If you ask Karen Schueller, the managing director of Frosch Private Client Services, how she spends her time, she’ll say, “My day is spent pushing the envelope to develop experiences and open doors that speak to our members’ likes and are tailored to include experiential activities that connect to their souls.”
Pushing the envelope is understandable, because as Schueller puts it, she and her team are planning travel for the “top one percent” who are willing to pay $25,000 a year to be a member of this unique niche of Frosch, a multibillion-dollar global travel management firm.
“We’re catering to the movers and the shakers and these are individuals with passion and soul. These people have the finances to really make a difference in the world and they are doing very good things,” she tells Luxury Travel Advisor.
Schueller, who is based in New York, typically in Frosch headquarters on Third Avenue when there isn’t a pandemic going on, has no typical day since each of her 75 members / clients has a wide range of varying needs.
“Some call for over-the-top trips that they’ve never been on before, while others are constantly on the run and use us as a high-end concierge service that knows them and anticipates their needs. We’re familiar with all of their idiosyncrasies regarding their travel requirements,” she says.
She is, of course, mum on who these folks are, citing client confidentiality, but Schueller hints that her black book of business includes “a wide range from diplomats to moguls running empires. Some are athletes but the core is typically composed of people who are running international business empires across all spectrums.”
We ask about A-list celebrities, but those are handled by Frosch’s entertainment division, which is another story altogether. But Schueller, who has a team of six, has enough on her plate, particularly because she also handles “hospitality royalty,” i.e. those with their own portfolio of luxury hotels, which makes selecting a property for them all the more challenging.
Authentic Experiences: Schueller is shown here in Tuscany at Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco, cooking and dining with PCS clients.
Members of Frosch Private Client Services know no boundaries when it comes to traveling. Some summon Schueller as their yacht is pulling to shore of an exotic destination, or when their private jet is about to descend on a sophisticated city. They take trips of a lifetime several times over.
A stand-out itinerary for Schueller is the three-generation family that took a two-week trip spanning nine countries, buying out properties throughout their journey to guarantee their privacy and comfort.
They flew privately, of course, and changed planes when they needed to. The trip started in Rwanda for gorilla trekking; then it was off to Tanzania where Schueller had the family meet with the chairman of the Greater Serengeti Conservation Society. They also got up close with the chief rhino warden who personally escorted them behind the scenes to tag the rhinos and learn about the medical research that is being done to preserve the species. Best part? The client is actually a pilot and got to fly the plane to get to the rhinos. Even better? It was Christmas day and when the family returned to their private base, they were greeted by children’s choir welcoming them back, singing Christmas carols.
Schueller says when she presents the clients’ passion points to her travel partners, they often go above and beyond to craft fascinating experiences for them based on their relationships in the region. In the case of Tanzania, it was the owner of the lodge who suggested the meeting with the chairman of the Greater Serengeti Conservation Society.
“He was very interested in collaborating on how we could make this over the top,” Schueller says.
Ultra U.S. Luxury Travel
In light of the pandemic, Schueller has lately been planning her share of domestic travel and has found that there are some amazing resorts and villas right here in the U.S.A. Alaska has been a big focus, but not for your standard land tours. Case in point: A trip set to embark this month has been in the making since last November.
“We have the vintage sea planes from Out of Africa,” she says. That experience will include flying over Misty Fjords and landing on an alpine lake where Frosch will arrange to set up an Alaskan bush gourmet barbecue.
The client is traveling by private yacht. Note: This is not an expedition vessel, but a luxury yacht that is typically in the Med. “It’s truly a yacht you see off of Saint-Tropez,” she says, noting that the feat of getting the vessel from Europe to Alaska will be truly groundbreaking.
“It’s not just a phone call,” Schueller says of the complex process.
Another novel task was creating an around-the-world trip in 24 hours…in Las Vegas. The goal was to celebrate a client’s milestone 50th birthday with 50 of his closest friends. The group flew in by private jet, circled the city to see the landmark buildings, then landed. They started out at New York-New York, where they were greeted by “Frank Sinatra” singing the resort’s namesake song. They rode the resort’s Big Apple Roller Coaster, privately, and had some bagels and nosh along the way.
Then it was off to Paris, where the Champagne and chocolate strawberries flowed endlessly as the group was entertained by Parisian mimes. The adventure ensued for a full 24 hours, visiting a variety of destinations in Vegas before jetting home. Like most great ideas, it sounds simple enough, but Schueller says the challenge was ensuring it all flowed seamlessly and that the group was assured privacy so intruders didn’t partake in their exclusive programs.
The Frosch Executive Team: President & CEO Bryan Leibman, Chairman Richard Leibman and Executive Vice President Lara Leibman.
These three adventures required plenty of planning, however, some of Schueller’s clients are constantly on the go and never stopped traveling, even during COVID. This means they require instant responses, such as, “My yacht’s going to pull up into the Bahamas. Karen, get me the Ocean Club. I need the specialty suites and I need dinner. I need you to work with my finance team to get me cleared because I’m a high roller. I need you to work with my captain to make sure we have our docking set up and that the car’s there when we arrive.”
Add to that the need to determine the island’s COVID requirements and then to get those clients tested, then tested again so they can return to the United States. Another challenge is that those requirements change daily at times, says Schueller.
Training at Sea
Needless to say, Frosch Private Client Services is a 24/7 operation, with phone calls, texts and emails coming in at all hours. We asked Schueller what one could possibly do to prepare for a career that requires such detail, attention and customer service.
“I worked on cruise ships,” says Schueller, noting that she was stationed both at sea and in the corporate offices for several cruise lines. Hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she moved to South Florida to attend hospitality management school at Florida International University and worked in the cruise industry for 12 years.
It was on The World, an ultra-luxury residential cruise ship with individually owned suites, where she met Bryan Leibman, president and CEO of Frosch in 2007.
Schueller says there was an instant synergy with Leibman. “I was really excited about Private Client Services and where he wanted to take it and what the opportunities were,” she says.
She was also ready to grow up. “I wanted to have an apartment. I was done having a roommate and being a gypsy,” Schueller tells Luxury Travel Advisor.
She hasn’t looked back over the past 14 years, as she’s grown Frosch Private Client Services from five to 75 members.
These clients all fly via private jet and typically don’t call their advisor seeking input on where to go next. “We’re dealing with a very decisive clientele,” says Schueller. “These are A-type personalities who know what they want. They’re not indecisive.” For that reason, she knows she’s often walking a fine line, hearing a demanding request and at the same time knowing that the client is not going to be satisfied with the experience they’re describing.
It’s her responsibility in these cases to take command, but in an oh-so subtle and respectful manner.
Going the Extra Mile: Karen Schueller is shown here exploring the desert in Dubai.
“For example, we have a client in the Dolomites and staying in a gorgeous hotel but they wanted to do some self-hiking and that is not in their best interest,” says Schueller. “They’re going to miss out on so much by not having a guide.”
Rather than coming right out and saying that, Schueller and her team might instead say something along the lines of, “Okay, you want some alone time and we completely respect that but we really suggest that to tap into the World War I history of the area and to have an amazing experience on these trails you really do need to have a local guide.”
Schueller says it’s her responsibility to tell the client when they’re headed down the wrong path with their travel plans. She understands them well enough to know when they’re not going to be satisfied.
“It’s all about the client and listening to what they like and what they don’t like,” she says. “By doing this, we’re really able to go beyond the unexpected. I don’t want to just meet their expectations, we want to go beyond."
When we spoke, she was just about to add someone to her team and we asked what traits Schueller looks for in such an individual. Detail-oriented, patience and flexibility are three obvious characteristics that come immediately to mind, but she says it all comes down to having a passion for dealing with this component of the industry.
“Pre-COVID, our clients were running to London, Paris and other major cities and so we have to be on the cutting edge in terms of the latest restaurants, exhibits and galleries. This is a very cultural clientele and pulling up a list of exhibitions from the Louvre is not going to cut it for them,” she says.
Many, in fact, are art buyers and require access to the most important shows; in one instance in 2019, Schueller got a client tickets to a sold-out exhibit at the Louvre. It was so sold out that even the chairman of Sotheby’s couldn’t get her client in. In the end, Schueller got him access.
The entire ethos of Frosch Private Client Services is, in fact, providing access. They’ll ask the client what their passion points are, and then run with that information to get them into a special exhibition or passes to the Cannes Film Festival. If tickets aren’t available, they’ll still get them in.
It gets even more specific, says Scheuller.
“People need to sit in the fifth row on the left side in this seat number,” she says. If it’s a basketball game, they need to sit behind a certain team member. Not a problem.
“We will get that for a client,” she says. “We have the connections to get that. We’re going to get you exactly what you’re asking for.”
Lara Leibman, executive vice president of Frosch, notes that Schueller’s team also needs to have a great deal of creativity because most of her clients have already done it all and are not first-timers, say, to Greece or Italy.
“These people have been all over the world multiple times so their bucket lists are much smaller than anybody else’s,” says Leibman. “If it’s a new Private Client Services member, Karen will ask, ‘Where haven’t you been so that I can get a head start on planning some wonderful trips for you based on where you haven’t gone.’ It’s a whole different ball game.”
Leibman says the idea for Frosch Private Client Services started with the concept that the world is the client’s oyster and that PCS will help its clients find the pearls in that oyster.
“That’s really what Karen has successfully done for all these years because she’s still finding the exact pearl that somebody wants, which is tough,” says Leibman. She notes the current environment where, for example, a domestic luxury resort might be sold out and so a client will be happy to get whatever space they can, whenever it’s available. With Frosch Private Client Services, that is not an option because the client’s response will be along the lines of, “No. That’s not good enough for me, okay? I need that top suite and if you can’t get me that one, forget it.”
“That’s the mentality,” says Leibman. “It’s just a very different beast.”
The intent is to grow Frosch Private Client Services organically and never expand to a size where it evolves into a call center. New business comes via word of mouth, never through advertising. The goal is always to remain bespoke and Schueller likens PCS to the ultra-luxury handbag industry.
“We hand stitch,” says Schueller. “We’re not a factory. Everything is tailored per client, per trip.”
That’s because her clients base their travel off their lifestyles and rely on Schueller to tell them about opportunities that suit their desires. They don’t merely go on vacation. “They travel for a living,” says Schueller. “If an exhibit is taking place or an opera is taking place they’ll fly in for it. It’s a lifestyle.”
As the world opens up, her clients are keen to get back to Europe, which they’re missing, she says and she’ll soon be back to discovering a world of pearls for her clients.
She expects to always have dramatic challenges to suit her clients’ needs, but she also feels she’s more than up to it.
Karen Schueller enjoying the lakes and mountains of Patagonia.
Making it Happen
Because her job is so demanding, Schueller has to balance being on the road to sample new experiences for clients with a constant influx of communications to respond to and a myriad of details to follow up on. She’s very hands on and needs to see to the detailing of every trip while finding new experiences for her clients.
Schueller admits she’s a bit OCD, which drives her to perfection for her clients, but she also harkens back to those years working on cruise ships where she learned to troubleshoot and resolve issues very publicly. “The detail and the synergies among the different departments and learning about customer service while having those people in your face was the ultimate learning experience. That is where my training came from.”
She leaves us with these tips to getting things done.
One secret to her success is to always find the correct person to work with within an organization.
“We don’t call into reservations,” she says. “We’re dealing directly with directors of sales, VPs and the owners of the hotels.”
Another way of making the magic happen is to work with more than just one partner in a destination. As they say, it takes a village and quite a bit of orchestration.
“We have a lot of different people involved because it’s the right thing to do for a specific experience,” says Schueller.
“We don’t do it so it’s easy for us, we do what’s right to exceed the client’s expectations and that involves various vendor suppliers and it needs to be at a senior level. We do not have a green clientele and this is not something that people can learn on,” she cautions. “You need to be experienced and you need to be thick skinned and be accustomed to the demands of this clientele.”
Here’s another tip for getting access to sold-out situations. “If you can’t get in the front door then you try the back door. If you can’t get in that way you try a window and if that doesn’t work you go down the fire escape. You have to be creative and you have to be assertive.” She notes, however, that it’s also imperative to understand that these suppliers are her partners and that one mustn’t ever be disrespectful to get something accomplished.
“It’s a balancing act,” she says.
Frosch Private Client Services
Managing Director: Karen Schueller
Number of Members: 75
Cost of Membership: $25,000
Parent Company: Frosch Affiliations: Signature Travel Network