TRO is going to follow the progress of a few travel agents and their business over the course of 2009 to allow our readers the opportunity of comparing notes and experiences with other agents. These brave souls have promised to write about both their successes and failures this year. Be sure to leave them some comments if you would like to share some of your own experiences.
My name is Mary Stephan and I am President of Allons Travel. Allons is French for “Let’s Go” and is pronounced like “uh lons”. I struggled with a name for my business and someone emailed me something that said “allons-let’s go”, and I thought it was perfect. I am always saying let’s go to my daughter, my dogs and the 5th grade volleyball team. Plus, it is unique like me. If I were to describe myself I would say I am unique, sassy and classy.
I am a home based agent. I have always been drawn to travel and traveling. I traveled to Europe when I was in high school and absolutely loved it. I love flying, I love traveling heck I even get a kick out of being in an airport. That shows how warped I am. Moving to Columbus from a small town in Ohio I didn’t know many people. One of my sorority sisters dragged me to a meeting of the Columbus Ski Club. At the time they had 2,000 members and had tons of group trips—both ski and non-ski. After I went on my first bus ski trip I was hooked. I became newsletter Editor and a volunteer trip leader for bus trips. It was a lot of fun but a lot of hard work. From doing bus ski trips and trips to the Indianapolis 500 I moved up to doing Western ski trips to destinations like Whistler, Banff, Lake Tahoe. The largest group I had was 80 people. I just loved it. I was elected to the Board of Directors and became board member in charge of social, non ski trips and eventually ski trips where I handled the budgets, arrangements of trips, vendor contacts, payments and coordinating everything from on site picnics to wine & cheese parties, pre and post trip parties. It was a lot of work but lots of fun. Since the Ski Club was an adult club there wasn’t any room for parents with kids. So, being a parent, I regretfully resigned my position and moved on to other things. Since I loved the travel aspect so much I toyed around with becoming a travel agent or at least remaining in the industry. A Carlson Agency ran an ad in the paper looking for outside agents. I was back in! The agency had also acquired a travel school and I was able to take Worldspan and other classes while working for them. Unfortunately, when 9-11 hit, they went out of business. I stayed home with my daughter after that and was a mom.
The travel itch never left me. Almost three years ago, I saw an ad in the newspaper’s travel section. A local agency wanted to start a travel school and was looking for students. I emailed them and secured an interview. Being a stay at home mom, the cost of the training was out of my reach. But, I seized the opportunity and asked if she would hire me as an agent or trainee. I was hired as an Independent Contractor (IC) and the agency owner mentored and trained me. I sat in the office and listened to other agents on the phone. I took on-line classes. I attended seminars. And, I read and asked a lot of questions. I attended trade shows. At one show, I had an epiphany and started talking to other agents—I could do this on my own and affiliate with a host that wodul further by business. So, I made the decision to change hosts. While my host was wonderful and very good to me it was simply time to move on. It was a difficult decision. I joined another host who I have been with for almost two years and am slowly transitioning to being completely independent–I have my own CLIA accreditation. I think the host model is great for those new to the industry and in certain situations, but in my heart of hearts I need to be my own boss.
I really haven’t found my niche yet. My main focus is family travel, Disney, Honeymoons/Destination weddings, cruises, sports travel and FITs and small groups to the Caribbean, Mexico. I do some Europe and South Pacific and Hawaii—although, not a whole lot.
I have become friends with a local agency owner near me, Laura Frazier of Bliss Honeymoons. We use each other as a sounding board and it works very well for us both. We have also been working toward getting professional standards established in the industry and ridding the industry of the MLM’s. It is nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of and just talk to during the day—especially when you are home based.
The hardest part of being home based is getting out of the house and marketing. I belong to several networking groups and the Chamber of Commerce. I have been in a B2B trade show and will have a booth in one of the smaller bridal shows. I have tried newspaper advertising with no success. Advertising on the back of the Church bulletin did not yield anything either. Being a gregarious person who knows a lot of people I have been on the local radio station and TV station. I would like to do more of this as I am a huge ham!
Last year was a great year for me. My sales doubled from the previous year. However, this year has me very nervous with the economy. I remain cautiously optimistic. My goal for this year doubling what I did last year and I am determined to succeed by continued networking and further defining or discovering my niche.
Mary Stephan is the President of Allons Travel based in Powell, OH. For more information, you can contact Mary at email@example.com.
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