hen Bonnie Lee, owner of Travel Quest
in Monticello, Minn., bought her bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle
last year, she was thrilled because it was the first car she had
ever called her own.
The mother of four grown children, her days of shuttling
children in the big family car were over. Finally, she could
concentrate on her growing travel business and buy the car she had
always dreamed of: something cute and fun.
But soon her marketing savvy kicked in. Within a few weeks, Lee
had transformed the "bug" into an eye-catching advertisement for
"I realized the car was so cute it made people smile," she said.
With her agency's logo emblazoned on its side along with its Web
address, phone number and the tag line, "Got the travel bug? We've
got the cure," the car turned heads.
Lee said she realized she was onto something when her agency got a
call a few days after the ads appeared on the car.
"A gentleman said he wanted to buy a cruise and thought that
anybody who drives a car like this has to be a fun person to book a
cruise with," Lee said.
She approached preferred suppliers -- SuperClubs, Air Jamaica,
MLT Vacations and Northwest World Vacations -- who agreed to
advertise their names on the car in exchange for participation in
her agency's marketing.
Lee also called a local radio station, KS95, with the idea of
using travel prizes to draw and reward listeners. The station
accepted, and they planned their first promotion, in conjunction
with a mall and the bug.
The station asked listeners to don their "wackiest, wildest
vacation outfit" and have their picture taken next to the car. The
winner, chosen by the mall from among 150 entries, received a trip
to a SuperClubs resort in Jamaica, arranged by Travel Quest.
The second promotion was with the station and a sporting goods
store. Lee stuffed the bug with scores of yellow tennis balls.
Customers -- and listeners on KS95 -- were invited to visit the car
at the store's parking lot and guess how many tennis balls were
crammed inside. The person who guessed the number or came the
closest won a trip to Jamaica.
Then, for a big New Year's Eve party at the Mall of America in
Minneapolis, Lee teamed up again with KS95 and five restaurants for
a raffle of five trips to Jamaica. The car was stationed at the
Mall of America for all of December while raffle tickets were
Coming up is a fall promotion at an annual bridal show. Lee said
she and the radio station haven't devised the promotion yet but are
working on ideas that, once again, would involve her moving yellow
-- Laura Del Rosso
Catching the travel bug
onnie Lee hasn't been in the
travel business a long time, but that may be to her advantage, she
said. "Airline tickets never were a main source of revenue for me,
so I never had to adjust to commission cuts," she said.
Just a few years ago, Lee ran a very different small business:
She made and sold windsocks. She designed them, hired a dozen
people to sew them and sold 500,000 of them before selling the
business in 1994.
"I had done it for 10 years, my kids were getting bigger and I
wanted to do something different," Lee said.
So she built upon her love of the Caribbean and Mexico and
started Travel Quest, using a similar model as her windsock
business: working from home and hiring employees as her business
As with the windsock business, she based her operations on
efficiency and a sense of whimsy.
"Our idea was to make the agency a fun place to buy a vacation,"
she said. "It's not supposed to be a stressful experience."
Lee started Travel Quest as an outside agency under the umbrella
of a host agency. She concentrated on selling vacation packages for
a small roster of preferred wholesalers.
When ARC opened up accreditation to home-based agencies, she
jumped at the chance and became accredited in 1999.
Today, Travel Quest has three full-time outside agents and three
full-time inside agents. It generates about $4.5 million in sales,
85% of which is in vacation packages, with just three or four
"I earn top dollar on all of them and am treated very well," Lee
said. "I have to be honest and say I don't know much about air, but
packages I do know."
Lee's agency still is based in her home in Monticello, Minn.,
just as her windsock business once was. Her husband, Walt, is her
bookkeeper and the agency's computer specialist.
"It's a good life. I wouldn't have it any other way," she
Marc my words
The sales tool that keeps on selling
our purse. Your briefcase. Your
desk. Your refrigerator. I'd bet at least one of these has in it or
on it an advertising specialty promotional item -- a small gift
imprinted with the name or slogan of a savvy company.
Roughly two-thirds of the population wears, carries or displays
such items daily, and three-quarters of these people know the name
of the featured company without having to look.
without a huge advertising budget, it's possible to get
Here are five inexpensive ideas that can help lure sales
• Take the inside out. If your office has been in the same
location for some time, frequent passersby may have forgotten
Draw renewed attention to your agency by occasionally using
balloons, banners, posters or signs outside or in your window.
• Distribute fliers or brochures throughout your community. But
how you distribute them is the key. Placing them, say, on
windshields can annoy prospective clients.
Instead, negotiate with area retailers to display small stacks
in brochure holders near their cash registers where they can't be
• Use business cards to get noticed. Think of your business
cards as minibillboards.
• Use specialty items as reminders. If you use such trinkets as
a pen, a mug or a pocket calendar, make sure they are associated
with travel and are items that potential clients would use
For those clients who earn you lots of commissions, you might
consider buying something special. And present the item free of
your logo. Don't worry -- they'll remember where it came from.
• A simple thank-you note can be a form of advertising. The
least expensive marketing tool is thoughtfulness, and you can be
sure your clients will remain loyal if you take the time to thank
them in a handwritten, personal letter.
Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles