How to become an LA insider

Spectacular... The Montage Hotel

Lauren Arena

When it comes to retail therapy, Australian businesswoman and entrepreneur Karine Bulger knows a thing or two. She recently founded LA Experience, an Melbourne-based boutique travel consultancy that offers shopaholics a personal shopping tour of the City of Angels.

Lunch Magazine recently sat down with Karine to talk about the inspiration behind her bespoke touring business and how to get the Hollywood experience.

Expert shopper... Karine Bulger
Expert shopper… Karine Bulger

What motivated you to start the business?

I used to live in Los Angeles and my husband is American. We met in LA and lived in Santa Monica for a number of years and through living there I just absolutely fell in love with the city. It’s a spectacular city if you know where to go.

So part of the idea was sparked from a desire to introduce people to the LA that I love and, in terms of shopping, how much cheaper everything is – that’s just the reality. I travel there once a year to visit relatives and stock up on things like school shoes for my kids and everyday items and friends back home would be amazed by the quality and the prices. I was having so many social conversations about shopping in LA that I started organising trips on an ADHOC basis. Then I realised there might be an opportunity to share this experience even further.

What are some of the highlights of your signature Inside LA tour?

The hotel we stay at, the Montage Beverly Hills, is a spectacular property. It’s up there with the best in the world when you consider the nature of the service and the facilities – the spa is the best I’ve ever experienced and there are six brand new, beautiful Mercedes available for guests to use at any time – It’s an amazing experience and second to none.

The shopping days are jammed packed with stylist appointments and shopping along Rodeo Drive and The Grove, but the nights are a lot of fun too.

On Saturday evening, as part of the experience, we all have our hair and make-up done and set out to the very exclusive Tower Bar on Sunset Boulevard for the real Hollywood experience and a bit of celeb-spotting – Johnny Depp and Jennifer Aniston have tables reserved there – and then its on to SkyBar, where we sip cocktails poolside and soak up the scene. There are girls in bikinis and high heels and it’s great to just sit back and absorb it all.

How do you customise the shopping experience for each shopper?

When people register for a tour there is a consultancy session where I ask questions about what the client is hoping to achieve and the kind of items they are hoping to purchase.

I collect data in order to direct each client towards the experience they’re after and note down style preferences and measurements so when we arrive at places like Macy’s and Nordstrom there are individual racks of clothes already pulled for each shopper.

We have individual stylist appointments set-up with the key department stores as well as with brands like BCBG and Joe’s Jeans, where there is a rack of jeans hand-picked for each client when they arrive. It’s very much a VIP service.

How do you accommodate for individual requests when touring with big groups?

I come from 20 years of event and group management experience where I would coordinate conferences of up to 5,000 delegates, so the operations of the whole experience are very simple and all the locations are relatively close so it’s easy for me to navigate and for everyone to get around.

All the tours are highly organised but offer great flexibility. We’re not rigid and we’re more than happy to adjust our plans for individual demands.

What is your key client demographic?

It’s largely females but I’m certainly hoping we have some men coming along – I have a man attending our first shopping tour later this month. My demographic is early 30’s to mid 60’s and I’ve also made a conscience effort to make the tours accessible for women with children, where mothers can escape for five days and see the trip as a nice reward. I’ve found most women just want to get away with their mum or sister or daughter and just have fun.

Are there any other tour ideas in the works?

All tours are based on the Insider LA itinerary, but with additional influences, like sports – because a lot of women want to travel with their partner and this gives men different options like going to an NBA or ice-hockey game – or I also have a tour scheduled in 2014 focused on the Grammy awards.

I have three more tours scheduled this year and seven planned for next year. I hope to streamline the tours in 2015 by skewing my business towards the market – listening to feedback and offering something that people actually want.

LA Experience is currently offering a Mother’s Day Bonus where bookings of up to three people will each receive a $300 shopping voucher and bookings of four people or more receive a $400 shopping voucher. This offer is valid for those who book by 20 May 2013.

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