An article and a caption in some Aug. 4 editions misspelled the name of Terence Tarrer, owner of Tarrer Management, a concierge firm that serves professional athletes. (Published 8/5/04)
Detroit Lions running back Kevin Jones wanted a dog -- but not just any dog. He wanted an English bulldog and, when a star athlete such as Kevin Jones wants a dog, he doesn't go to a shelter, a kennel or a breeder. He picks up the phone and, within a few days, is walking the puppy of his dreams.
Tarrer Management put the leash in Jones's hand. The company caters to every personal and financial whim in the lives of the two dozen professional athletes it serves -- and that means tracking down the perfect English bulldog.
When Jones called, client services specialist Chyncia Brown jumped on the Internet and found a champion bulldog breeder in Britain, ordering an 8-week-old, $2,500 female that was flown to Dulles International Airport. Brown guided the puppy through customs and took it home with her. Three days later, the pup was plopped in a rented Jeep Cherokee and driven overnight by another Tarrer specialist to Dearborn, Mich., where "Cheeks," as the bulldog was named, was delivered to Jones around 7 a.m.
"I called them up and said I needed to get a dog, and the next thing you know, they got this dog," Jones said. "They got it to me within two or three days . . . all the shots done."
Jones is one of hundreds of professional athletes whose salaries have soared over the last decade, creating a class of young millionaires inclined to hire staff to handle the clutter and inconvenience of everyday life. A small army of personal assistants and lifestyle management firms has grown up around professional athletes, offering 'round-the-clock hand-holding that ranges from stocking refrigerators to paying the dry cleaner to making sure grandmothers get to the airport on time. The business is expected to double to $1.3 billion in annual revenue in the next five years.
"We can do everything from chartering private yachts and jets to simple things like finding you a housekeeper to finding the best tea in town for $10," said Dionne Muhammad, founder and president of Celebrity Personal Assistants Inc., which was retained by the NFL Players Association this year to be available to serve its 1,896 active players and more than 5,000 retirees. CPAI has a concierge division in addition to other lifestyle management services and handles athletes from most of the major sports as well as some entertainers.
Personal assistants have been serving A-list celebrities and the wealthy over the last century, and many of the top sports agencies have client service providers who help athletes navigate the demands of daily life. Sports agency giant SFX has designated individuals who help set up households for clients, do their shopping, negotiate leases, buy drapes, blinds, furniture. You name it.
"It's not like athletes expect this service, but it's something they like," said Steven B. Trax, vice president of SFX's financial services arm, which helps athletes manage their money. "They just don't want to be bothered with some of the mundane household issues that come up."
Octagon Financial Services, which serves hundreds of athletes, helps clients purchase homes, cars and other big-ticket items, and finds trainers, chefs and even sports psychologists and translators. But Octagon shies from household tasks, leaving that job to players or other companies, such as CPAI.
"It's a personal service business, so it's hard to say no when a client gets traded from one city to another and needs help to rebuild their lifestyle from scratch," said Frank Zecca, vice president at Octagon. "We do send people out in planes to get it taken care of."
Sheree Buchanan, wife of former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan, who signed with the Oakland Raiders this summer, was in tears a few weeks ago when she called CPAI to ask for help finding a home in California.
"They had a realtor call me 15 minutes later," Sheree said. But the help didn't stop there. CPAI found Prince concert tickets for September, is compiling a list of Bay Area private schools for their four children and is working on a pediatrician, orthodontist, dentist and family doctor.
"I have four kids," she said. "You are constantly moving and you have people pulling at you. My husband is at training camp and it's wonderful to have someone there to help you."
Muhammad, 34, is a former software executive who founded CPAI four years ago with the idea of staffing celebrities with personal assistants who wore suits and were college educated. Previously, many celebrities relied on members of their informal entourages, usually made up of childhood friends and acquaintances, to handle minor tasks.
The concierge service arm of CPAI evolved from a small staffing agency specializing in celebrity and entertainer clients to a full-service, 24-hour company catering to every lifestyle need. The firm's big break was signing on with the NFLPA.
Muhammad won't say how much the firm charges, but industry fees range from $500 to $2,500 a month. Tarrer charges about $3,000, said Terence Tarrer, the firm's owner. CPAI mans a round-the-clock Atlanta telephone center for members and keeps a database with clients' preferences, ranging from which side of an airplane they prefer to sit on to whether they drink only soy milk. Tarrer, who has a finance degree from New York University and a master's in sports management from Virginia Commonwealth, said his team can work all night as well.
Tarrer created the company six months ago, saying he is turning his life in a new direction. In 1993, he was convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession and felony possession of cocaine, and in 1994 he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor petty larceny. He also pleaded guilty in 2002 to second-degree assault in a domestic dispute. He was fined $1,000 for the assault charge and put on one-year probation.
Tarrer now counts Rodney White, who is an NBA free agent, Jones and Dallas Cowboys cornerback Peter Hunter among his clients.
"Those other things I'm putting behind me," Tarrer said. "It's a little embarrassing, but I have no involvement in any of those things any more."
Concierge services are not government regulated or licensed, so clients use these services at their own risk. Muhammad said her firm carries a multimillion-dollar liability insurance policy to protect clients and the company from fraudulent transactions.
Theo Ratliff of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers phoned CPAI last month when he needed six airplane tickets for a quick vacation to Jamaica. When Ratliff wanted to promote an energy drink he owns, CPAI set up 50 radio interviews. And every Mother's Day, CPAI sees to it that Ratliff's mother, Camillia, who lives in Alabama, gets a bouquet of her favorite flowers.
"It's just personal stuff that you want to try to get done without the headache to deal with," Ratliff said.
Managing those details sometimes resembles a scavenger hunt. Consider a recent benefit in Richmond, attended by several Tarrer clients: A birthday cake for Jones's fiancee? No problem. Chocolate or yellow? Rodney White can't get his hotel to cook a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich, so can someone please get him one? Brown finds a diner a couple of blocks away.
On a recent morning in his Richmond office, Tarrer was on the phone trying to locate a BMW 6 Series sedan equipped with a standard transmission for White's mother, Rhonda. Through the network of dealers that he uses to buy cars, Tarrer thinks he has a handle on a vehicle at an auction house in Pennsylvania.
"They make my life a lot easier," said White, a client who recently asked Tarrer to find him a $200,000 Aston Martin. "I can call him at 1:30 in the morning and tell him my credit card isn't working. It's 24/7."
A lot of the burden falls on people such as Brown, 27, who has an associate's degree in business from Prince George's Community College. Brown is all business, learning the art of a personal assistant from several years working directly for White, prior to joining Tarrer.
Whether it's driving Hunter to get a haircut during a recent trip to Washington or staying up until 3 a.m. painting the basement walls of Jones's sprawling Dearborn home, Brown takes pride in her work. Last month she was outfitting White's Bethesda apartment with linens, lamps, dishes and a television. She also found him a housekeeper. Then she headed for Whole Foods and Shoppers Food Warehouse, where she loaded up on everything from fresh carrot juice, plums and nectarines to Cap'n Crunch and Raisin Bran cereals to SoBe soda and feta cheese -- all for White. She knew what brand of toothpaste White uses (Crest, with baking soda). She filled his Range Rover with gas, and spent three hours searching for a "Fahrenheit 9/11" bootleg DVD. Before she left, Brown put away the groceries and made dinner.
"It beats sitting all day in the office, clocking in and out," she said.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.