The owners of Cherry Creek Travel Service in Denver aren't laughing
about commission cuts and caps, but they also aren't waiting for
the next swarm of locusts to come along, either. Instead, the
agency's owners have diversified their business, positioned it with
care and made customer service a priority. They're thriving as a
Warren Erbsen, his wife
Connie and partner Bob de Groot and wife Michelle have owned Cherry
Creek Travel for eight years. After the first airline caps hit in
1995, things at the agency changed almost immediately.
First and foremost, the agency imposed service fees across the
board, which were well received by almost everyone, Erbsen said.
Next, the agents worked on their company's image. "Bob was really
the visionary," Erbsen said of his partner, who rented a storefront
location on Detroit Street, which is "Denver's version of Rodeo
Drive," as Erbsen put it.
They found new purposes for fixtures left by the previous
tenants and wound up with a very sleek and professional-looking
office. Their next step was to expand their services to include
passport photos, a Thomas Cook currency exchange concession and a
Although other agencies in the area were offering similar
services, the travel accessories shop is what really sets Cherry
Creek Travel apart, Erbsen said. The agency offers a range of
travel gadgets, luggage and travel books and runs at a profit
because "our people are much more knowledgeable about sales and use
of travel items, have traveled extensively and know exactly what
The retailers are especially proud of their selection of travel
books. "It really made us unique," Erbsen said, "because the person
who did the initial order for all the travel books has 30 years of
travel agency experience. We have a major bookstore nearby, but we
feel our travel section is better [than its selection]."
Although revenues derived from the retail and photo services
amount to less than 4% of the agency's gross sales, the agency's
overall business has jumped by more than 20% during the past three
years, for a total of $20 million in gross sales last year. So
bring on the locusts. Cherry Creek Travel's been stocking up on
Staffing for Success could be the title of a book, but for the
owners of Cherry Creek Travel, it's a constant challenge. The
Denver agency is open every day, so having a staff of 18
full-timers is a big help. Weekends are the biggest staffing
challenge, said co-owner Warren Erbsen.
agents initially hoped to garner business from the surrounding
upscale stores that are open every day, but after a trial period,
they decided that "Sundays weren't worth it," Erbsen said. On that
day, in-store business is by appointment only; otherwise, the
agents handle incoming calls from home.
As for Saturdays, Erbsen said, "My wife and I are the senior
agents, so we handle a lot of [that] staffing.
"Each person works one Saturday every six to eight weeks and has
one day off during the week."
The on-site travel accessories store is separately staffed and
managed by Michelle de Groot, a co-owner of the business, and
administrative duties are handled exclusively by co-owner Bob de
So what keeps the staff happy? Cherry Creek Travel offers
incentives, including a share of the service fees, to keep good
agents from straying. As a result, employees earn about 25% to 30%
of their income from incentive pay, Erbsen said.
At Cherry Creek Travel Service in Denver, finding the right
client tops the to-do list every day. Targeting niche markets on
the Web and promoting the expertise of the agency's employees are
the primary means of marketing the shop, said co-owner Warren
The Web site's tag line -- "There are 450 travel agencies in the
Denver-Metro area, and we are not one of them" -- might ruffle some
feathers in the agent community. But Erbsen said his staffers have
earned kudos with their average of 14 years of industry
For business travelers, the site boasts that it offers "30
little-known ways to reduce business travelers' air fares from
Although Erbsen declined to offer any tips, he claimed that his
agents are able to find the best and lowest fares 90% of the time,
"except for last-minute bookings [when clients are buying] on the
The Web site, which accepted bookings for a short time, was
redesigned to serve only as a promotional tool. "We tried to sell
over the Internet, but that doesn't work for our clients," Erbsen
said. The agency's older, upscale clientele places a high value on
personal service, he said.
Erbsen and his wife Connie also have taken to the airwaves to
promote their business, highlighting their own expertise. The
couple hosts a weekly radio show on an oldies station with older,
The show has helped to boost business at the agency "and gets
people walking through the door," Erbsen said. As a result, Cherry
Creek Travel has booked several group trips sponsored by the radio
station and has garnered new business from walk-in listeners as