A flashy agency

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The Cruise Brothers Superstore just may be the most visible travel agency in the country.

neon signThe Cranston, R.I.-based location advertises its cruise specials with a flashing neon sign -- and is located right off a major national highway, Interstate 95, which goes from Miami to Maine.

The sign and location have generated a "steady stream of walk-ins since the day we opened" last winter, said co-owner Steve Gelfuso.

"We're guaranteed 10 to 12 walk-ins a day."

In fact, the company has seen solid growth in sales since the 21-year-old agency moved from a location with no walk-ins to its current site: 6,000 square feet, including a showroom with floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

Tracking sales in a typical spring week, "last year we booked 93 cabins; in the same week this year, we booked 158 cabins," said Steve's brother and co-owner, Russell Gelfuso.

The flashing neon sign outside includes the local time and temperature and also a daily cruise special, often including the count of exactly how many cabins are left. Such a gimmick fits in with the agency's positioning as a mass market cruise specialist, said Gelfuso.

"We had a repositioning cruise up for NCL, and we got four calls right away from people who saw the billboard during drive time," he said.

Parts of the message flash as cars drive by. Since "we're on a stretch of 95 that is relatively straight, driving down they can see see the whole message" -- five flashes in a row, said Gelfuso.

It also doesn't hurt that the building and the time-temperature sign are state landmarks. Once, when the sign was shut off -- this was before the agency moved in -- "people were calling the Providence Journal to ask why," said Gel-fuso.

Another marker of visibility is the 12-foot model of Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas, lighted up and revolving in the window.

"We've had people get off the highway just to look at the ship," said Gelfuso.

Building a real showroom of an agency

Walk-in business (really drive-in, since clients are lured in off the highway by a giant flashing sign) is key at the Cruise Brothers Superstore, a cruise-only agency in Cranston, R.I.

And the two "Cruise Brothers," Russell and Steve Gelfuso, have developed several strategies to make their showroom an attractive and fun place to shop.

For example, they're building a special area for customers' children, equipped with little ship models, puzzles and coloring books "to keep kids busy," according to Russell Gelfuso.

The agency is decorated in a nautical theme, with scuba- diving masks and signs in which the letters are formed of huge pieces of rope. The brothers also plan to display two genuine ship portholes.

Another benefit of having so much space (6,000 square feet) is that the agency has plenty of room for training classes for its stable of almost 200 outside referral agents (each matched to an inside agency buddy) around the country.

It's also building a full-scale Princess Cruises cabin on the showroom floor to give novice cruisers a realistic sense of what it's like to sail. "We'll tell clients, for a cruise brochure see a travel agent. To see a real cruise cabin, visit the Cruise Brothers Superstore," said Gelfuso.

One-stop shopping

It's not just location, location, location (right off a major highway) and flashing signs that make the Cruise Brothers Superstore in Cranston, R.I., stand out.

The large storefront cruise-only agency also includes two other cruise-related businesses in the same building: tuxedoes and limousines. "If people want a cruise, they're probably going to need a tuxedo and transportation [to the airport]," said Russell Geelfuso, the agency's co-owner. "We want to capitalize on the cruise end of it while allowing other vendors to capitalize on our customer base."

All Occasion Limousine, Rhode Island's largest limo company (17 cars, which "probably sounds like nothing to somebody in New York," said Gelfuso), has an office in the building.

And there is a sign for Waldorf Tuxedoes -- again, the largest tuxedo company in the state -- in the window. Cruise Brothers agents handle the tuxedo rentals, offering them to clients while making a booking, noting that their price is cheaper than on board a ship ($80 vs. $110).

It works out easily for the agency, noted Gelfuso. "We don't have to take a measurement or keep inventory here, but we do get a commission.

"After the person books the tux, he makes a down payment, which we keep. Then he is given half of the order form, and he goes to another location for the fitting." Sometimes, he said, "people just come in for the tuxedo, as well as just for a limo."

His agents are often able to cross-sell, especially to tuxedo shoppers. "If someone needs a tuxedo, we ask them, 'What's the occasion?' If it's 'My son's getting married,' we ask, 'Does he have a cruise booked already?' It's one-stop shopping.

"

Ross was right

Richard TurenI don't often quote 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot, but during his stint in sales at IBM, Perot preached that price-cutting is a self-inflicted wound.

Here are some reasons he gave for not wasting time with price shoppers:

  • They take up all your time, are slow to pay and do nothing but complain.
  • They tell other people how cheap they bought from you.
  • The next time, if you're not the cheapest, they'll go somewhere else.
  • They drive off your good customers and destroy your price, product and service credibility.
  • They will lie to you and steal from you.
  • Consider the client who has you do all the research and then goes to your competitor to book a trip. Perot concluded, and I concur, that most businesses that go broke do it by cutting prices to get business.

    Don't waste time with the price shopper and then ignore the potential business of a customer who can repay your efforts with loyalty and referrals.

    Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a sales and marketing consulting firm, as well as president of the agency Churchill & Turen Ltd., both based in Naperville, Ill. Contact him at [email protected].

    A helpful tip sheet

    Planned as a client giveaway, Travel Talk is a tip sheet of basic phrases and words for travelers translated into French, German, Italian and Spanish.

    They're divided into such categories as clothing, accommodations, numbers and signs; a special "help" section features such phrases as "I'm lost," "go away" and "I'm ill."

    Other useful items include a chart of metric conversions and temperature equivalents between Fahrenheit and Celsius; a chart of comparative U.K. and European sizes for men's and women's shoes, blouses/sweaters, dresses, suits, coats and shirts, and a guide to European street signs.

    Travel Talk is available with or without personalized agency imprints. Depending on quantity, prices start at 30 cents apiece. It's available from the Larchmont, N.Y.-based company Trav-elades. Call (800) 333-2774 for more information.

    Making a trip better

    What makes for a good fam trip? Several elements are important, agreed agents on the recent TWA inaugural flight of nonstop daily flights between St. Louis and Mexico City. Here is their advice to suppliers:

  • Send travel and hotel information as well as an itinerary to agents before they leave home.
  • To break the ice at the initial gathering, provide everyone in the group -- agents, media and those representing the trip's sponsoring companies or agencies -- with name tags that include company affiliations and titles.
  • Try to be honest and give agents as well-rounded a picture about the destination or product as you can, telling agents about the good, the bad and even the ugly. "Otherwise, my clients may go off on their own and find the bad and the ugly," said one agent.
  • Give agents at least three days at the destination; anything less ends in a blur! Include free time each day. Said one agent, "I need to experience what my customer is going to experience. If my customer is going to sit on the beach and be hassled by beach vendors, I want to know that on the fam trip."
  • Brochures and pamphlets given to agents at the attractions they visit should be in English.
  • By Mary Kay Shanley Rhodes

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