he name of the agency was Full Service Travel. The managers would do anything a client wished -- it didn't matter if they made money on a particular transaction. The most important thing was that they lived up to their name. And they would chase every prospect in sight -- there was no such thing as a "bad client."

Full Service Travel is no more.

This is not a parable. There really was an agency called Full Service Travel -- it was started in Honolulu in 1964 and later moved with its owners to the San Diego area.

The agency still exists, though not under that name. It is now run by its founders' sons and has, for the past 10 years, been called Anderson Travel and Cruises.

Brad and Van Anderson do not run the business like their parents did -- indeed, they don't run it like they themselves did just three years ago.

There's a connection, they believe, between their willingness to make dramatic changes in their agency and the fact that it is on its way to having its most profitable year in its 38-year history.

"If a mechanic had to work on every type of car, odds are you wouldn't want to go to him," Brad Anderson said. "If you had a Toyota, you'd want to go to someone who worked on only Toyotas every day. You'd trust that he knew what he was talking about. Well, when we were Full Service Travel, we tried very hard to be all things to all people."

Even with its initial broad objectives, the business was profitable for quite some time, but about three years ago, "we knew our business was broken," Brad said. "We got scared." And to figure out how to fix it, they started looking outside the travel business to see what other industries were doing.

What the two brothers learned led them to develop proprietary technology for their business. Their investment with programmers has resulted in a Web-platform database that gives their agents deep customer data during the sales process, provides management with real-time reporting on the business and offers suppliers the ability to target joint offers to reach the exact consumers they want.

"As an agent, I used to go home at night and then remember all the things I forgot to do. You just can't keep track of everything you need to do in a day without some technological help," Brad said.

"Today, our system prompts our team members for everything and helps them manage their nonbooked workload -- it tracks everything from the first client meeting to collecting the money."

The current model is quite a contrast from how the brothers Anderson used to operate. Brad said his old model was analogous to driving and trying to figure out where you were going by looking only in the rearview mirror.

"Every bit of data was old," Brad explained. "I'd wait for vendors to tell me how I was doing, and their data was a month old. By the time I could do something about a problem, it was really very late in the game. Today, I can generate a report instantly and see where I need to focus."

The brothers credit the software's success to the involvement of their agents in the development of the program.

Brad said that, interestingly, the agents who have been in the business the longest are the most avid supporters of the system and use it most conscientiously.

There's another critical component to their success, the brothers believe.

"We pick and choose not only who we sell but what we sell," Brad said. "For instance, we're not only particular about what cruise lines we partner with, but we then select which departures we want to sell. We become more profitable because our agents know these products well and can sell from a point of knowledge. And also, if you focus on certain departures and you sell enough, you get a free tour conductor, which you can also sell -- the commission on that one is 100%."

The brothers hired revenue managers -- each day, they sit down with the agents and have a "deals" meeting. (Any fax from a nonpreferred supplier is tossed immediately.) They look at the possibilities of what they can support, and that's where they put their efforts. The Andersons employ about 30 outside or at-home agents, and they're updated daily on where their focus should be.

The result of completely overhauling their system seems to have worked. Gross sales are down significantly -- last year, they sold $50 million in their eight agencies, and this year they predict they'll be in the low $40 millions -- but they're significantly more profitable.

"This doesn't have to be a bad business," Brad said. "It's just different than it used to be. And there's tremendous opportunity for people who are willing to act differently."

The Anderson brothers say their overall philosophy hasn't changed.

"We want to have our customers feel like they got a good deal, we want our suppliers to be satisfied with our performance and do more business with us, and we want our team members to make more money than they've ever made and have more fun doing it," Brad said. "We're having fun. I can't imagine going back and doing business the way we used to."


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