Two and a half years ago, Christie Soper left her 20-year career in financial services to found Suncierge, a Greensboro, N.C.-based agency affiliated with Travel Experts.
The newly minted CEO missed something she never expected: collaboration.
Soper sorely missed "being able to yell down the hall out the office" looking for a coworker to collaborate with when she started working virtually.
She had to get creative to scratch that itch to collaborate, so she turned to other local businesses with whom she has started planning travel experiences.
"We've really been able to grow exponentially," Soper said. "We doubled sales in year two. We're on track to do another doubling of sales for year three, and a lot of it is because we got into partnerships with other business owners who had like-minded target markets and then creating travel experiences for them."
For instance, Soper got in touch with a local chef who she's known since she was 13. Today, he runs a successful steakhouse. The two collaborated on several chef-led travel experiences in which he would take his and Soper's collective clients on a long weekend to the Chesapeake Bay area. Every night, he would cook custom dinners paired with wine.
"[The clients] got to know him as an individual, and then all of a sudden, clients that were in [the steakhouse] every two or three months are now in there every single weekend," Soper said.
Now, Soper is applying the same basic idea of group trips with professors and alumni groups, a wine shop owner, a whisky distillery, yogis and more.
"It's really picking up steam to create a collaboration with these other business owners who are local and independent like us and yet have this interest that we can build on and collaborate with," she said. "So it's creating a win-win-win all around."
Soper has applied her financial services background to her agency in many ways. She started as a financial advisor out of college, but found she liked technology better. She held positions in marketing, marketing technology and digital business as well as IT and project management.
Today, she applies those skills to trying to better how she works operationally. She's identifying pain points and gaps in her workflow, especially using multiple systems to complete bookings.
Suncierge's core market is women travelers, Soper said. The agency also uses the motto "I can," with the letters in "can" standing for three different elements: culture, adventure and nature. Almost every trip Suncierge plans includes those elements in some form.
"It's just really about us getting people out of their comfort zones into those particular segments," Soper said.