For 15 years Dynamic Agency in Southlake, Texas, "looked like
'Sanford and Son,' " the old TV show set in a junk shop, according
to owner Steven Cosgrove. "Imagine the worst," he said. "Old
posters, brochure racks, airline stickers in the window."
When the agency
moved its location 500 yards in December 1996, Cosgrove cleaned up
its act. In-store amenities such as a coffee bar, a travel video
section and a kids' play area now encourage a more upscale
clientele to browse and buy. Even more significantly, Dynamic is
now a 5,000-square foot retail store selling not just cruises and
tours, but luggage, travel books and accessories.
The makeover affected Dynamic's bottom line dramatically. The
company's '98 sales will probably be 50% more than '96 figures--to
the tune of $6.5 million, according to Cosgrove. He said walk-in
business has increased eightfold and customers are buying
higher-priced products. "In the old place people walked in for
last-minute Vegas packages," said Cosgrove. "Now when I block group
space on ships, I sell out the cabins with balconies."
Profit was a strong motivator for the shift to travel
merchandise, said Cosgrove. "I get 50% commission on most of it. I
can't think of anything else I've sold in the travel business with
He also noted clients' need for a one-stop travel shopping
experience. "We were selling clients a $4,000 trip and sending them
out the door with a shopping list for a converter, money belts, a
map. And they were going to Radio Shack to be served by some
17-year-old kid who had never been overseas and to a bookstore
whose main interest was in selling John Grisham thrillers, whose
clerks didn't know the difference between Fodors and Lonely
Besides the added profit, Cosgrove has also seen an increase in
client satisfaction. "I sold them a money belt, so they didn't get
their money stolen; I sold them a neckrest, so they were
comfortable on the plane."
Tips on selling merchandise
"Finish the sale," is what Steve Cosgrove, owner of Dynamic
Travel, said is the key to his lucrative travel merchandise
business. "If they trust me with a $4,000 trip, chances are they're
going to trust me to sell them a $40 converter." Here, some other
tips:Decide to make the commitment to create a retail environment.
That means being open retail hours--weekends and evenings. "But
hey, you're no longer an agency--you're a retail store, and how
many close at 5:30 in the afternoon?"Start small if you want to. An agency with a tiny nest egg and
not much space should first focus on developing a good selection of
luggage and travel accessories, which don't require much space,
unlike books, which do.Learn the principles of retail display: "You need variety and
selection," said Cosgrove. When it comes to luggage, "black will be
your number-one color, your number two-color, and your number-three
color," he added. "But you still want to get in that red bag. If
you have a wall of nothing but black luggage, it doesn't draw
people in." Eventually you'll sell the red bag, or donate it to a
charity drive, or give it as part of a promotion to clients buying
an expensive trip.When you're stocking travel books, go beyond the standard
guidebooks. Cosgrove's strategy: "I had two bookstores nearby, and
I didn't have tons of money to put into books, so I complemented
the big bookstores instead of competing with them. I went with all
the offbeat publishers and the hard-to-find books. Now people are
saying we have a better selection than Borders."Find out what you can and can't return. You can return books
and maps. With luggage, especially when you're starting out, some
manufacturers will allow you to "swap out"--that is, exchange one
size of luggage that isn't selling for another that is. "They
realize you don't know what's going to move, and some of them are
willing to be flexible," said Cosgrove.
The trade shows to shop
In order to sell travel merchandise, first you've got to buy it.
According to Steven Cosgrove, whose Southlake, Texas-based Dynamic
Travel majors in such products, the best place to shop for travel
accessories and books is at the following two major trade
shows:The Luggage and Leather Goods Manufacturers of America (LLGMA)
annual show, next set for Orlando February 17-20, 1999, is a must,
with virtually every luggage manufacturer represented as well as
complete lines from most travel accessories companies.
"Basically everything an agency needs to get started [in travel
merchandise] is there in one spot," noted Cosgrove. "You've got the
president, vice president of sales, and design engineers from the
companies there, all available for you to talk to."
Attendance is free. Call LLGMA at its New York headquarters,
212-695-2340; you can also register on line at their Web site,
www.llgma.org.The annual American Booksellers Association (ABA) Book Expo
America is the largest domestic book show in the U.S., held over a
period of four days. "It usually takes me two full days to make one
full pass through the whole show," noted Cosgrove. The show is
organized by publisher; check the catalog of exhibitors to see
which publishers have travel books, he suggested. Next year's Expo
will be in Los Angeles Convention Center April 30-May 2; the
registration fee is not set yet, but should be within this year's
range of $75. Call 800-840-5614.
Beyond these two musts, check out regional gifts shows for such
specialty products as travel games, suggested Cosgrove.
Tips for home-based agencies
The Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN) the Jupiter, Fla.-based
group that aids home-based agents, has just released a new manual
and audio cassette program called "How To Start A Home-Based Travel
The 300-page manual and three 1 1/2-hour cassettes were written
by Suzanne Hogsett of Travel Easy Publishing.
The program addresses such subjects as how to set up a
home-based business quickly and inexpensively; how to name your
business for best results; finding and selecting reliable
suppliers; why you should specialize and how to choose your niche;
how to set up accounts directly with most industry suppliers and
keep 100% of the commission earned; dealing with insurance, legal
and tax issues; and what to sell for maximum profit. In addition,
there are tips on inexpensive ways to promote your business;
selling groups; how to write a simple business plan; and how to
select and work with host agencies.
OSSN members have access to a special prepublication rate of
$99.95 plus $5 postage for orders received by September 30th .
Members may purchase the program at the OSSN Web site located at
www.ossn.com/secure/resources/books2.html. Non-Members may E-mail
OSSN at [email protected] and request order forms for the program
If agency owners
want to convert employees from order-takers to retail vacation
salespeople, they'd better convey that idea clearly and back it up
with training and productivity-based compensation. That was the
advice Carnival Cruise Lines president Bob Dickinson offered at a
subscriber conference for the CRS Amadeus held in Miami last
Dickinson said, "Owners and managers have to take time to be
hands-on with their people. It's unreasonable for a great football
player to become a great golfer without learning the game."
But, "If you can't get people to change, change the people," he
said. Good pay attracts good people, and that's where
performance-based compensation plans come in. Dickinson said agency
owners complain that it's hard to get good help, which is "easy to
understand when you're paying $22,000 a year and then expect
[agents] to walk on water."
Favorite UK Web sites
Making a U.K. booking? Consider these Web sites for more
information on the British Isles, the favorites of Sally Lewis,
director of marketing for www.1travel.com., an online discount
This site can save travelers from saying the wrong thing at the
wrong time. It's a U.K./U.S. dictionary of the dual meaning of many
This is the site for the NY-based press and public affairs office
of the British Embassy. If anything is going on in the UK you can
find out about it here, from tourism to sports news.
Don't let the name fool you. This is an excellent directory for
small independent hotels and Bed and Breakfasts throughout the
Museums around the UK offer links to a vast database of museum
information here. A great resource for planning daily
All about the U.K. rail system: timetables, rates, schedules, maps,
station information, the works.
An excellent resource, with one of Lewis's favorite features within
the site at www.uktravel.com/london/londonmap.html.Here, you can
click on any underground station on the map and it will tell you
the local attractions closest to that tube stop.