Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Brownell Travel is the oldest travel agency in the United States. Its roots are in a July 1887 trip to Europe aboard the SS Devonia with ten travelers led by Walter A. Brownell. Today, 131 years later, Brownell has served more than 75,000 clients.

If its longevity isn't enough to convince you Brownell has some business practices worth noting, take a look at the success of its agents. According to Kerry Dyer, director of talent development, Brownell's travel agents who go through its one-year mentorship program average $300,000 in sales one year in. In year two, they double their production, and early in year four, have reached $1 million in sales.

Dyer said that success boils down to a combination of mentorship, training and community.

"We pride ourselves on our community, and that is really a lot of what we offer and bring to the table for advisers who are coming in, and the support to grow your business," she said.

One of the programs Brownell offers is a mentoring program meant for agents who are new to the business. The program includes a week of in-person training at Brownell headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., followed by a year of additional training; it has a 2% acceptance rate. Brownell also hosts ICs.

"The mentoring idea extends even beyond the regular mentoring program into our hosting program," Dyer said. "These are existing independent advisers who may have had a business for 20 years, but how are we helping them grow their business? So much of that is the community we have and everyone sharing their successes, sharing their information."

In looking to accept agents to its mentoring program, Brownell takes a number of factors into consideration, ranging from passion to integrity to graciousness. Most importantly, Dyer said, Brownell looks for potential agents who want to run a business and are true entrepreneurs.

It's not for everyone, she said. It's a yearlong commitment, and there are a number of requirements — including homework — once the initial weeklong, in-person training is done. 

"I would say there are other really good training programs that are out there," she said.

But key, regardless of which training program an agent undergoes, is ongoing education.

"Any business is always changing," Dyer said. In travel, that could mean everything from the latest commission structures to new suppliers. "What I always think about is that our business is the world. It really, really is. Our job is to understand and know the world."

That world is always changing and so is the industry, she said.

In addition to support from an agent's network or host, Dyer said agent-to-agent support is also key to the success of her agents and ICs.

Brownell has a closed community online, Travel Tribe, where agents can ask questions about any topics, and they do. Other agents provide their takes, creating an online community of support, Dyer said.

She stressed the importance of collaboration.

"Ask the questions," Dyer said. "Just because you work at home does not mean you are alone, and we really want to create that environment for people to feel successful."


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