Judith Heydt, co-owner of Judy and Maria's
Travel in Coatesville, Pa., has a son of whom she is immensely
proud. He has an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton
School, and he offers advice regarding his mother's business that
she does not always heed.
He got a surprise,
then, when her agency was selected late last year as a winner of a
2006 Forbes Enterprise Award, which honors small businesses for
their vision and achievements.
The differences in
the views of mother and son neatly affirm the obvious: There are
many ways to run a successful business.
Heydt and co-owner
Maria Thomas have found theirs: They sell only one supplier and
only two destinations.
The supplier is
Apple Vacations. The destinations are the Dominican Republic and
Mexico (with Jamaica to be added next year). The five-person agency
is grossing close to $3.5 million a year, Thomas said.
launched their business in 1990 as a typical, full-service
operation. After 9/11, when "our world crashed," Thomas said, "we
realized we had to focus. We had to look at where people would feel
secure. We had to target repeaters and [service] quality, and we
had to offer the short trips [to those who couldn't take longer
They merged that
thinking with something Heydt was learning at the agency's Web
site, at www.jmtravel.com. She said the most-demanded
destinations were the Dominican Republic and Mexico, which meant
they could make a business even with a highly focused
preferences dovetailed nicely with Apple Vacations' product line,
so in January 2002, the partners implemented their new
Why only one
supplier? Or, more to the point, why put all the agency's eggs in
one basket? "Because you have to focus and give [the supplier] a
lot of business to get respect," Heydt said.
didn't think the strategy would work, Heydt said.
"We've earned big
respect, and we are pretty much complaint-free," she
And why Apple
Heydt said that the
tour operator is financially secure and that "its management and
sales teams work with us. Apple makes it easy to do our
The agents also
sell only a limited number of resort brands; they will expand
offerings to include Jamaica in 2008 because a number of their
preferred resorts will open properties there.
What if clients
want something else?
"We tell them what
we sell. We don't refer them to other agents. They're smart
professionals; they'll find what they want," Heydt said.
Heydt and Thomas
inspect the properties every three months (which means they cannot
review anything incognito anymore, Heydt noted). The partners take
their own photos and write all their own reviews for the agency's
The Web content "is
all us," Heydt said, with no advertising, contrary to her son's
The partners were
in Cancun in October 2005 when Hurricane Wilma struck. That was a
coincidence that "saved our business," Heydt said.
"We were able to
report firsthand to our clients that Riviera Maya was, in fact, OK
and would be up and running within months," she said.
Today, about 80% of
bookings are by repeat customers, Heydt said. The agency finds most
new clients through its Web site. As the Web is global, the
agency's clients hail from all over the world, with "a lot from the
U.K. and Spain," Heydt said.
She said that
Dominicans book hotel stays in the Dominican Republic through the
agency, too, because the rates are lower.
The Web has been
Heydt's domain, and "Maria is the champion salesperson," Heydt
"I've studied and
worked seven days a week on the Web for years," said Heydt, adding
that the agency is "in all the search engines. It's a chess game. I
change things every month, trying to stay in the top five
[responses to a search]."
By the time clients
contact Judy and Maria's Travel, "they know what they want because
our Web site is so thorough."
However, very few
make their own bookings, perhaps 1%. Heydt said she calls the
self-bookers as soon as they book.
The agency is a
brick-and-mortar operation with a heavy dose of virtual interaction
followed by high-touch handling. Making
that point, Heydt noted the Web site's profiles of the agency's
owners as well as their pets and other personal tidbits.
"We show we're real
people," Heydt said.
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Contact Nadine Godwin, Agent Life editor, at [email protected], and please include your
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in the message and put "Agent Life" in the subject
By Mark Mancini
Has this ever happened to you? Every now
and then, you stumble across a bit of information, an insight you
vaguely sense will have a profound effect on the travel
marketplace. That's how I felt when I read a recent article about
how people under age 35 think, behave and buy, based on a study
conducted by psychologist Jean Twenge.
observation: For several decades, parents, teachers and others have
worked hard to reinforce the conviction in today's young people
that they are unique, interesting and important.
It's hard to
believes that in many young adults this self-esteem has become
stretched into a distorted, overblown and dangerous sense of
Twenge finds this
to be so alarming that she calls it "a pathological narcissistic
My first reaction:
The people I know under 35 don't fit this mold at all. Most seem
engaged, concerned and eager to apply their talents to benefit
likewise finds much to admire in what she calls the Millennial
Generation. In fact, she's part of the Millennial
Twenge takes pains,
though, to point out that her peers, though largely unselfish, are
self-centered. The difference is subtle but telling.
And she worries
that the magnified overconfidence that results from this
self-absorption will soon collide with the real world, sparking all
manner of sad results.
Of course, Twenge
is generalizing. Everyone under 35 surely doesn't fit neatly into
her theories. She admits it.
observations feel right, or at least right enough, to have
implications for all aspects of society, including
isn't the villain. Maybe it's technology.
Blogs, Webcams, MySpace and YouTube all serve
to transform ordinary people into quasi-celebrities.
I always thought
Andy Warhol was just playing with our heads when he famously
declared that "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15
minutes." Turns out he was right.
TV reality shows
promise that regular people can become familiar to millions,
instantly. MP3 players permit us to be our own disc jockeys,
playing only what we love, within a sound bubble that blocks out
And be honest: Have
you ever tried to Google your own name, just to see if search engines
have "discovered" you?
(Yahoo records 30,402
hits for Jean Twenge. While I was finding that out, an ad popped
up: "Check out Paris Hilton on Yahoo." What better-timed proof
could there be?)
But let's get
practical. How will this trend affect our industry? Let's start
with future travel professionals. To be a great salesperson, you
must be able to shift your ego to someone else's, to put yourself
fully in your customer's mind.
Twenge warns that
Millennials are inclined instead to want to change other people's
minds to match their own. This is precisely the wrong thing for a
salesperson in our business to do.
however, isn't limited to 20-somethings. It's affecting us all.
We're all bathed, to some extent, in the very same technologies and
experiences that young people are, and that can potentially inflate
our sense of self while blocking those of others.
are a surprising number of simple exercises and techniques that can
help you practice shifting your attention from yourself to your
client, and keep it there. They can be divided into two main
activities: listening and observing.
Someone once said
that you shouldn't talk someone into buying, you should listen them
The best way to do
that: Ask not just fact-finding questions but also open-ended ones,
such as, "What do you see yourself doing in your vacation?"
Open-ended questions provide significant and often interesting
clues to client needs.
They're more likely
to keep your attention on what your client is saying.
Trying to pick up
on visual clues is a bit trickier. (It assumes, of course, that the
client is there with you.)
Is the client
"nodding yes" as you describe your ideas? Is their body posture
open and relaxed? Are they leaning forward toward you?
All these are
positive visual signals. And if you become skilled at spotting
them, you'll be well on your way to shifting your attention toward
What else can you
do to stay other-focused? Try to banish "I" from your sales process
and replace it with "you."
For every statement
you make, ask at least three questions.
Take notes. It
makes you pay extra-close attention to others. Try not to mentally
argue with your customer.
And make random
acts of kindness a habit -- it helps you rehearse the empathy
needed in service and sales.
Above all, no
matter if you're 20 or 60, be wary of that easy drift into
Otherwise, the only
travel you'll successfully arrange, even if it's for your client,
is travel for yourself.
Marc Mancini is an industry speaker and consultant who
teaches at West Los Angeles College.