More than one secret to Montrose Travel's success

By Donna Tunney

InsightIt's been 15 years since Montrose Travel, a retail and host agency based in Montrose, Calif., launched its first travel award redemption program, providing fulfillment services to one credit union. Today the agency, having created its own redemption technology, handles fulfillment for major banks and many more credit unions.

In addition to bookings from those customers, who redeem their travel points through the agency, Montrose (No. 49 on Travel Weekly's 2010 Power List) gets a lot of new business in the form of repeat clients who have brought their leisure business to the firm even when they aren't redeeming bank or credit union reward points. 

According to Joe McClure, president and co-owner, "We get a strong percentage of repeat business. Further, we provide [our own] double, triple and in some cases quadruple points to provide an incentive for fulfillment clients to purchase [other] travel."

In fact, he said, one in five redemption fulfillment customers subsequently calls the agency for a traditional transaction.

It's one of the bright spots in this agency's business model, along with fiscally responsible financial practices that have enabled it to grow its sales volume, even at the height of the recession.

After recently receiving TravelAge West's Trendsetter Award for Best Recession Survival Story or Strategy at the publication's 2010 Wave Awards (TravelAge is a sister publication to Travel Weekly), McClure and agency co-owners Julie McClure and Andi McClure-Mysza revealed some interesting information about how they weathered the economic storm.

Back in 2008, as the economy started to tank, they talked about cutting costs and meeting revenue challenges.

Rather than "jeopardizing their future by decreasing the number of employees," a statement from the company says, they cut salaries by 10% across the board, and by 100% for the three owners. At the same time, they challenged their staff to achieve greater sales.

"We created an army of selling machines and set daily goals and posted daily achievements," said Joe McClure. "Every single employee, whether on the front lines or behind the scenes, had individual requirements to drive leads for new business into the company."

They began actively cross-promoting within their sister divisions. In tandem with an aggressive marketing campaign, which featured 75,000 direct-mail pieces and more than a half-million marketing emails, the agency's Web traffic rose by 43% over the prior year, and its sales volume grew by 13% in new leisure and corporate business. That translated to $3.3 million in new business. Within 90 days, all salary cuts had been restored.

Montrose's host agency division reports $115 million in annual gross sales. It's an agency to keep watching.

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