The best piece of advice I got in this business was also one of the first, and I have lived by it my entire career. I got into the travel business after recognizing an opportunity. I came to realize most of the problems we dealt with, as a purser onboard cruise ships at the time, tended to be travel-agent related. It was then I decided to start a cruise-only travel agency. Back in those days, there were probably fewer than 500 cruise specialists in the US and far fewer dedicated cruise agencies. From the ship, I sent letters to 5 or 6 cruise-focused and franchise companies for information on starting the business. Not a single one responded, with the exception of Gary Brown, owner of Metairie, Louisiana-based Cruise Shoppes America. Gary explained, they were no longer in the franchise business, but if I was interested we could join his new consortia and he would help us get up and running.
I spent the next nine months collecting port information, taking tours, and experiencing destinations in the same way as my future customers. I bought office equipment in St. Maarten, where everyone knows you can get great deals on electronics. I bought a TV so large (before flat screens) we had to use a lifeboat crane to get it onboard. Before the ship relocated to Alaska via the Panama Canal, I put everything into storage in Fort Lauderdale. Six weeks later, I departed the Nordic Prince for the final time as a Royal Caribbean employee in Vancouver BC and didn’t look back. I flew to Miami, loaded up a U-Haul, and drove to Metairie which is a suburb of New Orleans – another reason I liked Gary, he was a fellow Southerner.
We spent three days in his office going through operations manuals and it became very clear to me: I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I mean, I knew we could deliver the service, but running a travel agency, not so sure. Gary was a Southern gentleman and had been very successful in the insurance business prior to Cruise Shoppes. He patiently answered even the dumbest questions.
At a Cruise Shoppes conference a few months later, Gary hosted the top producers in the organization for dinner and drinks – I wasn’t invited. He could see that I felt left out and envious of the others. He pulled me aside and said, “Dan, you have to realize these folks have already invested years to build their businesses, it’s not fair to compare yourself to where they are today. But if you want to get a seat at this table, stop worrying about everyone else. Keep your head down and focus on selling. If you do this – everything else will take care of itself.” I took his advice to heart and we built a solid company by focusing on the fundamentals of selling.
Over the years, Gary and I became close friends. Even though he was just a few years younger than my father, he was more like the older, wiser brother I never had. As the owner of the consortia, he had a vested interest in my success. When I made money, he made money. He let me make my own mistakes and showed me how to learn from them. Gary passed away a few years back. I cannot overstate how much his friendship, advice, and mentorship has influenced my career to this day. By the way, I made it to the “grown-ups” table the very next year – and every year after.
Dan Chappelle is President of WealthyTravelAgent.com where he develops sales leaders for the travel & tourism industry. He assists sales professionals achieve their full potential by expanding their vision, shifting their mindset, and transforming their businesses to produce tangible results. An internationally known travel industry expert, sales executive, and speaker, Dan has earned an enthusiastic following among travel agents and industry leaders worldwide. He has been featured in numerous trade and consumer publications and is an instructor for the Travel Institutes’ Professional Educators Program, providing insight for travel professionals. You can contact Dan by email at Dan@WealthyTravelAgent.com.