Does this sound familiar? You start an agency from ground zero and
spend the next few years struggling to attract business, all the
while holding down the fort in the office.
You can't hire enough people to help you because you don't have
the income -- and you don't have the income because you are too
busy answering the phone to get out there and rustle up sales.
If this scenario hits uncomfortably close to home, take heart.
Andy Holloman, owner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel Raleigh Durham in
North Carolina, is a case study in how to successfully break this
"I started an agency in 1991 in Chapel Hill [N.C.] and, for four
or five years, I struggled either alone or with two or three
others," he said. "It's just hard to be able to focus and grow your
business when you have to operate it yourself."
Admitting that he was "barely making a living," Holloman even
supplemented his income by waiting tables.
His big break happened in 1995 with the creation of a company
Web site, although admittedly without a clear idea of what its
purpose would be. He noted that 1995 was before many other agencies
had established an on-line presence.
Holloman said his Web business unexpectedly exploded. To his
surprise, the Web site attracted clients from around the country,
enabling Holloman to develop a mailing list of clients to whom he
sent e-mail advisories of air fare sales, cruise discounts and
As the list grew, the sales grew. The company literally doubled
in size that year.
Rather than rest on his laurels, in 1997 Holloman used the cash
infusion to purchase another agency with a local following, a
"super staff" and a strong corporate segment.
"With those two offices combined, we became a $5 million agency.
Then I bought two more offices in 1999, which brought us to a
little over $10 million," he said.
Holloman said his merger with more traditional agencies paid off
as he began to downsize the Internet portion of his business to no
more than 15% or 20% of overall sales.
"The interesting twist to our Internet success is that we found
it was a difficult way to build a long-term client base," he said.
The site did attract some repeat business, but he realized that
true client loyalty is easier to foster in a brick-and-mortar
Holloman, who is grateful for the cash boost his Web sales gave
him to expand, said he now uses his site more to serve his existing
client base rather than to market to new customers.
And these days, with some 22 employees to help him, he no longer
has to go it alone.
By Felicity Long
Scouting out staff
When Andy Holloman was finally able to hire a staff to help him
run his Carlson Wagonlit Travel Raleigh Durham in North Carolina,
he made an effort to attract and keep the best people he could
While his methods of scouting out good applicants are mainstream
-- he runs occasional ads and keeps his ear to the ground to hear
if anyone good becomes available -- he said running a profitable
business is the best recruiting tool he's found.
"For us, the secret to keeping good staff is creating an
environment in which good people can do well financially," he
As it became known that the agency was doing well, he said,
motivated self-starters came out of the woodwork, and because they
make "good money," they were motivated to stay.
Holloman also offers his staff plenty of independence and
flexibility, particularly those with the most experience, and he
encourages them to travel.
The less-experienced agents use travel to learn about the
products they are selling, he said, and the more-established agents
see it as a reward.
"We just had someone who did a fam trip to the Bahamas, and
someone else is going on a cruise next month," he said.
Nowadays, the agency is likely to attract even more good
employees, thanks to its recent inclusion in Inc. 500, an annual
magazine survey that singles out noteworthy private firms.
"We are number 333, and it feels great," Holloman said. He added
the victory is especially sweet considering the pervasive
gloom-and-doom predictions about what the Internet and commission
caps would do in the travel agency industry.
"Agents don't need to be scared," Holloman said. "Now there are
a whole lot of great things happening that agency owners can take
advantage of," compared to when the "so-called bad stuff
Now a Carlson Wagonlit affiliate, Holloman regards acquisition
opportunities, the Internet and increasingly sophisticated agents
-- "because the weak ones are not going to be able to hang in
there" -- as examples of the good stuff.
Marc my words: Travel oddities, part 2
by Marc Mancini
In a recent column, I listed a few things about the travel
business that absolutely puzzle me. Since then, I've come up with
even more of these enigmas:How can FIT stand for foreign independent travel (or whatever)
if it applies to domestic trips, too?How can it be that people are getting taller while aircraft
seats and pitch are getting smaller? Doesn't this refute Darwin's
theory of evolution?Do taxi drivers think those plastic dividers between them and
the back seat protect them, especially since they usually keep them
open? Is there an invisible force field we don't know about?How can we listen to a client for several minutes, then realize
that we haven't heard a thing they're saying?Why are signs popping up in hotel rooms that warn us not to
hang anything on the ceiling sprinklers? Does this apply to NBA
players exclusively?Why do people at the New Orleans Mardi Gras fight over strings
of cheap plastic beads, then spend $100 for a gourmet meal?Why do people on escorted motorcoach tours suddenly get the
urge to sing and play bingo?Why is it that Shoji Tabuchi, a Japanese violinist, is one of
Branson, Mo.'s, most popular performers?How is it that salespeople in Middle Eastern bazaars speak
every language on earth, yet most of us have trouble learning a
second language?Why do we always get the worst room in the hotel for our 50%
industry fam rate?Why do rental cars almost always have streaky windows but clean
floors?Why do the most attention-starved clients buy the cheapest
trips?Who thought to put wake-up alarms on TV sets at certain hotels,
requiring you to fly across a darkened room to shut off that awful
buzzer sound?What was that white, featureless, boomerang-shaped thing that
flew by my plane over New Mexico recently? A stealth aircraft?
Maybe, but it was flying perpendicular to the ground, not parallel
Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles