The Cruise Brothers Superstore just may be the most visible travel
agency in the country.
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
"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,
"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
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
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
"We've had people get off the highway just to look at the ship,"
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
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.
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
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
"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
I don't often
quote 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot, but during his stint
in sales at IBM, Perot preached that price-cutting is a
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