Jennifer Dugan is the owner of Dugan’s Travels, a travel agency that currently boasts 450 work-from-home agents. With a determination to succeed and stay at home with her growing family, Jennifer has worked tirelessly to put her agents first. From Dugan’s University Events to Agent Retreats, Dugan’s Travels makes being a travel agent and still maintaining a life outside of the job possible. Jennifer Dugan used the motivation of other mothers like herself to propel the business forward, and over the last 19 years Dugan’s Travels has grown, changed, and become largely successful. Continue on to learn more about Jennifer and her journey with Dugan’s Travels.
Travel Research Online (TRO): When you found out you were expecting your first child, you began looking for work that would allow you to stay home. What were some of the other options you explored before landing on travel?
Jennifer Dugan (JD): I was already a full time travel agent and did not realize that there were agents who did that from home. So I attempted Mary Kay Cosmetics and was horrible at it. It was not a product issue, but rather the fact that I was uncomfortable asking women if they wanted a make-over. I failed miserably at it. I bought every book I could on the subject, and being an agent was not something that was ever listed.
TRO: When you returned to the work force, and then eventually back to working from home, you were working as a travel agent. What about travel drew you in, and made you want to be a part of the industry?
JD: Out of high school I attended travel school because I wanted to do something with computers. I had taken the quiz the school offered to try to figure out what career path you should take. Travel agent was one of the careers listed. I went to school, and got hired right away by a local agency. I wasn’t making enough as a leisure agent to pay the bills, so I ended up taking a government position as a corporate agent. When I got pregnant with my son, I was very sick and was treated horribly. Luckily, the family leave act saved my job and allowed me to work part time once I was well enough. I knew I never wanted to go back to a position where I could not take time off for my own health or my child’s health without having issues.
TRO: Your dedication to your business while raising children is something not everyone has. Was there a thought or moment you would visit when things got extra crazy that pushed you to keep going?
JD: When I first started out, I was not making enough to make a difference in our financial situation. It was after my second son was born that I realized that I needed to be serious about it, or I would have to go back to work. Honestly, it was the fact that I didn’t want to put my children in daycare that pushed me through it. Every time I thought of giving up, I pushed harder because I wanted to be with my children. The real motivation was my children. Once I started helping other mothers learn the travel business, I found another motivation. I was motivated by all the other mothers counting on me.
TRO: Can you tell us a bit about your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities? Is each day a little different from the last?
JD: Now that I am in charge of the day-to-day operations of running our host agency, each day is different. My passion is still helping agents. I make sure agents get paid. I make sure the agency is in solid financial shape. I handle bookkeeping daily. I keep in contact with our agents via email and Facebook. I promote our host agency program. I run our Facebook pages, and reach out to people interested in becoming agents. If documents come in, I handle shipping to agents. I try to keep myself involved as much as possible so I know what our agents are needing and how we can improve to better suit their needs.
TRO: You grew the business and now Dugan’s Travels has not only over 450 people working from their homes, but an administrative team that helps coordinate your training programs. Is there anything you have learned from your previous working experiences that has carried to where you are now?
JD: I worked with a few agencies before I became my own entity. I took things I liked, and changed what I didn’t like. We have changed the agency so much from the beginning. We have taken suggestions and the needs of our agents to help lead our way. I always go back to my roots of helping someone who has the passion to be an agent, but also is a person with a life. We have agents who have small children. We have agents who have grown children. We have agents who are taking care of their elderly parents. We have agents who are going through their own medical issues. The most important thing is that we remember that our agents are people first. We try to make sure we are there for our agents and listen to their needs. We want people who are engaged and attend our training events. We want people who want to grow their business. I have learned so much from when I first started taking on agents.
TRO: Can you tell us a little about the training programs you offer, and the process of becoming an at home agent with Dugan’s Travels?
JD: The first step is we speak to the person on the phone to get an idea if we are a good fit for what that person is looking for. Often we get someone who just is not a good fit, and we are honest about that. If we feel it is a good fit, we send the necessary paperwork to sign up. After the sign up process, we begin our new agent training. Once this new agent training is completed, we have a second training that allows more in depth training. This includes webinars and phone calls. We highly recommend our Dugan’s University events that offers training from suppliers. We have found agents really get so much from meeting the suppliers and getting hands on training. There once was a time that suppliers wouldn’t give us the time of day because we were this little agency. Now, we have suppliers who want to come to our events and often have a waitlist due to time constraints. We have an agent only Facebook page where agents can help one another, as well as we can answer questions. Our agents are like a family. They room together at events, and are so excited to see each other.
TRO: Is there any insight you can give us to the process of Dugan’s Travels and its expansion from something small to something so big?
JD: The major way we used to get agents was word of mouth through work at home mom groups. We had over 700 agents at one point in time. Even though we had this large number of agents, we were only paying around 100 agents a month commission. We realized that people were willing to pay a small monthly fee to be part of the agency, but they weren’t really interested in doing anything with their travel business. We had to make a change and make requirements to get agents who really wanted to be a part of the agency. This was a scary choice. Now that we are down to 450 agents, we pay out more in commissions a year. We have agents who are really committed. We also do not just take anyone as an agent like we used to. We have a process of finding out who is a good fit for us. The hardest thing for me was to find a way to get help to grow the business, because it meant giving up control over what I had started all on my own. I was getting so many people wanting to join the agency, but no way of tracking agents. I had no way of knowing what I was doing right and what I wasn’t. There was so many growing pains of learning that bigger isn’t necessarily better. I had to learn to get help from people who have strengths that I do not have.
TRO: Working as an agent, and running an agency as large as Dugan’s Travels, you must have a soft spot for seeing new places and, well, traveling! Do you have a preference to what kind of travel you like best (theme parks, cruises, international, etc.)? Have you been anywhere particularly enthralling or new lately?
JD: I did not travel much as a child. I wanted my children to travel and see the world. We cruised several times a year when I first started the agency. We visited Disneyland, San Diego, Walt Disney World, and other family spots. Although I still love all the family destinations with my younger children, I now enjoy traveling with my older children too. We just took our first cruise to Alaska. It was amazing. I would go back today if I could. I really enjoyed doing something new and exciting. I love to travel. I love seeing people traveling. My oldest son (the reason I started the business) is now 20. He has traveled to Italy and Ireland without us. He loves to travel. He went with us on the Alaska cruise and loved it.
TRO: What can we expect from Dugan’s Travels in the upcoming year?
JD: This year I feel is a turning point for our agency. We will have our very first 5 Star Agent retreat. This is for our top 29 agents. We will be having our annual Anaheim Dugan’s University in February. We will also have a New Orleans Dugan’s University. We have been having some high-quality agents sign up with the agency, and I can’t wait to see what they do with their business. We are going to roll out some new technology for our agents. I feel we are going to continue to get more quality agents this year that will allow us to have more agents on our 5 Star Agent program. Suppliers seem to really want to work with us. Even though we have been a host agency since 1999, I feel like we have really learned so much about what agents are looking for. I am very excited for 2018. I feel our agents are really engaged with us and business is good.
To learn more about Jennifer and Dugan’s Travels, you can visit www.travelathome.com