Travel consultants come from all walks of life, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that some had previous lives on the supplier side of the industry. We recently spoke with Matt Schumacher about his road to becoming an agency owner.
Travel Research Online (TRO): What was your profession prior to getting into the travel industry?
Matt Schumacher (MS): Before travel I was in retail, I was working for the likes of Best Buy and Walmart as a manager. Actually at one point, I worked for Randy Alleyne in the retail arena (who is now with Liberty Travel). When my job was outsourced, I applied for a job with Sandals, and that was my entry into the travel world.
TRO: So you came in through the supplier side; how did you make the move to agency owner?
MS: After about 4 years with Sandals I had an opportunity to manage a large host agency. In 2015 I decided to strike out on my own because I felt I could do a better job as a host agency.
TRO: Normally agencies evolve into becoming a host after being in business for awhile. This wasn’t your approach?
MS: No, I started Travel Troops to be a host agency from day one. In less than a year we have 80+ independent contractors, and we average four agents a week that we decline to take on as an IC.
TRO: What is the primary focus or niche of Travel Troops?
MS: About 80-85% of our business is Mexican & Caribbean all-inclusive resorts. That was a natural niche since I came from the Sandals and all-inclusive side of the business.
TRO: You have a unique perspective, having worked the supplier side of the industry. What tips would you share with other travel agents?
MS: It is all about building relationships! Take the time to build relationships with your preferred suppliers. Bashing a supplier on social media is NOT conducive to relationship building. You may feel better for a few minutes, but it can seriously hamper your future business with that supplier.
Also I recommend that whenever you are at any kind of travel show or event, pick up EVERY supplier business card that you come across. Even if you don’t currently do business with them, there may come that day when you need to reach out to them. I’m amazed at the number of posts in travel agent-only forums asking for a contact with XYZ supplier, when that TA has probably had a chance to gather that information on their own at a trade show.
TRO: What other tips would you like to share with others?
MS: Above all, quit thinking like a travel agent, and think like a business owner. Even ICs should approach this as a business. Make decisions based on what is best for your business. For example, when deciding who your preferred suppliers will be, take into consideration whether they sell direct to consumers. You cannot always avoid that (all cruise lines sell direct), but it is something to consider. There are some suppliers we refuse to work with because of their predatory tactics. Don’t simply look at the commission levels paid or travel agent perks offered; in the long run those might not matter if the supplier has a tendency to poach your clients.
I also stress to my ICs that they need to have a plan in place. And if your plan is to “do better next year,” that’s not a plan. It has to be measurable. How much better do you want to do? A $10 increase in revenue sold is better, but is that really your goal?
TRO: What is your stance on charging fees?
MS: I charge fees and encourage my ICs to do so as well. For our fee we provide 4 hours and 3 quotes, and is both nonrefundable and not applied to the booking. I teach my ICs that their time and knowledge is valuable, and that they should charge for it.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.