Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Michael Decker of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Why a 35 year travel industry veteran chose to invest in an Expedia franchise

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Shingle Creek franchise owner, Michael Decker.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Shingle Creek franchise owner, Michael Decker.

With 35 years of experience in the travel and cruising business, Michael Decker knew Expedia CruiseShipCenters was exactly the franchise opportunity he was looking for. He opened the Orlando Shingle Creek location in 2013.

Michael was Director of Sales for Expedia Group Destination Services for 10 years before opening his home-based CruiseShipCenters. He then opened the successful CruiseShipCenters storefront in Orlando. We recently asked Michael to share his Expedia story.

Tell me about your path to becoming an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisee?

Michael: I started out as a home-based Expedia CruiseShipCenters consultant in 2010. Prior to that I was the Director of Group Sales for Expedia Local Expert in Orlando, Florida. I always wanted to get back into the cruise industry and liked the entrepreneurial side of Expedia as a business and their cutting-edge, “let’s take a risk and do something different” environment.

Throughout my early career I wanted to have a system for selling cruises and travel. In the late 1990s, I launched a boutique cruise line, and after two years I went to work with a friend who owned a ticket company in Orlando in Group Sales. I’d get feedback from people saying they liked the cruises but that they wanted longer cruises or different cruise options and I thought, “Wow, if we had a system – look at all those clients we could help.” At one time I had thousands of past customers all saying they wanted cruise options.

Expedia later bought that Orlando company. I was familiar with Expedia and how they had grown over the years through entrepreneurial, outside-the-box thinking. When they entered into a strategic partnership with CruiseShipCenters I knew the two were going to do something really special and I jumped onboard with Expedia CruiseShipCenters shortly after and opened our retail location in Shingle Creek in March 2013.

What appealed to you about the Expedia Franchise opportunity?

Michael: The Expedia brand attracts customers. I’ll go against anybody in the industry. We win based on value and service. What we provide is second to none. Our people are not travel agents; they are travel professionals. They must have two passions: first they must have a passion to serve and a love for helping people. Second they must have a passion for travel.

What is the difference between a travel agent and a travel professional?

Michael: A travel agent is an employee person who works 9 to 5. A travel professional lives, eats and breathes the business. When a person joins our team, they start out as a travel person. Then they move up to a travel consultant level, and their ultimate goal is to get to travel professional level – that person who offers the concierge-level travel service and takes care of anything, door-to-door. It’s not that you are a know-it-all, but that you work under the tenet that a customer is going to be your customer for life. You want them to have that remarkable vacation so they come back and tell all of their friends. We currently have about 40 travel consultants – about half of which are home-based.

What made your location ideal for a retail travel agency?

Michael: We looked at a lot of locations and ultimately hit the sweet spot. Our location is on the edge of an area that is a mix of tourist destinations and older homes – it was about to really take off. We’re close to the interstate and on the way to the airport and Cape Canaveral. About eight months after we opened, developers began constructing a condo development across the street. We’ve got the best spot in Orlando, and it is less than two miles from one of the busiest convention centers in the nation.

How do you market your business?

Michael: There is a lot of competition in the industry, as well as high turnover. I’m not saying there are not good agencies out there; I’m saying we do it better. I’d rather have high service that builds slower than to have high volume with an emphasis on closing a quick sale. At Expedia CruiseShipCenters, we’re focused on customers for life. We want people who are not only customers, but also friends. Our customers love coming in and talking about travel, and because of that they refer their friends and family to us. We do some local community communications, and occasionally we’ll invest in print ads. Weekend open houses are also big draws for customers, and we are on track to do six this year.

How are you supported by the team at corporate office?

Michael: Expedia has a system that guides you through the process of launching your business, which is invaluable in helping you secure the ideal retail location, from looking for the right GM to overseeing construction to advising you on how to source your office furniture. Expedia CruiseShipCenters truly has a family culture that says, “We believe in you.” Most franchisors don’t provide that level of care.

The difference between a great franchisor and an average one is that a great franchisor believes in you. They help you grow, help you have value and help you get to a point where you are going to be proud of what is happening down the road. The franchise plan is a plan for a reason. We have a good model, and it keeps getting better.

What is one of your favorite customer success stories?

Michael: I have a lot of stories so it’s hard to pick just one, but a recent success story involved last-minute arrangements for a longtime cruising fan. He was previously loyal to another brand and made the switch to Expedia CruiseShipCenters – and now he is closing in on his 10th trip through us. On a recent trip, I received an emergency text from his son and had to change his travel plans abruptly. I went into action to change his flights and rearrange his transfers. When he returned from his trip, he texted me to say: “I can’t say enough how much I appreciate you. You’re the best. That’s why we come here.” To me that’s the story: the promise that we are always there. We are travel professionals, not just travel agents.

What kind of attributes does a franchise owner need?

Michael: It’s a great place to be if you love travel and love helping people. You have got to be the person engaged in the process, however. It’s important that at least one of the owners is engaged in the process and in the office daily.

Learn More

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report by filling out the form below. You can also learn more by reading the essentials about our franchise opportunity here.

Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Carole Peterson and Gina Holvick of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Longtime owners of two successful Vancouver locations share their insights

Expedia CruiseShipCenters Travel Franchise Review

Expedia CruiseShipCenters multi-unit franchisees and longtime friends Gina Holvick and Carole Peterson

Longtime friends and business partners Carole Peterson and Gina Holvick put their work ethic, energy and love for helping people into their Expedia CruiseShipCenters location near Vancouver, British Columbia. Now, 25 years later, the duo owns two successful Expedia CruiseShipCenters. They have seen the company grow to 220 locations since opening their first location, the sixth in the company, and they have helped shape that growth as members of the company’s Advisory Board. Here is their story:

What were your careers before becoming franchise owners?

Carole: We worked for the same bank in the consumer lending department for more than 20 years. When we left the bank we decided to find something different and fun, and both of us knew people in the travel industry. Both of us are hard workers, and we put in that extra mile for our Expedia CruiseShipCenters customers.

Gina: We have the same work ethic, which is why we have remained partners so long. We’ve been friends for about 35 years, and the only thing we argue about is the temperature of the office. When we were looking for opportunities, Carole knew somebody with the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise and was aware that the nearby location was for sale. So we pursued it.

What appealed to you about the Expedia Franchise opportunity?

Gina: We were drawn to the business concept and were attracted to helping people. We realized that after years of working at the bank we could put that energy and time into our business, which would lead to success. When we opened our first location, the cruise industry was just starting to boom. There was lots of potential for Expedia CruiseShipCenters.

What makes your locations ideal for Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

Gina: Our first location is in a bedroom community, close to the international airport. We are on a big island with a population of 250,000.

We opened a second office five years ago, a little further outside of the city. Although the locations are only 15 minutes apart, they are very different communities. We split our time between the two locations and have approximately 22 consultants at each location.

Why did you open that second location?

Carole: We chose to open our second location in a different community further outside of the city because we saw the potential. There was a demand for it, plus our first location could not expand without increasing our premises. We would have had to double our overhead, while still having the same market share.

Two of our longtime consultants who have huge sales numbers also live in the area so they immediately transferred there.

What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters ahead of competitors in the travel planning industry?

Gina: The technology support we have in place is excellent. When we first opened our doors in 1992, computers were not around. Everything was handwritten, including our travel orders.

I also think our personal integrity and professionalism sets us apart in the industry. Our consultants are all professionally dressed and deal with the public on a regular basis. We’re not in a huge call center with many people. There is a difference.

Carole: Our consultants are navigators of spectacular vacations. We treat them well, we respect them and we have fun. We have a lot of team events – from golf tournaments to car rallies. For example, at our Princess Cruises sale promotion we wore tiaras on our heads and sold until midnight. Work hard, play hard. That is our motto!
RCI_Navigator_ExteriorLand_2 Travel Franchise Review

How do you market your business?

Carole: We rely more on email marketing than newspaper advertising, but each office is different. In our second location market everyone reads the local paper, so we advertise there. We also belong to the local chamber of commerce. We do a lot of charity fundraising for breast cancer, raising $20,000 last year for breast cancer research. We also believe in community involvement. Our second location won the award for best travel agency in the area, and prior to that we were second runner-up for our first location, which is very interesting because the city has 81 travel agencies. A lot of agencies simply don’t provide the customer service that we do.

Gina: We host two events with the cruise lines about twice a year, which is part of the CruiseShipCenters marketing plan. We have always followed the Expedia CruiseShipCenters marketing plan because that makes it much easier for us to succeed.

Do you get a lot of customer referrals or repeat customers?

Gina: Yes. That’s the basis of the business. We care about our clients and make sure that they are getting the best value and what they want.

Carole: One of the reasons we have been successful is because people are happy with our service. We bend over backwards to fulfill their dreams.

What is your customer demographic like?

Carole: It’s pretty broad. More young people are starting to see the value of cruising; it’s destination-driven and gives people the opportunity to see different points of interest in the world at a lower cost. In Europe, especially, the hotels can be incredibly expensive, and a cup of coffee can be $10 or $20. With cruises, meals are all included, as well as your accommodations and transportation.

Gina: More young people are realizing that cruising is a great value. We are also seeing a lot of multi-generational cruises with families.

What do you enjoy the most about the business, your staff and your customers?

Gina: I enjoy making people happy. Our consultants are also happy about putting that dream vacation together for clients. We enjoy the one-on-one interaction with our customers, such as printing out their documents and reviewing them with them and not asking them to print them out themselves. Having special touches and working on special short excursions is an added value. We strive to add value to the whole experience. We sell the complete vacation, and that separates us from the rest of the travel planning industry.

Carole: Not all of us have traveled the whole world, but there is always someone on staff who has been to each of the various ports. We get to share that information, where with an online booking company customers don’t get that personalized attention and service.

Do you enjoy cruising? What are your favorite destinations?

Carole: We have traveled extensively, and it kind of gets in your blood. You experience these destinations, and you realize there is so much more to the world. Some of our favorite destinations are the Baltics and the Mediterranean, South Pacific, Africa, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Gina: And we love the Caribbean and Mexico.

How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team help support your business?

Carole: They are there for us all the time. They treat us like their customers, so if we have any questions or any problems they respond right away.

Learn more

Are you ready to begin the Expedia franchise discovery process? To continue exploring the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Larry Mahan of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Former IT entrepreneur shares insights on joining the booming travel industry

Delaware Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisee Larry Mahan and his team, including his wife and business partner, Lois.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Delaware Franchise Partner, Larry Mahan and his team, including his wife and business partner, Lois.

Experienced entrepreneur Larry Mahan wanted a career change and found the perfect fit in the travel industry with Expedia CruiseShipCenters. He and his wife are in their third year of ownership of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Bear, Delaware.

This is Larry’s story:

How did you hear about Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

Larry: I launched a couple of businesses in the 10 years prior to getting involved with Expedia CruiseShipCenters. I was looking for a new opportunity, and my wife and I went to a travel franchise expo in summer 2013 in New York. I was standing in the aisle, and Franchise Development Manager Jeff Warkentin tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Have you ever thought about opening a retail travel agency?” I said, “Doesn’t everyone do that all online?” I gravitated toward the business opportunity and was excited about it.

Why were you excited about joining the Expedia CruiseShipCenters family of franchises?

Larry: One, it’s just a great product. Almost everyone loves cruising, and if they don’t love cruising, they have a passion for travel. Most people work 50 weeks a year so they can have a great vacation. It’s a happy conversation that adds quality to their lives.

I was intrigued by the fact that Expedia, which everyone knows as an online travel agent and technology company, was serious about putting brick-and-mortar neighborhood travel agencies back into business in a big way. Expedia knows the travel industry, and it meant a lot that they saw this as a concept the market needed.

Then there was the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new franchise backed by a company with nearly 30 years of proven success.

Tell us about your career before becoming an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisee?

Larry: I have a master’s degree from Princeton University in computer engineering. I worked in R&D with computers and software for a few big companies, and then in 1998 I left with a couple partners to start up an IT company. I sold the second company in 2012 and stayed on to help with international business development. I loved traveling, and pretty much every place I visited I thought, “Wow, I’ve got to get back here for vacation.” Once I sold that business I was looking for something new. I’d started a few businesses from scratch, and I wanted to do something different. The franchise concept made sense; you can launch a business without a steep learning curve.

What was appealing to you about opening an Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

Larry: There were a lot of things at the emotional level that I really liked about the opportunity, but at the end of the day I am an engineer. I ran the numbers, and it looked like a solid business model.

Why did you feel your location would be ideal for an Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

Larry: We are just south of Newark, Delaware, which is home to the University of Delaware, in a relatively large population area. We are in the northern part of the state, just 10 miles from Wilmington and 35 miles south of Philadelphia.

I think any area is a good area for this business, so long as there is enough population. Expedia has a lot of understanding of what types of demographics and populations are sufficient to support the business. I really didn’t want to move. I live here and have roots in the community going back 30 years. All that is positive when you are starting a retail business.

What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors in the travel planning industry?

Larry: Firstly, I don’t know of any other company that is establishing retail travel agencies. There are probably a dozen or more franchise operations, but none are opening retail centers as part of their business model. I like what this says about Expedia’s commitment to having a physical presence in the community. We’re not going to be here today and gone tomorrow.

Secondly, the Expedia brand name sets us apart. There is no other travel brand that I would have spent money on, because no other travel brands have the consumer value or brand power that Expedia has. That is a huge differentiator.

We also have the best technology tools and systems. Expedia’s technology is completely superior to anything I saw while I was doing my due diligence. I looked at other travel opportunities, but they didn’t have the brand name, the physical presence or the crispness of the marketing Expedia offers.

How does technology set Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors?

Larry: The back-end technology makes us more efficient and effective, benefitting our customer, but it’s not in the foreground like on Expedia.com. Our business is a people business, and it’s about relationships. The technology is all for naught if the travel agent doesn’t do the people part and create relationships. We have so many fantastic tools for franchisees, such as our Customer Relationship System.

How do you market your business?

Larry: We do a lot of direct mail, such as postcards and coupon books, as well as a lot of neighborhood customer promotions. We are very active in community events. If there is a festival, a bridal show or a home and garden show, we’re there. People see us, and it’s their opportunity to have a conversation with us — we do a lot of that personal networking. We do email blasts, web banners and popup advertising and some newspaper advertising. We try to hit everything that is affordable and makes sense to ensure people know who we are, what we are and where we are.

Do you get a lot of customer referrals? What about repeat customers?

Larry: That’s the way this business grows, organically. We’re still fairly new, but we are seeing last year’s customers come back – and they bring their family and friends.

What is your customer demographic like?

Larry: Our customer demographics essentially mirror the general industry demographics. It used to be mostly about boomers and empty nesters and retirees, but we are really starting to see a shift as millennials become a major force in the marketplace. People are starting to cruise with families, and multigenerational cruising is increasing in popularity – especially as our suppliers make cruising such a great experience for parents and kids. Our demographic is kind of across the board, from ages 35 to 80, and we are located in a family neighborhood environment – so we see everything from young families on up to the boomers and retirees.

What do you enjoy the most about the business, your staff and your customers?

Larry: I enjoy getting to travel more. It’s fun. I also get to meet a lot of new people and make a lot of new friends within Expedia CruiseShipCenters. The Franchise Partner network is very close; we talk to each other by email or Facebook or phone or in person weekly.

How often do you get out for a cruise?

Larry: We cruise about three times a year. A few places were new to me, such as Alaska. I’m kind of a beach-and-island guy, so Alaska wasn’t on the top of my list – but after my first trip to Alaska, I totally get it. It’s so beautiful and so different. I also got a chance to cruise off the West Coast down to some of the Mexican locations, such as Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan.

How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team help support your business?

Larry: I can’t imagine getting better support. It’s support that is there when you need it, but when you don’t need it they aren’t taking up any of your time. I’ve been very happy with it. Because of my background in owning businesses with other partners, I felt like when you go into a franchise, the franchisor is your partner, and it’s important to feel that chemistry. When I was doing my research, I asked myself, “Are these the kind of people I can see myself working with?” I certainly felt that they were when I went to Discovery Day in Vancouver. The technology is great. The marketing is great. And then of course Expedia CruiseShipCenters fosters and maintains very strong industry relations with our suppliers, which really works to our benefit.

Our mantra is that we’re Stronger.Together and it is evident that it’s a great partnership. The corporate folks supply everything that we need at the local level to run the travel businesses, and they rely on us to do a great job of running the travel business locally – that way we all continue to do well.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Delaware franchise team members.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Delaware attends a team meeting held at the Center.

Do you speak regularly with other franchisees?

Larry: We have two franchisee meetings a year, which are required for franchisees to attend. One is a cruise. The highlight of the cruise is the chance to talk in-depth and network with other franchisees and learn about their experiences and how they handle things. We also have Facebook channels and an online community where we can post questions.

What kind of people are you looking for as consultants?

Larry: We look for people who are experienced cruisers and love to travel. We are consultants. If you don’t have travel experience, it’s really hard to quickly get enough of that to be of value to our clients. Secondly, a passion and excitement for travel is so important to being a good travel consultant. That’s first of all what I’m looking for; I’ve found that most good travel agents are people who like to help people. Then because of their being independent consultants, they need initiative, a reason to want to do this and problem-solving skills. We have tons of opportunities and travel options, but sometimes it’s not possible to give customers exactly what they want, due to time or budget constraints. Then it comes down to options, and having a problem-solver mentality is beneficial.

What are some of your favorite customer success stories?

Larry: What mostly sticks out are the people who come in and ask, “Can you meet this price?” I love our ability to surprise them by helping them get a better price — or giving them an even better experience and deal. It’s great seeing the lightbulbs go on as customers realize they should be using a travel agency. Being able to delight people with that kind of service is what I like to see.

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Joyce and Gary Mariner of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Owners of New York travel franchise share their insights

Expedia CruiseShipCenter Franchisees Gary and Joyce Mariner are both retired from the New York City Police Department.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchisees Gary and Joyce Mariner are both retired from the New York City Police Department.

When Joyce and Gary Mariner retired after more than two decades of serving the New York City Police Department, they soon realized that retirement wasn’t for them. Throughout their years working for the NYPD, Joyce as a detective in various units and Gary as part of the prestigious mounted horseback unit, they spent their vacation time traveling and planning more travel excursions. Cruising, in particular, kept them grounded, and they have shared more than 40 cruises together. As they researched potential businesses to invest in, they looked to their shared love for travel as the basis for a brand new career. They soon opened the first Expedia CruiseShipCenters location in New York State, and they recently threw a celebration for clients, suppliers and consultants to commemorate the one-year anniversary of their Long Island Center.

This is Joyce and Gary’s story:

Tell us about your career before becoming Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisees?

Joyce: Both of us were New York City police officers. I served 25 years, and over the course of my career I worked in investigative units such as narcotics and robbery, as well as detective squad. I earned the rank of detective first grade, which is the top rank for a detective in New York City. During my last six years I was in the homicide bureau covering the Brooklyn area.

Gary: I retired after 26 years of serving with the mounted unit of the police department, which conducts patrols strictly on horseback. It’s one of the most prestigious units in the police department. I like to tell people that I got paid every day to ride a horse.

What appealed to you about opening an Expedia CruiseShipCenters location?

Joyce: People say it sounded so different from our previous careers, but it’s still a service-oriented field. We could have retired after 20 years of working with the police department, but we stayed on. Part of the reason we did was because it allowed us to afford to take our vacations, which we love to do! We took two cruises a year during our time with the police department. That kept us grounded and helped us stay sane. When we got back from vacation, we went right back to work. It’s important for people with stressful jobs to get back into the game by taking a vacation.

When I retired, I looked into several things. I tried being a housewife for a couple of months, but that didn’t work out. Being a travel agent was attractive to me because I love to travel, and we’ve all heard the advice that says to do something you love to do. The opportunity with Expedia CruiseShipCenters came up, and I felt that it was right for me at the time. Gary and I were fortunate enough to retire early with the police force and start another entirely new career.

You were both already fans of taking cruises. Tell us a little about that. :

Joyce: Before I started with Expedia CruiseShipCenters we were almost to the 40-cruise mark. That was our passion — cruising.

Gary: We’ve been on land tours to locations such as China, Russia and even Tahiti, but taking cruises is really our passion.

Where is your Expedia CruiseShipCenters located, and why did you feel it would be a good location?

Joyce: We are in the suburbs in Nassau County in Long Island, New York, which is approximately 30 miles from the city. Our location is just two blocks from the Long Island Railroad, which is the commuter train into Midtown Manhattan. We are right in the town of Merrick on the main street, and we are surrounded by local retailers and restaurants — plus we have a big chain supermarket and big chain drugstore right up the street.

Gary: We are definitely centrally located in town in a good, high-traffic area.

What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors?

Joyce: Expedia is a brand name that is well known. If we had opened a travel agency with just our last name, although Mariner is a great last name for a travel agency, it’s just not well known — so it’s not as effective. With Expedia, everybody knows the brand. Then to be the first location in New York and all of New York State was a plus.

Gary: The low-risk investment aspect compared to other franchises that we looked at was also appealing. Opening an Expedia CruiseShipCenters was more affordable for us.

How do you market your business?

Joyce: We send out brochures to Merrick residents using a direct-mailing service. The brochures coincide with Expedia CruiseShipCenters promotions six to seven times a year. We also rely on social media, and I place ads in our local newspapers.

Once or twice a month we hold informative “cruise nights” at our location. I bring in suppliers from cruise tours and land tours, and they come in to talk with the community. I send email blasts to invite residents to listen and learn. I serve refreshments, and sometimes we have small giveaways at these free events.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Merrick, NY celebrates the Grand Opening of their new travel agency franchise.

What was the reaction from the community when you opened?

Joyce: It was very positive. We have built such a good clientele so far, and as the months and years go by I’m just looking forward to building these relationships. The clients that we have built already from this community are like family. We sell cruises and vacations to residents who come in afterward, and they are so happy to see us. They are also happy to sit down and talk to somebody instead of researching their trip online or on the phone.

What do you look for in a consultant?

Joyce: I want a consultant who is as passionate as I am about travel. Not to say that they travel a lot, but they should be interested in it and have a following or friends and family who love to travel. Bringing those consultants in with their circle of influence helps our business grow. We have 23 Vacation Consultants onboard, and about half of them work from home.

Do you get a lot of referrals?

Joyce: We do have a lot of customer referrals. In fact we recently sold a 10-day Italy highlights trip for four women who were referred to us by another woman who walked in off the street a couple of months ago to buy a hotel and airfare package to Hong Kong. That was a nice referral.

What is your customer demographic like?

Joyce: It varies so much. We have a lot of civil service employees, such as teachers and doctors. They range from young families in this neighborhood to the baby boomers ready to retire. Then we have active seniors who love to travel.

What is rewarding about your business?

Joyce: There is always something to learn about travel. It’s changing every day, and you have to stay on top of it. To be in the business you really have to know what is going on. That is what your customers want; otherwise, they could just go online and do it themselves. I like watching our relationships grow among me, my consultants and our customers. We enjoy it, especially after we plan their trips and they come in and tell us what a great time they had. That is the best satisfaction. Plus, that brings referrals.

You’ve been on almost 40 cruises? Can you still travel with the business?

Joyce: You know what? You have to. We still take that one cruise or other vacation just for us. There is a national conference with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, and that’s a cruise. We call it a work cruise, but it’s still a cruise.

In addition to cruises, do you sell land tours?

Joyce: We are a full-service travel agency, so yes. Seventy-seven percent of our business now is cruises, and then land tours would be next — followed by air, then short excursions and car rentals.

How does the main office support you?

Joyce: In the police department we used to say that the Patrol Services Bureau, the guys in the radio cars, were the backbone of the police department. The Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters is the backbone of our franchisees. They’ve always been responsive to my questions or problems, and if they couldn’t help then they would find the right person who could.

We have two conferences a year with Expedia CruiseShipCenters, which we look forward to. Going to these conferences brings me back to reality and reminds me why we joined and why we bought this business. The camaraderie within Expedia CruiseShipCenters is fantastic. At first I thought it was just for us in New York and our brothers and sisters in blue, but I can see it all throughout this organization.

Do you talk to other franchisees?

Joyce: My counterpart in Staten Island and I do talk if we have ideas or thoughts, or if we run into a problem. Then during our two conferences we get to meet and interact and mingle with franchisees who have been in business for over 20 years or the new ones who are just coming in. There is always a lot of feedback, and every franchisee has opened their arms and told me to call them any time I need help.

What is a typical day as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisee?

Joyce: I spend six days a week in my business, usually up to nine hours a day. And each day I am managing my back-office duties — doing commissions and bills and accounting, and I’m planning events and my monthly team meeting. I’m training consultants, and then on top of that I’m recruiting new consultants.

It’s a busy day. Some days I come in at 10:30 a.m. and I look up and it’s already 7 o’clock. So I have a full six days. I think it’s so important to be available to clients. If clients want to come to the Center, you need to be open and be there.

Do you have a favorite customer success story?

Joyce: We had an elderly man come in who wanted to go on a cruise leaving from Florida. He was going to drive down, and he wanted hotels in certain spots. Our Vacation Consultant worked with him for a couple of days. She found him the right cruise, and she also found four hotels on I-95 going down and coming back for him. She made a map and plotted it all out for him. And then when he came back from his cruise he stopped by to say hello and brought his dog. He was so impressed with her, and he asked her to plan his next cruise.

Tell me a little bit about training that franchisees receive when they come onboard.

Joyce: As a new franchisee, there is initial training online with the Expedia CruiseShipsCenter learning center through our CruiseDesk. There are a lot of courses that help. Right before opening, we spent the week at headquarters for cruise management training. That was fantastic. And there is constant training. There are webinars to keep us up to date on new promotions, how to plan our team meetings — anything that could help a franchisee in their business is provided by corporate. Knowledge is power, and it’s easier to sell the product if you know the product.

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Travel Franchise Review: Q&A with Chris Meyer of Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Owner of fast-growing travel franchise shares his insights, lessons

When Chris Meyer of Orange County, California, decided to leave the newspaper industry after 30 years as a professional journalist, he began looking for an opportunity that would improve the quality of his life. He found it as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner in Orange County. Meyer’s location broke sales records during his first three years in business. This is his story.

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Susan and Chris Meyer sailed out of New York City on the Norwegian Breakaway for Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ annual conference.

What did you do before you became an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner?

I started in journalism when I was in junior high school by creating a sports page for our teams.  I continued newspaper work in high school and college and then spent 30 years as a professional. I was running the Orange County Register’s local news and business news coverage until I left in 2011. At one point, I was interested in moving into upper management, so I returned to college to earn an MBA. While I was in that program, the bottom really fell out of the newspaper industry. When I came up for air at the end of the program, I figured that rather than manage the long decline of a newspaper, I should do something else. I saw a targeted ad on my LinkedIn profile and started investigating.

I had not been planning to become an entrepreneur, but I was impressed by the business plan — the idea of a big digital company also doing brick-and-mortar locations to appeal to every segment of the market.  I thought it was very forward-looking compared to what was happening in the newspaper industry.

What was the process like, learning about the company?

There were many web pages, webinars and learning modules. I could see how the company was structured. I placed many phone calls to the folks at corporate, as well as to franchise owners.

What made you want to open an Expedia CruiseShipCenters location?

I had covered business in my area for a long time, so I knew about Orange County’s economy. I also knew who in the county would be likely travelers. I knew the location I wanted was near a huge senior citizen community. I crunched numbers to figure out how many vacations I would need to sell each year to survive and how many I would need to sell to do really well. The numbers didn’t seem unfathomable, and I decided to roll the dice. I’m a risk-averse person, but I was again facing the task of laying off several members of my staff.

What was your startup like?

We opened at the beginning of 2012. We’ve done well — significantly better than the average. I had looked at the averages and decided that I wouldn’t be happy with that. I started talking to people about what I would need to do to beat the average significantly, and I convinced myself that it was possible. In the first four years, we have significantly exceeded the averages.

What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors?

I think the Expedia name is huge. It is a household name that has instant familiarity and instant credibility. The headquarters team is focused on continuous improvement. Most of our competitors don’t have a big brand for people to connect with. Some of our competitors are affiliated with American Express, and we all remember travelers’ checks. But that seems a little yesteryear. Expedia is now. Our folks are committed to technology. It is at our core, and that gives us a competitive edge. Our online software, CruiseDesk, has a very good CRM that saves administrative steps and enables us to be more efficient.

What have you done to get off to such a strong start?

Like anything else, there are multiple pieces to success. People are always important in any business, so attracting, motivating, and retaining the right Vacation Consultants is critical. Having the right macro-location and micro-location is important. We are next to a Trader Joe’s and a senior citizen community of 18,000 people — a community of people with the time and money to travel. Then, it is mostly training and motivating my people.

How do you win over customers?

Expedia does a lot of web marketing that includes contests to win a free trip and encourages people sign up to receive our free e-newsletters. These develop customers. We also reach out into the community to make sure people know about us. I encourage consultants to develop simple business plans.

You get best of both worlds with the power of brand to attract customers and the buying power of the brand to put together great travel packages. And since we work with all the major cruise lines and land-based travel companies, we are able to help customers get the vacation they want at the price they can afford.

We’re a like a travel version of the Apple store. When you go in, you already know that you want a computer, but you don’t know how much RAM you need, or how big your screen should be. It’s a big purchase, so you want to be able to ask an expert three or four questions. Similarly, many people know the type of vacation they want to take, in general terms, and come in to talk about exactly what is available. Customers may learn about a trip offered by one cruise line, and we help them understand the options available from competitors.

What do you enjoy the most about the business, your staff and your customers?

I enjoy talking about travel. I enjoy it when customers return from their vacation grinning, telling stories and hugging their travel agent. And we all get to go on vacations from time to time.

How often do you get out for a cruise?

I travel three to four times a year. It’s not always cruises. Cruises account for about 60 percent of our sales. We also book many land packages to Hawaii and land tours in Europe. I try to travel strategically to visit new places and experience new cruise lines, tour companies and vacation styles. Each trip gives me new insights to share with consultants and clients. I was not a cruise enthusiast when I started with Expedia. I had been on a couple of cruises, but I also had backpacked Hawaii and driven through Europe. I have now cruised on a variety of ships from the South Pacific to Alaska to the Mediterranean. I love variety!

How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team help support your business?

Their mantra is that the franchisees are their customers. My mantra is that the Vacation Consultants are my customers, and the travelers are the consultants’ customers. I’m focused on helping others succeed, which helps me. Expedia has the same attitude. They provide systems and support that give me the ability to be more successful.

Do you talk with other franchisees?

I communicate with a core group of colleagues regularly. Some are veterans, others a few years ahead of me and others joined at the same time as me. We share good ideas and troubleshoot problems as we all try to grow our businesses. I catch up with a wider group at our two annual conferences.

What does a typical day look like in the business?

It’s essentially a management job. I focus on working with consultants, working with our travel partners and working on marketing. A big role is business development.

What kind of people do you hire as consultants?

Our Vacation Consultants are independent contractors. Some are committed to it as a full-time job and want to travel to the ends of the earth. Others are hobbyists — they get their aunt and uncle on a cruise. My goal is to invest in the hard chargers and not let the hobbyists take up too much of my time.

What sort of training do you get?

I have received lots of sales training. When you are searching for a storefront for your business and going through the process of negotiating a lease, you have time to take advantage of a lot of training.

Has the business met your goals so far?

My goals were pretty lofty. I always like to stretch myself, and I am pretty satisfied with where we are going.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

I like the outdoors. I like to work out. I like to have experiences. I do lots of things. I  enjoy time with my grandkids.

What are some of your favorite customer stories?

A customer agonized for a long time about the cost of the Alaska cruise she was taking with her sister. The cruise offered a wide range of excursions and wide range of prices. For example, on the low end for the Alaskan cruise, you can go to a U.S. Forest Service center and look at a glacier. On the high end, you can take a helicopter to the top of the glacier and walk on it. This woman came in multiple times,  discussing whether to go big or go small. She finally decided to go big, because “I’ll probably never get back to Alaska.” After the trip, she brought in a photo with her sister on top of the glacier. She told me that going big was the best decision she made.

Another time, a woman in her late 20s came in to plan her honeymoon. She previously had horrible experiences with a travel agency near her home; she couldn’t get her questions answered. She Googled us after deciding to give the travel agent experience one more shot and wound up booking her honeymoon with us. She wanted to go around the island of Britain with her fiancé to see the big scotch distilleries. Very few people want to do this, and very few brides on their honeymoons want to do this, but one of our consultants designed a custom trip complete with car rentals and tours of distilleries. This woman wrote a very complimentary Yelp review about how this trip worked out perfectly, and how she never would have been able to plan it out on her own.

Would you recommend Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise?

For a person who finds travel interesting, it’s a  relatively low investment, which is attractive. You need to be willing to follow the system while integrating your own special qualities into it.  You need to work hard with a must-win attitude.

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise President Matthew Eichhorst on Why They’re Expanding

How the President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters is ushering in a new era of expansion for the travel franchise

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Matthew Eichhorst, President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise.

The Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® travel franchise is one of the largest sellers of cruises in North America. Matthew Eichhorst, President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters, is leading our rapid expansion as we continue to increase our foothold across the country.

After high-profile positions in global companies such as General Electric, Matthew has been with Expedia CruiseShipCenters for more than a decade. As President of the travel franchise, Matthew is shepherding the company from being the prominent travel franchise in Canada to becoming the prominent travel franchise in North America. With more than 200 locations open or under development, Matthew’s vision is rapidly becoming reality.

This is Matthew’s story:

Describe your background and how you came to be President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters.

I’ve always considered myself an entrepreneur. I started my first business when I was 14; it was a pool service business. By the time I graduated high school, I was installing pools. That is how I paid for college, where I got my degree in business and computer science.

I saw technology as a way to really improve customer service. I opened a tech company while I was in college, and we sold and helped companies integrate Lotus Notes. We ended up having 85% market share in British Columbia, and I ended up selling that company to General Electric. I stayed as an executive with General Electric for three and half years, until I decided that I wanted to do turnaround work.

General Electric was great corporate training — it gave me a lot of structure. I joined a wireless technology company during the dot-com era, and CruiseShipCenters (this was before Expedia invested in the brand) was a customer of ours. I saw that CruiseShipCenters had a lot of untapped opportunity, so I decided to join the company. Soon after, we negotiated a deal with Expedia, and we’ve been growing ever since. I have been here since 2003.

How have you been able to grow a retail travel agency in the internet age?

One of the things the internet did was give us amazing access to information. People feel like it’s easy to become experts on any subject because we can find things online. But it turns out, when it comes to booking travel, the internet has become one of the most overwhelming experiences you can have. There is such a thing as too much information.

People want someone to help with their decisions in booking their vacations, especially with cruises, where you’re not just going to one destination — you are stopping at multiple ports and have the potential for a lot of different adventures on a single trip. According to Cruise Lines International Association, 70% of cruises are booked through travel agents, and it is the complexity of the product that creates a demand for our services. For instance, with Royal Caribbean, the difference between the oldest ship and the newest ship is so different that it can be like cruising with two different companies. There are a lot of cruise lines, hundreds of ships, thousands of staterooms and an endless combination of potential itineraries. People want to know where they are going, what they are getting and how the experience will meet their expectations.

What happened to independent travel agencies is that they couldn’t stay relevant. If you did not have a big brand, you had a hard time competing in a world of online travel. People associate big brands with great pricing and service. That’s why Expedia CruiseShipCenters has a great advantage. We have an incredible brand name, as well as the personal service component, which is what people want when booking a cruise. They want Sally to be their travel agent and to be able to get Sally’s expert advice and assistance, but they also want to know the company behind Sally is very trustworthy. Expedia is one of the biggest travel brands in the world and has great leverage and supply chains, which creates huge advantages for our franchise owners.

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Expedia CruiseShipCenters launched in 1987 and is one of the largest sellers of cruises in North America. With more than 200 locations open or in development, the travel franchise is expanding across the United States.

What is the difference between using Expedia CruiseShipCenters and booking a vacation online?

When you’re booking a cruise vacation online, you don’t get the expertise we have to determine whether what you’re getting is the ideal trip for you. Someone may want to go on a cruise, but they don’t want big buffet lines. Maybe they want something more quiet and intimate. It can be easy to miss that distinction when booking a trip online, but it can have a huge impact on how much you enjoy your trip. Are you the type of person who likes to stay at a Best Western or at the Four Seasons? We can ask our customers: “What are you looking for? What do you want to do when you are on vacation?” We can dial into their personality and their expectations to make better recommendations and get our customers on the right cruise for them. The difference between Expedia CruiseShipCenters and a website is that instead of simply selling a cruise, we’re navigating a spectacular vacation experience.

Why is now a great time to get involved with the cruise industry?

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, cruising started to become popular in a really big way. A lot of the cruisers back then were retirees, but they would sometimes bring their children or grandchildren along. Those younger generations grew up loving cruising, and as they have all become adults, cruises have become much more common as multigenerational family vacations. Cruise lines are innovating their ships, and the product has changed to appeal to a broader range of people, and the industry is actively going after that younger market. Baby Boomers have enough population for the industry to continue to do well, but having the additional draw from younger cruisers is amazing. Research shows that the Millennial bubble will affect the cruise industry in a positive way in the coming years.

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What is attracting younger franchisees to Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

I find that a young person who is entrepreneurial doesn’t just want to make money, they want to be in control of their own destiny. Someone who wants to own their own business is motivated by freedom at least as much as by financial gain. We provide a platform they can use to build a very strong business capable of accomplishing both goals.

Explain the benefit of the Expedia brand name.

There are two huge things — the name recognition and the business model. You don’t have to explain who you are when Expedia is part of your name — our brand gives our travel franchise owners instant credibility. Also, Expedia has about 230,000 hotels in their inventory and access to a ton of non-cruise products that travelers are looking for like flights, car rentals, vacation packages and more. We bolt that supply and data into a traditional travel agency franchise, and it provides a huge advantage in their local community. They’re able to provide the personal service along with Expedia prices.

What makes your business model special?

One of the reasons Expedia invested in us is because of the strength of our business model.

We are a large organization, but all of our stores are franchises who support teams of agents — Vacation Consultants — doing business as independent contractors. Our model is special because it’s so scalable. Franchisees don’t have the overhead of paid employees because consultants are paid only by commission for what they sell. There’s no limit on team size, so franchise partners can build a substantial business through a single location.

Our marketing and sales programs are also our key pillars. All of our marketing materials go out through our travel franchise owners, but they’re developed by our corporate team and are of a higher quality that an individual agent could achieve on their own. They’re very sophisticated and have a direct impact on driving sales back to their businesses. We spend a lot of money on technology every year, with our CruiseDesk® CRM platform. Year after year we are told we have the best technology in the business — whether it is the technology our agents use in searching and booking cruises, or the business analysis and team leadership dashboards our franchise owners use to continuously boost their profitability. We also have a sales program we call The Navigators Approach — it’s a process to help agents explore what customers want and then move them through the stages of designing and purchasing a spectacular vacation, which earns franchisees a higher-than-normal repeat customer rate.

Why does Expedia CruiseShipCenters stress having a retail location?

People may say, “I don’t go to travel agents to buy cruises anymore,” but this isn’t actually the case. In fact, according to Cruise Lines International Association, 70% of people prefer to book their cruise vacations with a travel agent. Having a retail stores is essential to our model because they serve as a landing pad for the franchise owner’s team. When we look for Vacation Consultants, we look for people who want to be agents — people who want to be part of a bigger brand and have a place to go when they need help. Our customers do not always go into the store to buy their cruise, but they want to know you are in the community. It’s about establishing trust and credibility. Our customers want the ability to call a local number and speak to an agent who lives in their community.

What is your vision for Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

Our vision is to be the largest cruise retail network in North America that is the trusted brand for cruisers in their communities. I want our customers to say, “I know Expedia is online, but I want to talk to somebody that I can trust, and there is an Expedia CruiseShipCenters right on Main Street.” The credibility of being in the community has been even more beneficial than we thought. The walk-in traffic a good location can generate is key for both consumer sales and also recruiting of agents.

Who makes a good franchise partner?

Our franchisees range from stay-at-home moms to former teachers to ex-corporate managers to retired military. The behavioral trait that our partners must have is a genuine love for people. We look for people who like coaching a winning team more than being the best player on the field. We’re not looking for franchisees who want to sell travel themselves. Our best franchise partners really try to make their Vacation Consultants as successful as possible; they have nurturing personalities. People who are committed to a high level of customer service and support their team members do very, very well. They are passionate. They like people. We obviously want people who are travelers and get excited about destinations, too!

Our model is not for an entrepreneur who wants to be an absentee owner. That being said, it is common to have at least two locations. In fact, 40% of our franchise partners own multiple stores. Our largest travel franchise owner has five stores. Another couple owns four stores, and in order to further expand and continue supporting their agents, they will need to empower a Cruise Sales Manager and a trainer. Those who can do that can do really, really well.

How do you set earning expectations for your franchise partners?

In the first year or two we focus a lot on top-line revenue. Right now 65% of sales volume comes from cruises, and 23% of sales volume comes from booking hotels for a customer who needs help with the land aspect of their trip.

We help our franchise owners build their store sales, and once they hit enough volume we start working on improving their profitability. Of course, some owners are more successful than others, so the numbers can fluctuate. The Item 19 in our Franchise Disclosure Document provides a good overview of potential earnings for a franchise partner.

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Where is the industry headed? How will you grow with it?

The future of cruising is very bright. There is a growing audience that wants to buy cruises with nearly a quarter of all cruisers falling in the 30-39 age group. The cruise lines are investing billions with 57 new ocean cruise ships coming out over the next seven years, so there is more product for us to sell. The product itself is being enhanced, too, which improves yield. A $1,000 cruise in five years may be worth $1,500, so that raises the amount of the commission going to our franchise partners and consultants. Our internal goal is to grow at a rate that is triple the growth rate of the industry. We have been able to do that every year for more than two decades — when the industry grows by 7%, we grow by 21%.

In the year 2020, I see 500 Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise locations in North America, with 300 stores in the United States — which is really exciting. At our National Conference last month, our theme was “20/20 Vision: Bigger, Better, Stronger, Together.” We’re growing quickly, but we never stop thinking about improving current systems to help existing stores be more profitable, too. After all, we’re not successful unless they’re successful.

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Father-daughter Team Opens Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise on Staten Island

Our travel agency franchise is a great choice for family franchisees

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Harold Verde and his daughter Nicole recently joined forces to open a new Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Staten Island, New York.

When Harold Verde purchased the first Staten Island Expedia® CruiseShipCenters®, he was pursuing a passion he’s carried most of his life. A 32-year veteran of the commercial HVAC industry, Harold is now following his lifelong desire for cruise travel — only this time it’s from an agency perspective.

“I kind of needed a change in life, you could say,” Harold says. “I got tired of working in the HVAC industry. I had gotten an email from Expedia saying they were now in New York State, and the timing was perfect.”

As a seasoned cruise traveler, Harold already knows what his customers expect and look for when they plan a cruise. Although he hasn’t worked in the travel industry before, Harold is passionate about traveling and knows what is important to people who wish to plan a cruise. One thing he hopes to assist travelers with is making the right choices. His Expedia CruiseShipCenters location offers full travel services, but it specializes in cruises — the most complicated vacations to plan, according to Harold.

“There are so many options and so much to choose from that a person can spend days trying to see all the different options,” he says. “When it comes down to it, dollar for dollar, when you’re traveling with a family of four or five, the airfare alone could pay for the cost of your cruise. Get out of the car, get on the boat, and everything you want is right there.”

Harold and his team are taking advantage of New York City’s expanding ports by offering the “typical” Mid-Atlantic cruises to Canada, Maine, New England, the Bahamas, and the rest of the Caribbean, as well as more exotic trans-Atlantic trips to Europe, or through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters launched in 1987 and is a top seller of cruise travel in North America. Our travel agency franchise is rapidly expanding, with over 200 locations open or under development. Our growth is driven by three overarching realities: our proven business model is affordable to start and extremely scalable, our focus on cruise vacations makes us a trusted resource among cruise customers who overwhelmingly prefer to book with a travel agent, and the cruise industry is rapidly expanding.

Joining a family-friendly travel agency franchise

Harold operates his Staten Island Expedia CruiseShipCenters with his daughter, Nicole. As the oldest of three siblings, Nicole has fond memories of traveling with her family. From Washington D.C. to the Caribbean, the Verde family always took the opportunity to bond while on vacation. Now, at 26, Nicole has taken an extra step toward bonding with her father in a vacation atmosphere.

“I always loved to travel, and I’ve always wanted to work in an office, so being in an office and traveling was the perfect match for me,” Nicole says.

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Nicole Verde has partnered with her father, Harold, to operate the first Expedia CruiseShipCenters location in Staten Island.

The family franchise hopes to bring their travel experience and passion to their franchise, where they can help customers plot out the vacation of their dreams.

“How do you go to work every day and not feel like you’re at work? It’s to enjoy what you’re doing. This business is that,” Harold says.

Training and support from an iconic travel franchise

Despite having no previous experience in the travel industry, Harold has run a business and will take advantage of the extensive support and training Expedia CruiseShipCenters offers its franchisees. With more than 100 people in our corporate headquarters in Vancouver, our mission is to empower franchisees with a time-tested system to grow a profitable and valuable business.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters is with franchisees from day one. On the day you open your business, a Franchise Performance Coach will be on-site to help you get acclimated, answer questions, and to help ensure a strong start. An FPC will continue to touch base regularly, especially during the first two years you are in business, as you work together to help your office develop a strong sense of teamwork and a culture of connectivity.

Once established, we continue to provide franchisees with the tools, systems, and support to facilitate their success, and we offer extended support in the field, online, and via phone, to help franchisees troubleshoot issues that may arise.

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters family franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise Review: Veterans Chris and Larry Dettmer

How a married couple that met in the Air Force created a new career as travel franchise owners in Northern Kentucky

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Veterans Chris and Larry Dettmer just celebrated 30 years of marriage and are nearing their first year anniversary as Expedia CruiseShipCenter franchise owners. The couple had high expectations for the first year and has exceeded their original growth goals.

The Dettmers met and fell in love while they were both in the Air Force, stationed in Arkansas, in the early 1980s. Several years of military service created a lasting love of travel that led them to their new lives in the Expedia CruiseShipCenters network of travel franchise owners. In the Air Force, Larry rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant and traveled to far off destinations such as Korea and Philippines, while Chris rose to the rank of Captain. Their service to their country instilled in the couple a shared commitment to excellence, which they’ve applied to operating their franchise.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters is seeking veterans with the entrepreneurial spirit to open travel franchise locations in their communities. Veterans are a great fit for franchising since they often have the skill set necessary to run and manage a streamlined and efficient business, and they have the drive to translate our tested business model into a successful business. Qualified military veterans receive a 15% discount on the initial franchise fee.

This is Larry and Chris’ story:

What were you doing before becoming Expedia CruiseShipCenters owners?

Larry: We met in 1983, when we were stationed on the same base in Arkansas. I did a four-year stint in the Air Force, while she did six years. My experience in the service is something I look back with a lot of fondness now, though, at the time, I knew that I wanted a career in the corporate world. I entered the sales industry, and I spent the next several years working for a few high-profile companies. In the summer of 2013, I was a sales director running a team of seven people. I got word from corporate that I could keep my job, but they were going to be moving me elsewhere. I decided to look at that situation as an opportunity. Luckily Chris and I were in a financial position where we could take a little risk, so we decided to try our hand at owning our own business. This is something that we’ve both wanted to do.

Chris: When I left the Air Force, I started working in the health insurance industry, but I chose to become a stay-at-home mother when we had our two children. I work part-time for a health insurance firm. Now that the children are older — our youngest is a senior at Northern Kentucky University — we decided that we if we were to open our own business, we could be active owners, which is very appealing to us. We have the time and the energy to devote ourselves to becoming successful.

What made you want to open an Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise?

Larry: When we knew that we were going to go forward with going into business for ourselves, it didn’t take us long to discover that Expedia CruiseShipCenters was going to be a good fit. I casually looked at a number of businesses and toyed around with a lot of ideas. I thought, “Maybe I’ll go into the restaurant business,” or “Maybe I can find a business that lets me work with my hands,” but ultimately we decided that travel was a passion of ours. Seeing how popular cruising has become, we thought it’d be a smart business to get into. When I was on the internet doing research, I stumbled upon on the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise, and I immediately filled out the franchise application to get the ball rolling.

Chris: Once we did visit the corporate office in Vancouver, we were both struck by their vision for the future and the pathway to growth. It was a great fit for us.

Larry: Their vision for the future was ultimately what sold us. When we were meeting the executive team, both parties are there to get a sense of the other — to find out if this will be a good match. We left that meeting with a sense of confidence in the brand, as well as their very pragmatic growth strategies and attainable goals. Of course, we did our due diligence before we signed the franchise agreement. We spoke to a lot of the franchisees, and we liked what we heard.

Once you signed the franchise agreement, how fast was the process of opening your new center?

Larry: Once we signed the franchise agreement, we focused our attention on finding the right location. We had initially thought that our center would be in Cincinnati, but once we looked at the demographics of Northern Kentucky, we thought, “This is an area where we could be very successful.” The hardest part of the entire process for us was finding the right location. We looked at a lot of property, and we delayed our target opening date a bit until we found the space that we’re in today. We held a soft opening in December 2014, and we officially opened in February of 2015.

Chris: It worked out better for us that we held out. We’re in a great location — right in front of a major shopping center here. The “Expedia CruiseShipCenters,” sign serves as a giant billboard for us, which helps to attract people to our store who may not have heard about us before.

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What do you enjoy the most about the business?

Larry: I really enjoy the challenges this business presents every day. Even though this is a small business, it is complicated in that you have to put a lot of things together and make them work. I don’t see a big difference between what my demands were in a leadership position as a sales director and what I’m doing now. I find that I have to use all of my leadership skills all of the time. This is a good fit for me. All of the different kinds of work that has to get done on a daily basis keeps me from becoming complacent.

There’s also the appeal of being in the travel business. During my time in the military, even though I knew it wasn’t going to be my career, I always volunteered to go places. I went to South Korea and the Philippines, for example. One of our goals for my wife and myself is to travel more.

Chris: We’ve always worked with people, and we enjoy that aspect of it. It’s a lot more fun to talk to people about travel than it is to talk to them about health insurance.

What customers does Expedia CruiseShipCenters draw?

Chris: One of the reasons we chose this location is we knew we would attract a lot of customers organically. Just now today, a young couple walked in, and we were fielding their questions and providing them with information on how we can improve their vacations. We get all kinds of people of all ages as customers, which is another reason we chose the Northern Kentucky location.

Larry: One of the benefits of franchising with Expedia CruiseShipCenters is that the corporate marketing team is really on top of things. As franchisees, we contribute to a marketing fund, which we are able to customize to attract our local demographics. It’s far more sophisticated than I had imagined, and the fliers and mailers we have access to are of a very professional quality. Being that the Expedia brand is so big, they have a great relationship with the U.S. Postal Service, so for example, with our last mailer, we were able to get our message to 7,000 people in our area.

How do you recruit Vacation Consultants to support the growth of your business?

Chris: We do use traditional outlets for recruitment. We’ve also had several of our customers become our consultants. We’re in the process of onboarding a retired school principal, which is great because she has the time and resources to make for a successful consultant. That’s a big thing: typically, consultants are women between 40-60 years old, who are passionate about travel and don’t have to rely on us to make ends meet.

Larry: We’re building our team. We have about 15 Vacation Consultants at the moment, and we are trying to get to 18-20 consultants by the end of the year. Of course, our consultants have different levels of engagement, but over the long term we want to have a team of about 30 consultants who are very engaged with this business.

What are the key activities that drive results for an owner, and what are the biggest challenges?

Larry: The most important role that I have to fulfill in this business is to ensure that I support my consultants. I not only have to make sure they are properly trained, but I have to support their personal goals. As a former sales director, I recognize that each consultant is here for a different reason. In a normal work environment, people are working for a paycheck. We’re different because we don’t pay our consultants until after our customers return from their vacations. It’s also important to ensure that a new consultant makes a sale in their first 30-60 days. I make sure to build a pipeline of leads for new consultants to work so that they aren’t starting from scratch. The more success they have, the more they are going to be involved. Their success is our success, and that is very important to remember.

What does a typical day look like in the business?

Larry: There isn’t a typical day. Today I was planning on spending most of my time onboarding a new consultant. However, a client walked in, and he was in our store for three hours. As an owner, you have to be flexible. The one thing that I do on a daily basis is check in with my core group of consultants. They are my first priority, but I am always working my own book of business to keep things going.

What are your goals for your business and how it will affect your life?

Larry: My goal for the first year was to meet or exceed the benchmarks set by the corporate office. We’re on pace to do both, and we will have a strong first year in business. Our franchise performance coach visited our location yesterday, which is the great thing about the level of support that Expedia CruiseShipCenters provides for its franchisees. Our coach keeps us on track to hit our sales goals and helps us to grow the business. We speak to him at least once a month, and he visits with us every six months or so. We need someone who can be in advisory role, who can see our business outside of the day-to-day perspective. Expedia CruiseShipCenters is genuinely interested in our success.

My five-year plan is to grow our travel franchise to the point where I have to hire a bookkeeper. In five years, I want to be at the point where I can work 30 hours a week and travel more. One of the things that the corporate team really stresses is that you want to build a business that has equity. This means that as an owner you can’t be the top producer. So our entire focus is in developing and growing our team of consultants. We want to be 75 years old and have a thriving business that I can hang my hat on.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

Chris: Travel! That’s why we’re in this business.

Larry: I like to play golf in the summer and like to play basketball in the winter. I love to watch the Reds, and we’re also Bengal season ticket holders. Of course, we love to travel. We just got off a cruise where we went to five ports out of San Juan, Puerto Rico. We hope to travel more going forward and hopefully lead some group tours.

Would you recommend Expedia CruiseShipCenters to a veteran thinking about starting a business and if so, why?

Larry: Veterans typically come out of the military with a deep passion for service to their country and a commitment to excellence. An Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise owner will use these characteristics to build a successful business that services the local cruising community, helping them to plan the vacations of their dreams.

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our opportunity overview pages.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise Review: Q&A with Noam Meppen

How a former sales director changed course to embrace his entrepreneurial nature as a travel franchise owner

Noam Meppen has hit the ground running with his Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise business, which opened at the end of 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona. Noam, who has a background in consumer electronics sales, is already planning to open two more Expedia CruiseShipCenters in the city and is scouting two potential locations. In this interview, he discusses what it takes to get a franchise off the ground, as well as his vision for success with his business going forward.

Noam Meppen on vacation in his favorite city — Barcelona, Spain.

Noam Meppen on vacation in his favorite city — Barcelona, Spain.

What were you doing before becoming an Expedia CruiseShipCenters owner?

Up until the end of last year I worked in the consumer electronics industry. I was senior director of sales and marketing, as well as head of North American operations for an electronics manufacturer that is overseas. I managed a sales team and marketing and PR efforts for the U.S. My background prior to Expedia was mostly in sales and sales leadership. All of my experience is either in electronics or in the movie business on the home video side — movies on DVD and Blu Ray. I worked for Amazon for a period selling the Kindle, and I also worked at Sony helping with Vaio laptops and Sony Android tablets.

How did you first learn about Expedia CruiseShipCenters?

I first learned about Expedia CruiseShipCenters in 2012, and after I did some research I decided it wasn’t the right time. I put it aside for about two years and then about a year ago, in the beginning of 2014, I reengaged with Expedia CruiseShipCenters. In April of last year, I went to Vancouver for a Discovery Day to learn more about the opportunity.

What made you want to open one?

I like the brand strength of Expedia. I liked the fact that the overhead investment was relatively minimal compared to other retail businesses — because there is no investment in inventory and you don’t have an overhead cost for labor since sales are commission-based.

I wanted to be my own boss and not be in the corporate political dance anymore. I also wanted to work in the travel business because I’ve always had an affinity for travel. This opportunity allowed me to build a business, develop equity for myself and do it in an industry that I have a true passion for.

What do you like about the management team?

They do a Discovery Day for prospective owners, where they invite in people who are sniffing around.

I flew up to Vancouver, and in the morning there was a series of meetings by various functional heads — marketing, sales, operations, all of whom gave a tour and demos. At the end of that day, each of the prospective franchise owners, whether a single person or a couple, met with a senior member of the corporate team. The whole point of it is a two-way evaluation; we are both evaluating one another. I liked the management styles, personality and approach that I saw.

I think the day after, they have a happy hour. Then I got a follow-up call from the VP of franchise sales who said, “We’d like to do business with you and offer you a franchise.” I left knowing that I wanted to do this. I went into the process of getting a territory locked down.

What makes Expedia CruiseShipCenters unique?

In the cruise sales segment of travel, there aren’t a lot of retail players. Cruises are usually sold through travel agents — maybe 70 percent consist of call centers which are farms of desks making calls. Those are typically big operations, and they are not franchises: Vacations To Go, Costco Travel, etc. It’s a churn-and-burn model. There are a few travel franchises that are home-based models with solo operators. We’re different in that it is a brick-and-mortar store located in a shopping center, and there is a sales staff that works under the franchise owner, with commissions split between the owner and consultants. This model allows me to scale and open a couple of locations in the city and generate more revenue and wealth.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters

Noam Meppen networking at the 2014 Arizona Women’s Festival.

What is the key to scaling up the business?

Recruiting, onboarding and constantly coaching and training. There is no way one person can do all the sales and marketing and handle all the other aspects of the business. There aren’t enough hours in the day. The more strong people you get on your team, the more you can spread your marketing costs across a larger sales volume.

Who is an ideal consultant?

The ideal person is someone who does not need immediate income. An example would be a person with a spouse who is currently working, and they are passionate about travel and would like to monetize their interest. A typical candidate is a woman between the ages of 30 and 60, whose husband works and whose kids may be in high school or off to college.

How do you find them?

I find people by networking and by advertising in local publications near my store in North Scottsdale. I have also used Craigslist to advertise opportunities.

What are your growth plans for Phoenix?

I have one location and plan to open two more in Phoenix. I also have two other territories on hold. My commitment is to have three locations by 2020. Phoenix is a massive city. The other two geographies are both 30 miles away — 30 miles west and 30 miles south. People will only go so far, stores do a lot of business with people who live within two to three miles. The true magic of this system, and why it is different, is the credibility of having a location the customer can visit. We also host customer events in the store. Next week we are doing an event with Princess Cruises that is Alaska-themed. If your nearest store is 30 miles away, you are not going to that, but if it’s down the block, you will go.

What do you enjoy the most about the business, your staff and your customers?

I like the freedom and the flexibility of my schedule. I am still in ramp-up mode, so I don’t have a lot of free time, but I have control on how I spend my time and money within some guidelines. I have encouragement from Expedia; they want me to do certain things and leverage certain marketing channels. Also, I really enjoy the travel industry. I have true curiosity and passion for the product I am selling.

Where have you been?

I have been to six continents and 35 countries. I’ve lived in Seattle and Washington, D.C., and grew up in California. I love Barcelona, it’s probably my favorite city in the world. My favorite cruise is to Alaska; it is amazing. I love travel in general. Singapore is also a very neat place. I always like to go to other parts of the world and see new architecture and new people. I love to do that and help others do that.

Why do customers come to you?

We’re not cookie-cutter. I’ve planned some complicated trips with seven to eight components with six family members and a lot of tight schedules. It takes a fair amount of expertise and coordination. Customers get the benefit of the expertise, and we sometimes have access to better prices and amenities because we are part of Expedia. Typically, the pricing we offer is the same pricing you would pay directly, so it doesn’t cost customer extra, but they get a lot more service.

What kinds of customers do Expedia CruiseShipCenters draw?

We want to be known as the cruising expert in the community, which tends to be more affluent and a little older. However, there are people who take cruises in their twenties and people who take cruises with young kids. It’s not a narrow demographic.

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What are the key activities that drive results for an owner?

You need to put yourself out there. You need to be comfortable speaking to a crowd, and you have to believe in the service you are offering.

How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team help support your business?

I think the biggest value is on the product and the marketing side. They develop promotions, which they negotiate on our behalf with the major suppliers. They also provide operational support, which is helpful, but I think they excel the most at marketing and operations. When you have nearly 200 locations under the same brand, as Expedia does, they have the power to negotiate the best pricing and packages, so if a customer is coming to us to evaluate a travel package, we can hold our own and win on pricing and amenities. Also, they have the scale to negotiate better commissions and better support. That is a big piece of it. There are systems and operational support that are great. The team is made up of 100+ people in Vancouver who are all concerned about us and definitely support all aspects of the business.

What are the biggest challenges?

I think that the recruiting side of it is tougher than I anticipated. It’s the biggest challenge I have faced, and they warned me. They were very forthright, even before I decided to do this. The ones who figure out training and onboarding will find that sales follow. It’s all about convincing the right kind of people to become consultants.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

I love hiking, I love nature. I love cars, but travel is my first true interest and passion. When I turn 40, I am going to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. I like wide-open spaces.

Learn more

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise Review: Q&A with Mary Beth Casey

A former advertising executive comes out of retirement to find success as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner.

Mary Beth Casey, a former advertising executive, came out of retirement to find success as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner.

Mary Beth Casey, a former advertising executive, came out of retirement to find success as an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner.

Mary Beth Casey, owner of a successful Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® franchise in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, never expected to be in the travel business. The wake of the stock market crash in 2008 brought the former CEO of an advertising agency out of retirement and into the business world again. Mary’s success as a franchise owner is a result of her skills in the field of advertising, as well as her ability to nurture talent and accomplish goals.

This is her story.

What were you doing before becoming a Expedia CruiseShipCenters owner?

I was retired for five or six years. Before that, I was in the advertising world as a CEO of one large agency in New York City and chairman of a digital agency, as well. The market crash a few years ago brought me out of retirement. My husband turned to me one evening and said, “I think you have to go back to work.” We had two children in college, and we couldn’t afford to waste a lot of time.

How did you learn about Expedia CruiseShipCenters, and what made you want to open one? What made it stand out?

We had hired a franchise broker because we knew we wanted to invest in a proven entity, but she wasn’t the one that turned us on to Expedia. We found Expedia CruiseShipCenters doing our own research online. We took the idea to the franchise broker, of course, to get her opinion. Expedia is a big name, and that’s what attracted us to start with. Then I met the corporate team in Vancouver, and I was even more impressed. We knew that they weren’t going to let us down. Expedia CruiseShipCenters is so successful. It has a long track record with a proven concept, and it’s very scalable. That sets it apart. We were never interested in a home-based business — it would never give us the kind of volume we were looking for.

What do you enjoy the most about the business?

I really enjoy watching my consultants go from zero to success. My nature is that of a nurturer. When my consultants match my definition of success, that’s the ultimate. My consultants are my customers, and I can say that honestly. I have 80 consultants. I rarely sell these days, and if I do, I sell to customers who are looking for a more meaningful and valuable experience. So I’m very selective. Most of my customers are my friends — I know them, and they know me.

What kinds of customers does Expedia CruiseShipCenters draw?

We draw people who appreciate service and value. We really provide our customers with the value of listening, and I spend a lot of time training my consultants to be better leaders and better listeners. Our consultants should know the true experience that our customers are looking for, and the value we add is in being thoughtful. We know what this vacation will bring to them and their families. Our customers can ask anything from the simplest questions to the most absurd. Then when our customers get off the boat, we do a follow-up: Did we meet their expectations? Where are they going to go next?

How do you recruit travel consultants to support the growth of your business?

Casey’s Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has been growing steadily for five years running.

Casey’s Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has been growing steadily for five years.

I’m fortunate in that I seem to be a go-to-Google place. I have 1,700 people in my database that I’m continually working. I also incentivize my consultants to get referrals. I give them $100 for every referral that gets certified.

With consultants, the 80/20 rule applies, in that only 20% are really engaged. The other 80% are not as engaged, nor am I very engaged with them. However, if they make a sale, that’s great! I have 25-30 consultants who are very engaged and are doing this job actively.

Investing time in my consultants is a top priority. There’s constant training, with more and more information coming all the time. I have to manage my time effectively and determine what is important. I try to come up with strategies to grow my business.

How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team support your business?

I think they’re just terrific. They know me, and they know what my goals are. They’re very, very smart. They listen, they’re supportive and they encourage. As franchisees, we have opportunity to have a voice, which I appreciate. Their strategic planning and marketing has been terrific, as well. I trust them.

What are the biggest challenges, and how do you overcome them?

There isn’t a typical day. There are a million interruptions, but I try not to interrupt myself unless it’s very important. I set an agenda each week of goals that I want to get accomplished, and then I set about accomplishing them. Of course, I make a lot of time for my consultants.

Managing time is a huge challenge. You never get the satisfaction of getting it all done. I’ve worked in fast-paced environments, and so I’m good at jumping in and jumping out and moving on to the next thing. I miss not being able to really dig into a project, but the world has gotten a lot faster. I don’t think the luxury of time is available to anyone anymore.

What were your goals for your business and how it would impact your life?

My original goal was to do $10 million in the first year, and we didn’t come close to that. We’re just now reaching five years in the business, and we’re seeing much more steady growth. In four to five years, I would like to sell my company and go back to my retirement. I will have a seasoned business by then with a great track record.

We’re in a very affluent community in Fort Lauderdale. We grew 26% from last month and have doubled our sales from last March to this March. Corporate gave us an excellent system where I can see how sales were on any given day during any given year and compare them to where we are now. My mission is to grow the business another 20% by the end of the year, which I think we will do.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

I golf. I find that it clears my mind of work, which is not easy to do. I hang out with my husband and my stepchildren. I love to cook.

Would you recommend Expedia CruiseShipCenters to someone thinking about starting a business and if so, why?

Yes, I would. I seem to be a go-to-person for those who are interested in joining up, and I always tell them the same thing: make sure you’re comfortable in your financials, enough to live on for one or two years, because it takes that long to get these going. We also don’t get paid until a customer travels, so that’s different than other businesses where you get paid at the end of every month. The cash flow with Expedia is a bit different.

Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters

For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, download our free franchise report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.