How can you retain good employees? How can you stay profitable
despite commission cuts and other challenges?
president of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Academy Travel &
Tours, found that with a little ingenuity, the answers to both
questions could be connected.
On the personnel front, "I have always believed that employees
find their job more rewarding and are more motivated when they feel
they have more control and 'ownership' in their daily work lives
and ultimately their career destiny," she said.
How to give this sense of "ownership" to her staff? During the
fall of 1999, after the latest commission cut, "it became apparent
that alternate revenue sources were needed to remain profitable,"
Robison said. So she asked her staff to brainstorm ideas with her.
Together, they decided to open a retail travel accessory division
within the agency.
Robison had an idea on how to get her employees really involved
in this new project: forming a limited-liability company, with her
staff members each putting in a nominal investment to become
partners in the new company. She chose this legal form because
"members' financial liability is limited to the amount of their
individual investment, so new entrepreneurs aren't quite so nervous
about becoming a part of the opportunity," she said.
As the owner of the agency, Robison agreed to give the new
company retail space within the agency and lend it start-up funds
to purchase inventory and display equipment. Academy's lawyer and
accountant had major input about the terms of the deal.
And so Perfectly Packed -- billed as "a retail store for all
your travel needs, including foreign currency exchange" -- was
opened in time for the holiday gift season.
The result? "Our whole staff truly has a 'vested' interest in
the success of our retail shop, so they're excited about working
there," she said.
"With employee-owners, I feel that the staff turnover will
remain low," Robinson added. "We all knew (and expected) the
initial start-up, hard work and costs to be a challenge, but we can
also see the great potential in the future."
Keeping staff motivated
It has taken some hard thought for Linda Robison, president of
Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Academy Travel & Tours, to
develop her agency's strategy for keeping good employees, but she
knew from the start that motivation was key.
because "my employee base is as diversified as my client base, no
single answer would motivate and appeal to everyone. I had earlier
identified which key employee or employees would be extremely hard
to replace and tried to determine what motivated each of them
individually," she said. So she began to offer training to each
staffer according to "what they liked, not just what we
She had quickly identified Nancy Heck as "not only a great
employee but also a natural leader." A few years ago, Heck had been
promoted to the position of office manager. "I observed how she
quickly grew into this challenging position and helped to increase
productivity and overall sales."
For Robison, "the next logical step seemed for me to offer
[Heck] a chance to buy in as a minority owner of the company.
Earlier this year, we were able to present an offer that I hoped
would be good for both of us -- and it was."
For more on how Robison motivated the rest of her staff, see the
story above.A few Web observations
The urgent need to get Web-savvy is clear, if you can believe
what you read in the trade and consumer press. Here are some
personal observations about this trend:The debate is over. Those who reject the revolution and deny
the role the Internet will play in our lives will be described by
future generations as travel dinosaurs who once roamed the earth
offering "full service" via an obsolete machine rented from
The minimum technological knowledge you need is the ability to
understand about half of what appears in the best-selling computer
magazines.Hiring any young employee who does not know more than you do
about Web development and the Internet could be a mistake. A good
information locator is far more useful than a job applicant who has
traveled a bit and wants to travel some more.Want to save big headaches later on? Never, ever, let the same
company design your Web site and also control your Web access and
storage. Some day, you may want to work with a different design
team, and you ought to be able to take your site with you.On your own computer, design a travel home page with updates on
topics such as weather, health and politics that might be helpful
during your daytime chats with clients.Visit a computer megastore every few months to check out the
latest technology and look for new software that may help you in
your business. You'll also have a sense of being surrounded by a
new kind of consumer with high technology awareness. If you can
sell travel to these folks, then you know you're really good.
Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency
Contact him at [email protected].