Expedia CruiseShipCenters Franchise Review: Q&A with Dan & Brenna Maurer
How one couple strives to live the dream of an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner
Brenna and Dan Maurer are used to the idea of doing things their own way. Before they became Expedia® CruiseShipCenters® franchise owners, they renovated a retreat in the heart of Yellowstone National Park that has become a popular tourist destination. The Maurers have taken their individualistic spirit and love of competition into their new endeavor as franchise owners. The couple have locations in Summerlin and Henderson, Nevada, and they plan to open another location in Seattle, Washington.
This is their story.
What were you doing before becoming Expedia CruiseShipCenters owners?
Dan: We have been in the hospitality industry for 12 years. Prior to that, we owned an industrial construction business, which we sold to start something new. We did mechanical installation on power plants, food processing plants and stuff of that nature. There were lots of employees and lots of stress. We were tired of it after a long while.
Brenna: What a fun transformation for us to go from that to something fun at Yellowstone, and now onto something exciting at Expedia.
Dan: We’re living the dream, as they say.
Brenna: We would vacation at Yellowstone every summer and winter because we like to snowmobile, cross-country ski and hike. We wanted to live there. We bought a property that wasn’t functioning and totally restored it: Moose Creek Cabins and Inn. We bought the cabins first and the inn second. The property is now the Number One most popular place on TripAdvisor.
How did you first learn about Expedia CruiseShipCenters?
Brenna: We were looking to expand. We love our hotel and Yellowstone, but we wanted an additional business. We started looking at franchise opportunities so we wouldn’t have to build the whole thing from the ground up. We looked at coffee franchises, Big O Tires, food franchises and day care franchises. When we came across Expedia, we started investigating from there because we love cruises and we love to travel.
Dan: We love all the cruises — European, Alaska, Caribbean — all of them are very fun and very exciting.
Brenna: We took a 30-day cruise from Australia through the South Pacific, Fiji and then to Los Angeles, California. The trip was very relaxing and beautiful. There are no words to describe the landscape.
What made you want to open one?
Brenna: First of all, the brand name is the reason for both of us; Expedia is such a well-known name in travel.
Dan: The startup budget for this franchise was very affordable, and we were attracted to that. The profit margins were incredible. It was good.
What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors?
Brenna: The brand name and the buying power. We have exclusive staterooms that no other travel agency will have. We are also able to give concierge service with Expedia pricing. Those in the corporate office in Vancouver believe that if you touch a customer’s heart and understand their dreams enough to make them happen, the money will follow. A call center or an online booking service can never do that. We often can maintain lower prices on the cruises we offer because Expedia buys up a certain number of the best staterooms like midship and balcony. Therefore, we can get group pricing.
What do you enjoy the most about the business, your staff and your customers?
Dan: The thing that I enjoy is setting goals and then achieving the goals that I set. Of course travel is fun, too, and there is a lot of satisfaction in seeing people who enjoy their trips coming back to us.
Brenna: For me, I love competition and competing with other franchise partners. I love to strive to be the very best in the franchise. I love to travel and love sharing that passion with our consultants and with their clients.
How do you get the consultants?
Brenna: Getting them can be a challenge. We advertise a lot of ways: People walking by our office see a sign about joining our team. They also can view an online webinar created by our corporate office. There is a lot of attention created by our corporate office and by us locally. Our motivation comes from working with positive people who love travel and love to share it. Our job as leaders is to create excitement around our exclusive promotions. Not only do we try to recognize our people for what they do in terms of sales, but we also recognize people for behavior that can help create sales; for instance, making a happy birthday call or reaching out to a past customer and asking how they enjoyed their trip. Also, our consultants send weekly emails with positive stories. We may also share things that are funny or negative that happen that were resolved in a positive manner. We have 25 consultants in our centers and five who work from home.
Dan: Our consultants form relationships. It’s a nice culture in our office, and that is reflected by the corporate culture in Vancouver. We really enjoy that.
What kinds of customers does Expedia CruiseShipCenters draw?
Dan: We target anybody age 40 and up. People who are working with families or have retired. We sell Disney, Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruises, so we attract many kinds of people. We also try to attract higher-end clients, such as those who would enjoy a Seabourn, Crystal or a Silversea experience.
Brenna: Our most popular cruises to date are to Europe and Alaska, on every cruise line that sails to those two destinations.
What are the key activities that drive results for an owner?
Dan: We try to reach out to the community in as many ways as we can: advertising and networking. We let the consultants know to talk to their neighbors, friends and clubs to get people on some trips. We find that once clients begin to refer others to us, it starts to snowball. We are seeing some of that growth start to happen here.
Brenna: You have to be willing to work long hours, be on the phone and be comfortable with leading by example. You have to be willing to give it your all, all of the time. We expect to work seven days a week. We have worked side by side for the past 17 years, so we are used to that. Our office is closed on Sunday but we are usually out doing shows.
Dan: We’ll do trade shows where we rent booth space, and we stand there handing out brochures and contests to win a free cruise.
How does the Expedia CruiseShipCenters headquarters team support your business?
Brenna: I feel like we have a security blanket whenever they are around. They are very helpful, very knowledgeable and very true to what their expectations are for us. I think they provide almost everything you need to succeed in this business, and I only say almost because you have to take what they give you and work hard to make your business succeed. Our desire to own multiple locations comes from our Franchise Performance Coach. He made us realize that it is easier to take many stores to achievable levels of profitability, rather than relying on one store to be a big success.
Dan: Brenna and I have no travel booking experience, and we have learned a lot on our own. We learned a lot from corporate, too. This is why we looked for a franchise. All the other businesses we started, we started from scratch, and you spend a lot of money getting to where you know enough to make your profit. With a franchise, you can get there faster.
Are you happy with performance so far?
Brenna: Our expectations were probably too high. We had a very good first year, but with our effort and experience, we thought we would do better. If you don’t set your goals high, you won’t get there. We are big dreamers.
Dan: We are on track for meeting our goal this year. Hopefully we will beat our goal.
Brenna: Our managers are big believers in the system, and they bring a lot of their experience to our business. Morgan has an international business degree, and Jackson has a hospitality degree. It’s great to have those resources on the team.
What does a typical day look like in the business? Walk a new franchisee through what their day might look like.
Dan: We get up at 6 a.m., and we come to the office to get it nice and neat. We open at 9 a.m., which is when the consultants get in and start calling their clients. People will walk in off the street and say they want to take this trip or that trip. We also do training pretty regularly. At times, cruise lines will come in and host training sessions.
Brenna: Sometimes our time is spent in trying to get a better seating assignment for a customer; sometimes it is tracking commissions from suppliers and spotting mistakes or doing tech support with a consultant. We prepare our advertising schedule for the week and the month. We have a yearlong calendar that breaks our advertising schedule down to different timeframes. We know what our end goal is and what we are trying to achieve.
Dan: We completely use the franchise development program from corporate, and then we try to go a little above and beyond what is expected.
Brenna: For instance, corporate recommends that we host six events a year at our center, and we host 12. We follow their recommendations, but we try to do more.
What are the biggest challenges, and how do you overcome them?
Dan: Patience has always been a challenge for us. We have always been top gear, all out, hit it now and see the results kind of people. Franchises take a little bit of time to come around financially. The business just doesn’t exist in the community until you build enough awareness. You really have to put yourself out there to earn trust and the customer knowledge that you are there to help and not to put additional costs on a trip.
Brenna: For me, the challenge is finding consultants who can make the time to wait for commission. If people are booking six months out, the consultants cannot get commission until six months out. We look for people nearing retirement who have some other income so they can wait to get paid.
What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
Brenna: We are taking our grandson on a Disney Cruise in June. Dan and I have not cruised Disney yet, so that will be fun. We do stress that it is important to take time to enjoy life. You only take memories with you, so you need to make good ones. When we come home to Montana, we love to go to the mountains and ride four wheelers or mountain bikes. I love fly fishing, and we do a lot of that. We took four cruises last year; some were to experience the product so we could bring that knowledge to the customer.
Dan: We only have two more continents to visit, and we are getting those in our portfolio sometime soon. We’ve been everywhere but Antarctica and South America.
Would you recommend Expedia CruiseShipCenters to someone thinking about starting a business?
Dan: I would, but you need to make sure your funds are in order. This type of business probably won’t break even until after the first year. In the second year, you will see a little profit. You won’t see a lot of profit until the fourth year.
Brenna: I also would recommend it. It’s not an instant income. You need to be monetarily prepared and mentally prepared for that. Corporate told us that we were going to wake up some days and wonder what in the world we have done. We also have the moments where we love this business.