence. In order to protect the people who had worked so hard and provided her company with such a loyal following, she did just that.
She was fined $5,000. A “kiss on the wrist”. She served no jail time. She was legally free to work in any business she desired. She toasted with champagne at a press conference shortly after.
Since the service closed, Barrows transitioned her success at Cachet into a series of business-advice books and lecture tours and has run a consulting company with much success for the past decade. She is known for giving incredibly sound and smart business advice, catering her knowledge for different clients to help them get the most out of their service, no matter what realm of sales it might be.
To this day, clean cut and all-American looking in sharp, feminine suits and with an incredibly friendly voice that just makes you want to smile and listen, Barrows is truly an inspiring story of how a smart, legal and professional escort service can be respected by employees and clients, and bring all a large degree of success.
Luckily Barrows’ years of wisdom can be bought for a non-luxurious price: check her products out on Amazon or listen to an incredible interview with an abundance of her philosophy and tips at BlogTalkRadio.