Singer and multi-instrumentalist Kori Gardner knows a little something about pouring one of her passions into a fledgling venture and turning it into something popular, enduring, profitable, and fulfilling: She and singer-drummer (and husband) Jason Hammel did it with their long-running indie-pop duo Mates of State (pictured above), which plays two shows at Mercury Lounge tonight (6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.).
These days, Gardner — along with three partners — is doing it again with another project, although this one’s not about music: It’s the traveling nanny agency, ChARTer Nannies.
The idea is simple: Touring musicians who want to bring their kids out on the road need a nanny to travel with them and look after their little ones 24/7 while they’re playing shows, enduring interviews, and handling all the other responsibilities of the job. And while there are tons of nannies out there, not every nanny is suited for that kind of work.
Enter ChARTer Nannies, which is basically a matchmaking service for a client who pays a fee to be linked up with the perfect nanny. They’ve done it for the Flaming Lips, Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields, and scores of artists both major label and indie who prefer to remain anonymous out of privacy concerns. They’ve also done it for non-musicians like NASCAR icon Jeff Gordon and various models, photographers, actors, writers, and other touring creatives.
“Most nanny agencies out there are like, ‘Sign up and you’ll get to look through all the nannies in this book’ and it’s not a personal matching thing, and that’s the thing that we pride ourselves on doing,” says Gardner. “We ask a million questions [of the client], down to like, ‘Is your kid a vegetarian? Does your kid watch TV?’ and we screen all the nannies and find out what they’re about.” After coming up with a potential match, the client interviews the nanny, and if everyone vibes, the contracts are signed and the nanny hits the road for a set period of time to care for the client’s kids. “We realize there’s so many kinds of parenting and lifestyles and just picking a nanny out of a hat isn’t something we wanna have happen,” says Gardner.
Gardner’s joined in the venture by Kristin Perry (a long-time nanny, vintage clothier, and mom who lives outside Philadelphia), Erin Abbott (a nanny, photographer, and boutique owner based in Oxford, Mississippi), and Julia Knapp (a denizen of Los Angeles, she handles wardrobe for the kids TV program Yo Gabba Gabba! and the show’s traveling stage production, and has worked as Mates of State’s touring nanny).
ChARTer Nannies formed two years ago after Perry, who had come up with an idea for such an agency several years ago, met Knapp through a mutual friend, discovered that Gardner and Abbott had been tossing around a similar idea for a while, and proposed that they all meet up and join forces. “None of us could do this without the others — we work as a team,” says Perry. “None of us is willing to give up our other lives, so Kori can still do Mates of State, I can do Snowbird Vintage, Erin has her store, and Julia does Yo Gabba, and we can still make this work and grow.”
After launching earlier this year, the foursome has ironed out the kinks and turned operations into a (mostly) well-oiled machine as 2012 comes to a close. Gardner is the point person for prospective clients; Perry screens all the nannies; Abbott handles the contracts and financials; and Knapp’s the “master nanny” who trains all the other nannies.
“We’ve all got our realms, and it all seems to work out,” says Gardner. “I remember one time early on being on the road trying to match a nanny and being like, ‘I’m 5 minutes away from going on stage right now’ but I wanted to give her that time, so I had to figure out how to balance it. But having three other people willing to jump in at any time, everyone knows how to handle what I do if I’m on the road and I can’t do it. Having the network we have makes it totally easy to run the company.”
Gardner says that Perry’s perfect for screening the nannies because she’s got a knack for figuring out quickly who’s in it to properly care for a child and who just wants to live the rock ‘n’ roll dream. “A lot of people heard of [ChARTer Nannies] through Mates of State connections because I was putting things out through the band [Gardner detailed her own experiences touring with her two children via her old blog “Band on the Diaper Run”], so we’d get a lot of ‘I looove Mates of State, I’d love to tour with them, put me in!’ And Kristin’s like [Gardner assumes a matter-of-fact voice] ‘Okay, I need your resume and I need your letters of reference and this and that,’ and we’d never hear from them again.”
“We’ve really beefed up the screening process from when we started, so now it’s much more in-depth and complete,” says Perry (pictured above with her son, Sammy), who explains that the agency’s nannies often need to jive with the alternative lifestyles many musicians have. “Our nannies tend to be part of that creative community and they’re pretty unique. It turned out that around 90% of the nannies at the beginning were vegan or vegetarian. Many of them are familiar with — or ex-teachers of — alternative education methods. That kind of thing.”
Business has grown slowly but steadily, mainly through word of mouth. ChARTer Nannies doesn’t do much marketing or promotions, mainly because confidentiality and privacy is of paramount concern, so they can’t pass along very many client testimonials. But those in the know know to reach out to the agency.
In an age where more bands have to tour more than ever in order to make a living, the need for such an agency is huge, and so the business certainly has long-term viability. But aside from profitability, both Gardner and Perry say they’re especially proud of the fact that they’re providing a way for artists to avoid having to choose between their career and their kids. “It’s hard to have both — to follow your dreams artistically and fulfill your goals and also meet the needs of your family at the same time, so I think this is a good thing,” says Perry.
They’re also creating jobs. “I read an article six months ago about nannies, how there’s such a huge pool of women leaving college and nannying for a year or two,” says Gardner. “So knowing that, and knowing how I felt at the end of school, that I wanted to go travel and see the world, and plus i was into music, so I think it seems like a great job for a certain type of person, and there are people who are just made to do it.”
And client feedback has been terrific. “We haven’t had a problem yet, knock on wood,” Perry laughs. One client e-mailed her to tell her she thought ChARTer Nannies had saved her marriage by helping the whole family be together out on the road. “You can’t even imagine how great it feels to hear that,” says Perry.
“There was a certain point in time where there were very few people I knew that were out there touring with their kids, and I see it so much more now,” says Gardner. “There’s a lot more moms in bands, parents together in bands. So many people have a baby and a three-year-old and they’re out there on the road and it’s great. ChARTer Nannies is here to be there for them, and the more people find out who and what we are, the more interest there is. It really is just like growing a band.”