eff Gordon uses a simple philosophy
that, when you think about it, can work in many businesses. It's
worked well for him in his career as a stockbroker and continues to
work in his career as a travel agent. Here it is: Never sell
product. Sell yourself. And then deliver.
Gordon, president of the Davie, Fla.-based Gordon Group, said he
made a promise to himself during his stockbroker career. "I pledged
that I would never hustle anybody or sell something to somebody,"
he said. "I was going to sell myself. I knew that if I did it
right, the ultimate payment would come."
When he opened his agency after retiring from the brokerage
business in 1992, Gordon vowed to maintain the pledge and to focus
exclusively on cruise vacations. He and his wife, Karen, who also
is a former stockbroker, were avid cruisers who felt the service
they received from travel agencies was less than stellar. Gordon
was convinced he could do a better job.
He learned an important lesson that first year. "Because of my
local involvement with organizations, I started booking groups of
500 at a time," he said, but at per diems that were less than
desirable. "I talked to every one of those people as if they were a
client buying a $50,000 cruise, which was not a smart thing to do
Gordon quickly regrouped and rethought his business plan. "The
key to success in business is going after a particular market," he
said. "We decided we would market to a higher-end clientele who
would appreciate what we did for them."
Gordon began targeting that upscale clientele by tapping into
familiar areas, like his hometown of Chicago. He also got in touch
with former colleagues and clients whom he knew from his days as a
stockbroker. Then, by buying mailing lists that detail demographics
and psychographics, he entered other pockets of the U.S. Gordon
soon developed a nationwide business whose turnkey marketing
approach was based on service. The initial thrust into affluent
pockets has paid off; Gordon said virtually all of his business is
now word of mouth.
Although Gordon still concentrates on groups, which account for
half of his business, he has learned to manage his time more
profitably. For instance, when he books large groups on
contemporary ships, he does so during holiday periods -- when
prices are at a premium. The Gordon Group books as many as 2,000
people on a variety of ships during the Christmas and New Year's
holidays, he said.
The other half of the agency's business is higher-end FITs. This
market segment virtually always books balcony accommodations and
higher, Gordon said, which results in higher profits for the
The way in which he services his clients is based, in large
part, on how he was treated on incentive trips during his
stockbroker days. "Did the brokerage firm really need to buy me a
vacation?" Gordon said. "It's all about recognition, and that same
psychology applies to my customers. They need to feel special."
He remembers those gifts well and how much he appreciated them.
The agency always makes sure that a personalized gift pack is
awaiting guests when they arrive at their staterooms. When they
return, the agency is quick to call to ensure that all went well --
and to thank clients for their business.
To ensure the agency's service standards remain high, Gordon
separates sales and administration. Karen Gordon runs the
administrative side of the business with a staff of four, whose
responsibilities include keeping track of group space, invoicing
and air deviations.
"Without Karen, this whole thing would crumble," Gordon said.
"We can get the best salespeople to schmooze, but you have to put
together those 100 pieces of the puzzle."
Karen's department also is responsible for post-cruise follow-up
-- including the important "welcome home" call. "In building client
relationships, we go beyond just making the sale," he said. "The
'welcome home' calls are very valuable in cementing the
relationship and obtaining future business."
On the sales side, the agency has four full-time salespeople,
including Gordon. The full-time sales employees are not paid
commissions. "I don't want my agents to think twice about what they
should sell in terms of what will earn them money," said Gordon.
"If they need to spend an hour with a client, they spend an hour
with the client."
In the end, it's all about doing what's right for the customer,
he said. Although Gordon has expanded his business every year --
the agency's annual volume is currently $6 million a year -- that
expansion has always been calculated, he said. In Gordon's view,
it's quality and integrity that count most.
"I do what my gut says," he said. "I do what's right. I could
take this organization to 10 times its size in sales if I wanted to
run it differently, but that's not my business model."
The Perfect Itinerary
Day trips, dining in Nova Scotia
rish Chandler, an agent at
Alexandria, Va.-based MacNair Travel -- and a Canada specialist and
Newfoundland native -- designed a driving trip through Nova Scotia.
"What's so great about this trip is you can do as much or as little
as you want -- and the scenery is breathtaking," she said.
Clients arrive in Halifax, Nova Scotia's capital. They spend two
nights at the centrally located Citadel Halifax Hotel. Travelers
visit the Citadel National Historic Site, which offers spectacular
views of Halifax and the Halifax Public Gardens. In the evening,
clients dine at the Five Fishermen, which, as its name implies,
specializes in seafood.
Travelers embark on a drive along Nova Scotia's craggy south
coast to the picturesque fishing village of Peggy's Cove. They
visit the William E. deGarthe Memorial Provincial Park to see the
artist's massive granite sculpture, a memorial to fishermen and
their families. Back in Halifax, they have lunch at the Little Fish
restaurant. That evening, dinner is at McKelvie's, a seafood
restaurant located in a renovated fire hall on the waterfront.
Clients depart for a three-hour drive to Baddeck, during which
they'll be treated to sweeping views of the Bay of Fundy. They will
check into Baddeck's Inverary Resort. "Its central location permits
day trips by car to all parts of the island," said Chandler.
Travelers visit the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic
Site, which houses a collection of the inventor's earliest
inventions, photos and mementos. Dinner is at the Inverary's
Lakeside Cafe, a casual waterfront restaurant that offers views of
Travelers depart for a scenic, hour-long drive along the Cabot
Trail on their way to Cape Breton. "I'm truly awed every time I
travel there," Chandler said. They check into the Keltic Lodge in
Ingonish. The lodge, which is perched on a cliff, offers guests
panoramic views of the sea and Cape Smokey. That evening, clients
dine at the Keltic's Purple Thistle Dining Room.
Travelers visit the 18th-century Fortress of Louisbourg National
Historic Park. Visitors can meander through period homes, exhibits,
streets and the waterfront. That evening, guests dine at the
Keltic's casual Atlantic Restaurant.
• • •
Hand in Hand
A SeaDream come true
hat started out as an effort to
win a SeaDream Yacht Club sales contest transformed itself into
something entirely more lucrative for Sewickley, Pa.-based Hyde
Travel. The agency went from selling a tiny slice of SeaDream
business to producing close to six figures in fourth-quarter
Hyde Travel was determined to win the promotion, which was
designed for Virtuoso agencies. The agency whose bookings produced
the highest net revenue from Sept. 2 to Dec. 31 would win a Segway
Human Transporter, an electric-powered, two-wheel vehicle that
SeaDream guests can use as transportation when in port.
"We're always going to sell what's good for clients," said Diane
Viall, a travel counselor at Hyde, "but if it's a good product --
and there's a good contest -- it makes it even more exciting."
Lucille DePerro, SeaDream's director of business development,
was there for Viall and the agency's president, Linda Hedin, every
step of the way. Viall and Hedin had worked with DePerro
extensively when she was at another company.
"They were really motivated," said DePerro. "They had a limited
amount of information on selling us, but because of our past
relationship I knew they had great potential clients."
DePerro and SeaDream staff helped the agency overcome logistical
issues. For example, Viall had a potential sale to a nine-member,
three-generational family. "That was a real challenge," DePerro
said. "The family couldn't depart on the day the ship was supposed
to leave because of school conflicts" but joined the cruise two
The clients also had myriad questions and concerns about
virtually every aspect of the vacation. Viall worked with DePerro
and other SeaDream staffers to walk the clients through every step
of the sale.
They booked and sailed. More importantly, they loved it and are
thinking about chartering one of the yachts next year, said
the end, Hyde Travel was given the option of three awards: the
Segway, equivalent cash value of the Segway or Sea-Dream vacations.
The agency didn't hesitate to choose the vacations.
"They wanted the opportunity to learn more about SeaDream
firsthand to continue to develop more sales," said DePerro.
"We can't wait to go," Hedin said.
Hand in Hand highlights successful examples of agents and
suppliers working together. Send suggestions to Agent Life editor
Claudette Covey at [email protected].
• • •
Turning an 'Eye' to agencies
ne of my favorite television
series is Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." So I was
wondering what would happen if the boys stopped in, unannounced, at
several randomly selected travel agencies to perform a quick
"People -- I don't see any visuals -- just what is it that makes
this store attractive? Shouldn't a joint promoting travel be sort
of, duhhhh, interesting?"
"This carpeting is amazing -- I didn't think gold shag was still
a hot color. Would you mind terribly if we ripped it all out and
started with a concrete floor?"
"Your furniture is so utilitarian. Your clients must love coming
in here. I'll bet we know where you got it. Did a Greyhound bus
terminal recently close in the neighborhood?"
with two facing chairs for clients. Again your creative side is
coming out. But doesn't this seating arrangement sort of remind you
of your fourth-grade classroom? The person sitting behind the desk
is the authority figure -- no, no, no. All wrong. You want couches
and chairs where everyone is equal. And that Wal-Mart throw rug is
nice, but we're going to need a Persian if we're going to be
selling Abercrombie & Kent."
"Imitation plants! And do you sell imitation vacations?"
"Oh look at the little Tiki man. How 1950s. Maybe we could fix
him up with that wooden Canadian Mountie on your bric-a-brac
"Yipes. This bathroom needs to be condemned. You actually let
clients in there? How about some artwork and a box filled with
soaps you've borrowed from hotels all over the world?"
"The hard-rock radio station you have on is really super. I'm
sure your clients booking Seabourn Cruise Line are enjoying the
mood you've established. I'm not certain that playing Michael
Jackson is going to stimulate your Disney sales. You know they've
invented these things called CD changers."
"The look of those tan file cabinets lining the left wall.
Fabulous. Particularly if you want your first-time visitors to
think they're walking into an Army-Navy store."
"Oh, we so love the uniforms. They're all the same yet they're
all different. I know that I want to book a $30,000 vacation with
someone dressed in one of Al Sharpton's old jogging suits. Let's do
what our parents did, just for fun. Let's dress up for work just to
show our clients a modicum of respect."
Industry consultant Richard Turen owns the vacation planning
firm Churchill and Turen, Ltd., based in Naperville, Ill. A 23-year
industry veteran, he has been named to Conde Nast Traveler's "Best
Agents" list since the list began in 2000. He is at work on his
third book, a game plan for delivering extraordinary service in a
• • •
To help retailers tap into the bridal market
1. Look at this market in the broadest possible
sense. "The bridal market is a natural for the agency community,
but many retailers make the mistake of only going after the
honeymoon," said Bob Stalbaum, an industry marketing consultant.
"Destination weddings now account for 14% of all marriage
ceremonies - and bachelor/bachelorette party trips are becoming all
2. Don't sell cheap. When selecting a honeymoon
or wedding destination, price is not the key driver. "Most
honeymooners view their honeymoon and wedding as the trip of a
lifetime, and they are more concerned with getting what they want
than with price," said Stalbaum. "Find out what your clients
desire, then offer them a trip designed to help them fulfill their
3. Promote yourself as a specialist. To be
effective in reaching this market, advertise yourself as a
destination wedding and/or honeymoon specialist. Highlight your
expertise in ads, in your storefront window and through press
releases, Stalbaum said.
4. Whatever segments of the market you decide
to target, make the commitment to communicate with that segment on
a consistent and ongoing basis. "My turnkey marketing campaign for
the bridal market consists of seven different communications,"
Stalbaum said. First, approach newly engaged couples and ask them
to consider a destination wedding as an alternative to a
traditional wedding. Then, about eight months out, start promoting
your services to book the honeymoon. Three or four months out,
switch the focus to the bachelor/bachelorette destination party. "I
even market to the parents of the bride and groom a few weeks
before the wedding and suggest that they consider a vacation after
the wedding to help them rejuvenate after the stress of the
wedding," Stalbaum said.
5. Have fun. "Clever headlines, special
envelopes and paper and a few tasteful inclusions almost always
make the reader remember the agency, which positions it as the
logical source for all romance-related bookings," Stalbaum