Pop-up shops a core strategy for Seattle travel agency

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Dan Burke (left) and Mike Salvadore joined forces to start 58 Stars.
Dan Burke (left) and Mike Salvadore joined forces to start 58 Stars.

Thanks to a connection made between a veteran marketing executive and an agency owner, Seattle-based Passport Travel & Tours Inc. has been rebranded to 58 Stars and is marketing itself with innovative tools such as pop-ups and influencers.

Mike Salvadore, co-owner of 58 Stars, said, "I built my businesses based on getting down and dirty with customers and having them touch and feel and really [creating] this emotional approach with customers and brands. To me, that is what is needed in this travel industry space, and it's where we're going to put a significant amount of energy."

Salvadore comes to travel from the marketing world. He and his partners sold their marketing, branding and experiential agency, 206 Inc. (now AMP Agency), in 2014. He took a year off to travel and was pondering his next move when a friend who works in the travel industry suggested he consider the agency space. After doing some research, he got in touch with Bob Joselyn, president and CEO of the Joselyn Consulting Group.

At the same time, Dan Burke, co-owner of Passport Travel & Tours Inc., also got in touch with Joselyn. Burke had worked at the agency since he was in college, and he ended up buying it in the mid-1990s. While the business has been growing steadily over the years, now doing about $11 million in annual sales, Burke wanted to ensure that it continued on a growth track.

"My weakness has always been on the marketing side of things," Burke said. "I've always loved travel. I love booking travel. I love talking to customers. I love problem-solving. But when it came to how to get myself out there and become top of the marketing part of this business, that was my weakness."

Joselyn connected the two men, who began to talk and eventually entered into a partnership. Salvadore is now an equal partner and co-owner of the agency.

In June, the co-owners started the process of rebranding Passport Travel & Tours as 58 Stars, a reference to the heavenly bodies used for celestial navigation by early travelers. The rebranding included the website, social media strategy and what Salvadore calls "an experiential engagement strategy with customers."

That means things like high-touch customer service and custom travel experiences, Salvadore said, as well as marketing strategies that the co-owners believe are unique in the agency space: pop-up locations and working with influencers.

According to Salvadore, he and Burke want to continue growing 58 Stars' existing baby boomer and Generation X clients, but they also want the agency to appeal to millennials.

"We will build a strategy that builds partnerships with key social influencers who are important to this audience," Salvadore said, including promotions and developing a content library of photos and reviews from destinations around the world.

58 Stars co-owner Dan Burke in Vietnam.
58 Stars co-owner Dan Burke in Vietnam.

58 Stars is also developing a pop-up retail strategy, wherein a temporary office will be set up in a location for a few weeks to get the nearby population excited about travel and acquainted with 58 Stars and its advisers. Salvadore has previous experience in creating pop-ups with the likes of Toyota and Amazon, but like working with influencers, he believes 58 Stars is the lone travel agency executing that strategy.

"If it works for consumers and Toyota, why can't it work just as well, if not better, with consumers who are thinking about these wonderful places where they want to go?" he asked.

To create a pop-up, 58 Stars will partner with various groups, including corporations, co-working spaces and even high-traffic consumer areas, Salvadore said. 

58 Stars doesn't expect its focus on leisure travel to prompt concerns from corporations' travel management companies.

"Those are the things that we'll really navigate and figure out where the people are who we want to connect with," he said. "And then, create a pop-up retail strategy to get to them."

Burke added, "These are the kinds of conversations that Mike and I had that got me so excited. These are the kind of things that I just thought were so unique."

58 Stars recently entered into its first partnership to create a pop-up at the Riveter, a co-working space based in Seattle with three locations there, several locations in Los Angeles and more on the way. 

Salvadore said he knows some of the Riveter's executives, and they were interested in the concept of a partnership. Initially, 58 Stars will set up a pop-up shop at one of the Riveter's office locations, with the potential to set up in multiple locations. The first is expected to launch in the spring.

While the agency is still developing its pop-up strategy, Salvadore said that, depending on the location, most will exist for one to three weeks. They will be promoted in advance, and 58 Stars will be able to scale the size of the pop-up to whatever space they are provided.

"We may get a very small space at one corporate campus, and we may get a larger space in another," he said. "But the goal in all of this is to make it feel just as inclusive and just as warm and connected in a small space as you would in a large space."

Agents will staff the pop-up offices, and Burke said suppliers have also expressed interest in getting involved.

Currently, 58 Stars is looking into purchasing the physical things necessary for the pop-ups, such as furniture, video monitors and potentially even things like virtual reality and augmented reality equipment.

"We want it to feel loungey-like, so it feels more like an atmosphere people can walk into and sit with an adviser and talk about travel, versus you come up to a desk and you grab a pamphlet and you're waiting for someone to say something to you," Salvadore said. "For us, this is about how do you engage the consumer in a way that really gets them feeling a connection to you."

Pop-ups could potentially be themed, for instance to a destination, and music elements and even food could be brought in to help the agency connect with potential clients, Salvadore said. 58 Stars will also offer pre-scheduled workshops at the pop-ups to help attract more people. The workshop themes will include such topics as determining one's favorite style of cruising or planning out someone's next five years of travel.

"The whole of it is all about getting the consumer to touch, taste, feel what these places are like," he said, "versus just reading about it and then walking away."

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