I recently came across a new recipe for a successful travel agency, but its perhaps a bit hard to duplicate. In order to clone this particular formula, youd need to have your own TV show, a recording career that includes five gold albums, 14 Grammys and seven performances at Carnegie Hall.

The names of 50,000 fans in a well-groomed database is an important piece of this business plan, and ... oh yes, you need to know how to polka.

I was recently aboard the MSC Opera in the eastern Caribbean, and it seemed that half the passengers were wearing small, red buttons with the message, I sailed with the Jimmy Sturr Travel Agency. It seemed, if nothing else, a clever way around the no soliciting onboard rules.

I assumed that, whoever Mr. Sturr was, if he had such a large group onboard, there was a good chance he was also present.

I wanted to meet him, so I made inquiries among the button-wearers.

Sturr, it turns out, not only owns a travel agency, but is King of the Polka.

Sturr, a clarinetist, and his manager (and lifelong best friend), Gus Kosior, have a strong entrepreneurial streak, and they have joined in many ventures besides Sturrs musical career.

Theyve owned a radio station, a restaurant, a liquor store and a record label. Twenty-six years ago, they opened a travel agency.

Jimmy SturrSturr, who tours 160 days a year, said it occurred to him and Kosior that they might not be the only ones in his hometown of Florida, N.Y., to be bothered that they had to use an agency 15 miles away. So he and Kosior opened the Jimmy Sturr Travel Agency.

Since then, theyve sold off their radio station, restaurant and liquor store, all located in Sturrs hometown (they kept the label, though Sturr records on the much-larger Rounder Records), but they came to understand that the agency was a core asset.

We own Polkapalooza, Sturr told me. About four times a year, well announce a polka package -- well bring it to a venue for four days and book the other polka bands who appear with us. Well advertise on my television show (on the RFD Network, available through DirecTV and Dish Network) and contact the people on the database. The other bands contact their fans, too. And everyone books through our agency.

Each Polkapalooza draws 400 to 800 people, and these are not particularly inexpensive packages -- his last Polkapalooza was held in Klagenfurt, Germany, on New Years Eve.

While declining to reveal revenue figures, Kosior said the agency does major numbers, and that the tours account for about half of the receipts. The rest come from local bookings.

I grew up in the town of Florida when there was only one traffic light and about 1,500 people, Sturr said, moving into what must double as patter in his show.

Its painful to see what it has become now that all the people have moved up from New York City -- now weve got 2,500 people and two traffic lights.

Nobody said growth comes without pain, Jimmy. To paraphrase Liberace, perhaps its a small comfort that you can still dance all the way to the bank.


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