A former advertising executive comes 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?
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.