How one couple strives to live the dream of an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner.
How a former teacher and a former sales executive fashioned a second career out of their desire to own their own business
Kevin and Jennifer White of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, wanted a career that combined their passion for travel and their desire to run a business together. They discovered the opportunity by partnering with one of the world’s largest travel brands — Expedia — to open an Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel agency franchise. This is their story.
What were you doing before becoming an Expedia CruiseShipCenters owner?
Jennifer: I taught special education in Broward County for 13 years before coming to this business. I took some years off to raise our kids. I received a master’s degree in education from Florida State University and came down here to teach. I have always loved travel, and truth be told, teaching has changed a lot and I wanted something different. As a special education teacher, the paperwork was ungodly.
Kevin: I worked for a charter airline called Miami Air. Our offices were across the street from the airport. I have been in sales most of my career. At Miami Air, I worked as director of marketing and sales and as an account executive. I did everything from supporting the sales staff to going out and knocking on doors for new business. I worked for all sorts of neat customers — NBA and MLB teams, the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. To be clear, I wasn’t rubbing shoulders with celebrities, I was just arranging their travel! It was neat, but I was ready to get out of the corporate world.
I came across Expedia CruiseShipCenters and being that it was in the travel industry, I thought it would be something I would enjoy doing. I had always wanted to try something on my own. I didn’t want to get to retirement and say that I wished I had tried something when I was in my 30s or 40s, only to reach 70 years old without ever doing that. I also liked the franchise system because I wanted to have someone I could lean on and who could help with issues. Also, I liked that the business plan and marketing plan was in place, as well as Expedia being a well-known brand.
How did you first learn about Expedia CruiseShipCenters?
Kevin: I had been interested in the franchise for a while. During the summer of 2013, I began doing some research. I had been with my previous company for 14 years and felt that it was time for a change. No job seemed exciting, which pushed me to research business opportunities. I stumbled across Expedia CruiseShipCenters through travel-related internet research. I was armed with a little bit of sales and marketing knowledge, and I have an MBA. I thought “maybe I could make this work with hard work, hope, and a prayer.”
What made you want to open one?
Kevin: I think it was the support that we would receive from the people at the corporate office. Jennifer and I flew out to Vancouver to meet with them. They were genuine people who I thought would be there to support us.
What sets Expedia CruiseShipCenters apart from competitors?
Jennifer: The fact that we are not a dot-com. So many storefront travel agencies from when we were kids have gone away. Shopping for travel online isn’t very fun — it’s almost choice overload and option overload. A lot of people don’t have time to sift through it all, especially if they are looking for something that is tailored to them. Our customer service is a big advantage.
Tell me about your customers.
Kevin: They are generally families and retirees. Most single folks go to the web. Families are looking for more of a structured vacation — especially retirees. They like things that are planned for them, and they like knowing what they are going to do.
A lot of our customers like that when they are talking to somebody, they know who they are speaking with. Most travel agencies rely on call centers, and the person on the other end of the line won’t know your preferences or what you like to do. We are able to provide personal service, and we are already starting to get people coming back. The phone call I was just on before this interview was with a repeat customer, and I am working with her on a trip to Greece. It’s a relationship. She calls me to talk to me.
Jennifer: We call those customers for life. Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ training program has taught us how to implement a system that will create customers for life from the first time we reach out to a prospect to the time they get home from their trip and are ready to plan the next one.
How is the training?
Jennifer: It is amazing. You go through a week of training at the corporate office in Vancouver, which is a lot of information. It’s like, “open mouth, insert firehose.” However, both before and after, you get amazing support with calls and internet meetings. Also, the International Cruise Academy can take someone without prior knowledge all the way through the program and have them ready to start selling. It helps people get up to speed quickly.
Is it hard to get Vacation Consultants?
Jennifer: It depends. We have advertised and discovered that people who are looking for a job don’t work out well. We advertise on Craigslist and get a lot of inquiries, but we have to see how qualified they are. Word of mouth is some of the best marketing, and we have hired some people who love to travel. Simply being here is a big draw, and for us to get out in our community and talk about the opportunity is very powerful.
Kevin: The most challenging part is that our consultants are paid 100 percent on commission, and it takes a while to start making some money. The way it works is that they get paid once their customers start their trip. You are really looking for the right person who is looking to do that. The demographic we are looking for is mainly women between 40 and 55 — either empty nesters or moms whose kids are at school and are looking for something to do during the day. They love travel and love to talk about travel. When you post any type of ad, no matter how well you word it, you get some people who are looking for a job to pay the next month’s rent, and that’s the big challenge. Also, sales is not easy for some people. We have a great training program for our consultants, though, and we can train anyone who is willing to learn. Anyone who is willing to follow the system can do well. Someone not willing to use the system or learn from our sales training (or those who have a hard time talking to people) is going to struggle. The hardest part of the job for us in the first year has been recruitment and onboarding.
Tell me about your location.
Kevin: We’re on the north side of Fort Lauderdale in an area with a fair amount of retirees and families, which is one of the reasons we chose this location. We stayed away from more transient areas. We are in a strip mall, and we have some pretty strong stores neighboring us — Panera Bread and a FedEx Office. Our business is not based on walk-ins, but visibility helps. We do get people walking in after just discovering us.
What do you enjoy the most about the business, your staff and your customers?
Jennifer: It’s nice to make people happy. I like coming into something we own, and we can ask consultants to cover the office if we want to go have lunch with our kids. Then again, when the phone rings at 10 p.m., it is us answering and not our consultants.
Kevin: I think the main thing I enjoy is helping customers. It’s fun for people to go on vacation. We just had a couple that went on a cruise, and the gentleman proposed on the cruise. It was neat to know that I helped play a role in a proposal! I have another customer who is planning a proposal on his cruise, too.
What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Jennifer: Our favorites have been an Alaska cruise and a trip to Costa Rica. They each had their own charms. The scenery and the outdoor activities were amazing.
What are the key activities that drive results for an owner?
Kevin: Since we’re only about a year in, we’re not experts. However, I think I can say that the number one thing is recruitment. The more sales consultants we have, the better chance we have of reaching our sales goals. You don’t always know how people are going to do when you bring them onboard, so a constant focus on recruiting is key.
The next most important thing is marketing. We frequently go out into the community and attend networking events. As a new franchise owner, from a marketing standpoint, the name of the game is letting the community know that we are here. That loops back into recruitment. The more sales consultants we have, the more our name gets out there as they talk to people and do their own marketing. We look for consultants who are very active in a circle of influence, whether that is a tennis club, a country club or church.
One of the nice things is that it’s always easy to strike up a conversation at networking events. As soon as you tell people you are in the travel business, they’ll start asking questions. It’s easy to ask anyone you meet: “Where have you been? Where do you want to go next? Australia?” From there I can say, “Let me put you on our mailing list and send you interesting stuff about Australia!” That’s how we’re building our business.
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Travel franchise is seeking entrepreneurs across the United States
Expedia CruiseShipCenters, one of the biggest cruise sellers in North America, has announced plans to expand into six cities across the United States.
Our travel franchise is looking for partners across the United States, especially in the metropolitan areas of Orlando, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York and Seattle. Within easy driving distance of cruise departure ports, these cities have demographics that provide the ideal foundation for a new travel franchise.
“We’ve been growing consistently since 1987, and we have the backing and support of one of the world’s biggest travel brands,” says Matthew Eichhorst, President of Expedia CruiseShipCenters. “We are already the dominant travel franchise in Canada, and we are actively planning on growing our foothold in the United States. By the year 2020, we expect to have 500 locations open, 300 of which will be located in the United States.”
Expedia CruiseShipCenters has nearly 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, and the cruise industry is growing quickly.
Expedia CruiseShipCenters is at the heart of a booming industry
Expedia CruiseShipCenters has enjoyed average sales growth of 20% a year for the past two decades. We have grown at three times the rate of the cruise industry overall, and that industry has been experiencing a meteoric rise!
Cruises are becoming increasingly popular because they offer comfort and convenience while making it easy for people to visit several exotic locations on a single trip. According to Cruise Lines International Association, an organization that conducts continual analysis of the industry, cruisers spent $20 billion on their vacations in 2013. The association also points out that the U.S. economic impact of the cruise industry is even larger — at $42 billion annually. Cruise lines have responded to that growth by commissioning the construction of more than 65 new ships that are on pace to set sail over the next five years.
“The future of cruising is very bright,” Matthew says. “There is a new audience that wants to buy cruises, and the average age continues to get younger as the Millennial market gets on board. The cruise lines are investing in the industry, so there is a more product for us to sell. And the product itself is being enhanced, which improves yield. Our internal goal is to triple the growth rate of the industry — we have be able to do that every year. If the industry grows by 7%, we grow by 21%.”
The benefit of a brick-and-mortar travel franchise
Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ training, technology, and marketing are designed to help our franchise owners deliver expert advice through their teams of independent travel agents. While many travel franchises are home-based, Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchises operate from a retail office space where travel agents can share knowledge, meet with clients, and maximize sales — all while indulging their passion for travel. The retail location adds credibility, and Expedia CruiseShipCenters are strategically placed in the heart of a community.
Chris Meyer, an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner in Orange County, California, left a decades-long career in the newspaper business and started his travel business.
“I had not been planning to become an entrepreneur, but I saw the Expedia business plan and it seemed like a strong plan,” the former deputy editor of The Orange County Register said. “The idea of a big digital company also doing brick-and-mortar locations to appeal to every segment of the market was attractive to me. I thought it was very forward-looking.”
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Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise is named a top franchise opportunity based on franchisee satisfaction
Franchise Business Review, a leading publication devoted to analysis of franchise systems, recently named Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel agency franchise as a Best Opportunity for 2015, as well as a Franchisee Satisfaction Award Winner.
In order to determine which franchise system made the list of Top 50 Franchises in four categories based on the size of initial investment, the publication surveyed more than 26,000 franchise owners from over 350 franchise systems. The list measures which franchise systems are the best bets based on the level of satisfaction franchise owners feel about their businesses and how their businesses are performing.
Expedia CruiseShipCenters launched in 1987 and is one of the largest sellers of cruise travel in North America. Our travel agency franchise is rapidly expanding, with nearly 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 growing quickly.
Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owners receive first-rate, ongoing support
One of the reasons that Franchise Business Review honored us with the distinction of being a Franchisee Satisfaction Award Winner is that our owners have turned their passion for travel into a career — they get to help their customers plan their dream vacations! In turn, our corporate team ensures that our Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owners get outstanding support every step of the way. We have grown faster than the rest of the cruise industry by building incredible systems that make it easy for franchisees and their travel consultants to share knowledge about destinations and build custom itineraries that suit clients. We also have built a strong culture of teamwork that allows franchisees and team members to build upon one another’s success.
“The training and support from corporate is simply amazing,” says Jennifer White, an Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise owner in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “You go through a week of training at the corporate office in Vancouver, which is a lot of information. It’s like, ‘open mouth, insert firehose.’ However, both before and after, you get amazing support with calls and internet meetings. The International Cruise Academy can take someone without prior knowledge all the way through the program and have them ready to start selling. It helps people get up to speed.”
Our travel franchise owners can grow their business as large as they like
The Expedia CruiseShipCenters mission statement is to empower our franchisees with a proven system to grow a profitable and valuable business. Everything we do or create for our franchise partners is in support of that mission. We’re constantly thinking of new and better ways to support the growth and scalability of our travel franchise locations, because the success of our owners drives the success of our brand.
The level of flexibility our model provides is another reason why our travel franchise owners are excited to set sail into their new careers, and part of why Franchise Business Review is so impressed with our business model.
Prospective franchise buyers get excited about that flexibility when they start researching our business opportunity. We set our franchise partners up with a system that’s designed for continuous, sustained growth. At Expedia CruiseShipCenters, there is no limit to how large you can grow your sales team of vacation consultants who sell travel on your behalf, which means the growth potential of a single franchise location is substantial. If you want to take your business to the next level, you increase the size of your team and continue training, motivating, and coaching them to set and exceed their own personal sales goals.
“I definitely would recommend starting an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise,” says Joyce Ripka, a travel franchise owner in Quebec, Canada. “Especially if you are interested in getting into the travel business. As long as you are comfortable with the franchise system, and by that I mean that you have to use the Expedia programs and be willing to listen to the corporate team in Vancouver. Otherwise, you will not be getting the value out of the system.”
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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. 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.
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.
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 is the benefit of having a retail space?
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.
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.
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.
One of the biggest sellers of cruises in North America uses the power of its brand to benefit Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owners
Our Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owners are thriving with the growth of the cruise industry — which is getting bigger every year. According to Cruise Lines International Association, an organization that conducts continual analysis of the industry, cruisers spent $20 billion on their vacations in 2013.
Expedia is one of the biggest travel companies in the world — with $39 billion in annual sales — and Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchises sell more cruises per location than any other retailer in North America. Because cruisers prefer to book their vacations with an agent, we’ve grown an average of 20% over the last two decades. Our dominance as a travel franchise has nurtured symbiotic relationships with all of the major cruise lines, who clamor for us to pitch their competitive offers and promotions to our travel clients.
“The major cruise lines view our brand as an asset,” says Matthew Eichhorst, CEO of Expedia CruiseShipCenters. “Because Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise businesses have been so successful, we are able to work closely with cruise lines and other large travel companies to develop promotional deals that will resonate with customers. This benefits our CruiseShipCenters franchise owners because they can pass these savings on to their clients.”
Cruise line representatives often compete to welcome new Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owners into the industry. In fact, major cruise lines help subsidize our marketing expenses by helping to write our promotional campaigns. Thanks to our buying power, we are also are able to secure blocks of desirable rooms for popular ships and destinations, locking in low prices and great rooms for travelers.
Why brick-and-mortar centers?
It might surprise some people that a retail travel agency franchise is thriving in the internet age, but booking cruises is complicated. Guests rely on us to walk them through the process of planning their dream vacations.
“Shopping for travel online isn’t very fun,” says Jennifer White, who owns an Expedia CruiseShipCenters location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with her husband, Kevin. “It’s choice overload and option overload, and a lot of people don’t have time to sift through it all, especially if they are looking for something that is tailored to them. Our customer service is a big advantage.”
With more than nearly 200 locations open or under development in the United States and Canada, brick-and-mortar centers are a proven aspect of our business model. While many travel businesses are operated out of people’s homes, our centers promote visibility for our Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owners in their communities and serve as their center of operations for their team of consultants.
Our support is second to none
Because Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owners come from diverse backgrounds, we have developed an intensive training program. We teach our owners how to sell travel packages, how to leverage the wealth of information that we bring to the table, and how to develop a team of travel agents to power the growth of their business.
“The level of support is amazing,” Jennifer says. “You go through a week of intensive training at corporate office in Vancouver. But, both before and after, you get amazing support through calls and internet meetings. Also, the International Cruise Academy can take someone without prior knowledge all the way through the program and have them ready to start selling. It helps people get up to speed.”
We provide our franchisees with startup coaches as they prepare to open the doors to their businesses. After you’re up and running, we have have a team of franchise business consultants to work with you throughout your career with us, checking in regularly to see if you are having challenges and helping you look for ways to optimize your performance.
“I think they’re just terrific,” says Mary Beth Casey, owner of an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “They know me, and they know what my goals are. They listen, they’re supportive, and they encourage. Their strategic planning and marketing has been terrific, and I trust them.”
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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.
Learn more about Expedia CruiseShipCenters
Grow Your Franchise as Big as Your Dreams
If you’re thinking about a buying a franchise, you likely equate it with purchasing a small business that has a higher likelihood of success. A local burger joint, clothing store, or frozen yogurt shop with a recognizable brand name and a great system for serving customers efficiently and profitably. These models are ideal for multi-unit ownership because at some point, your ability to continue growing the business will be restricted by how much inventory you can fit on your shelves and how many cooks you can have in your kitchen. Soon after opening your first location, it might make sense to invest in a second, third, and fourth location to continue increasing your income and building equity in your business.
At Expedia CruiseShipCenters, our franchise model is distinct because a single franchise unit is incredibly scalable. One location can continue to increase its sales and team size indefinitely. We have many Franchise Partners in our system experiencing record sales growth after more than 20 years in business! Hear Expedia Franchise Advisor, Jeff Warkentin, explain how it works and why scalability is an important consideration when investing in a franchise.
An Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise is built to scale.
It’s one of the things that prospective franchise buyers get most excited about when they start to learn more about our business opportunity. We set our Franchise Partners up with a system that’s designed for continuous growth over time. With many other franchise concepts, you have to invest a substantial amount of capital to open additional locations in order to continue growing your business. At Expedia CruiseShipCenters, there is no limit to how large you can grow your sales team of Vacation Consultants who sell travel on your behalf which means the growth potential of a single franchise location is substantial. If you want to take your business to the next level, you increase the size of your team and continue training, motivating and coaching them to set and exceed their own personal sales goals.
Although it’s important for our Franchise Partners to understand how to sell travel, that is will not be your main role in the business. Our most successful franchisees spend the majority of their time recruiting, coaching and motivating their commission-based sales team.
A low-risk, commission-based model.
All Expedia CruiseShipCenters Vacation Consultants are hired as Independent Contractors paid by commission only. That means there are no salaries to pay and your overhead costs for the business are very low. So the larger your team is and the more well-trained they are, the more business your franchise will bring in!
When you think about it, this is a very low risk business model because your team is only paid commission for what they sell, and they only receive commission once you are paid by the cruise line at the franchise level at the time the cruise departs. When you’re first starting out and ramping up your sales, avoiding this overhead cost is key because you won’t be generating any cash flow until your customers travel either – and that can be six to twelve (or more) months after the day they book their trip. You don’t spend money on your team until you make money from your team.
This is a particularly important consideration in the event of a downturn in the economy. If employee salaries are a fixed cost and your sales start to dip during a recession, this can put even more financial strain on your business because you need to continue paying salaries to keep your franchise in operation. With a commission-based sales force, you only pay those who sell.
Is the Expedia franchise model for someone looking to get rich quickly? No. Is it a chance to continuously build a valuable and profitable business over the course of many years while earning income and enjoying a fantastic travel lifestyle? Absolutely.
Your growth isn’t restricted by walls.
A typical Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel franchise is around 1000 square feet, but the growth of your business isn’t limited by the size of your store. As Independent Contractors who set their own schedule, your team of Vacation Consultants will sign up for desk space in the Center and may choose to come into the office as little as once a month or as often as four days a week. They can do this because Expedia CruiseShipCenters provides them the freedom and technology to sell travel from home, or anywhere in the world for that matter. That’s one of the things that’s so appealing about becoming a Vacation Consultant with us! You might be wondering why they would come into the Center at all? Besides getting walk-in leads, there are many reasons which our article about Why It’s Worth Investing in a Retail Travel Agency explains in greater detail.
With agents selling travel in-store or from home, our Franchise Partners are able to support a very large team, spreading the word about the products and services your franchise provides all over your community! Some of our locations support more than 100 agents from a single Center.
Through CruiseDesk®’s consolidated online platform for marketing, researching and booking cruises, you’ll also be able to keep tabs on your team and the progress they’re making toward their sales goals. At any given point in time, you’ll be able to see how many leads each team member is working, how many have converted to sales and how many have yet to be followed up on. You can also distribute leads to your team as they come in through your local website, and keep an eye on commission payments coming in as your customers set sail. Since CruiseDesk is web-based, you can also keep an eye on your team and your business from anywhere in the world!
We provide the tools that support scalability.
When you think about managing a team of 50 Consultants working all over the map, it might sound intimidating. And while any leadership role comes with its rewards and challenges, Expedia CruiseShipCenters provides you with the training and tools to become an efficient and excellent team leader.
During our more than 30 years in business, we’ve learned what it takes to recruit, train and lead a team of Vacation Consultants to success. We know what kind of people to look for, we know what holds them back and we know what motivates them to sell.
When you invest in an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise, we provide you with your own local recruitment website that will help you attract the right sales people and help them learn about our Consultant opportunity. Once they join, our online Learning Center and extensive Navigators Approach sales training will help them to learn about the products and how to not just sell them, but deliver a spectacular vacation experience for each and every customer.
Keeping your large team engaged with the brand and their goals will be essential to your success too, which is why we also provide a kit of tools to help you coach and mentor your Consultants on an ongoing basis. Our Navigators Club recognition program is a huge part of what motivates our agents to take their sales to the next level, while our team meeting presentations are carefully crafted by the corporate support team to help you deliver an engaging, exciting and informative presentation to your Consultants each month.
These tools work for teams of all sizes and will be effective with a team of ten or 50.
Why does franchise scalability matter?
Scalability is key to any company. Imagine you open a business and someone tells you that there is a limit to how much you can sell. Would you buy it knowing there would only be so much value in that business and a limit to the ROI it would generate?
The Expedia CruiseShipCenters mission statement is to empower our franchisees with a proven system to grow a profitable and valuable business. Everything we do or create for our Franchise Partners is in support of that mission. We’re constantly thinking up new and better ways to support the growth and scalability of your local business. Your success is our success.
A franchise business with unlimited scalability is very unique. Pair that potential with the most recognized travel brand in the world, a supportive franchisee culture and an incredibly fun industry and you’ve got a winning combination that will help you reach both your financial and lifestyle goals. What does a scalable franchise business give you in the end? A larger asset in the future, and a greater income today.
What your vision for your business? If you’ve got big dreams, Expedia CruiseShipCenters could be the right fit to help you accomplish them. For in-depth details about the Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise opportunity, including startup costs and financial performance, visit our research pages and download our free franchise report.
Our Franchisee Marketing Strategy and Support
While we’d love to say we’ve created a complex top-secret formula that has contributed to our 28 years of continued growth across North America, that wouldn’t be entirely true. In fact, at Expedia CruiseShipCenters® we believe the simple combination of providing exceptional sales service and outstanding value is the key to helping our Franchise Partners obtain success in their business. For this reason, we’ve developed a comprehensive franchisee marketing strategy based on Our Promise to be navigators of spectacular vacation experiences. This includes providing our customers with advice they can trust, the best choice and prices on a wide variety of cruise and travel options and always being there to help – before, during and after their trip.
Through four key elements, our award-winning marketing program provides our Franchise Partners and Vacation Consultants with the resources and training to attract new leads, build lasting relationships and create Customers for Life:
1. Attraction Marketing
We offer our Franchise Partners a wide range of attraction marketing tools that will help them find new customers and build their 7SEAS® Club. With over 1 million subscribers, the 7SEAS Club allows members to opt-in to receive exclusive details and stay informed on upcoming events, latest industry trends, special deals and more. To provide even more incentive to join, all subscribers are automatically entered into a prize draw with the chance to win a free Caribbean Cruise for two, airfare included!
You can also attract new clients with mass mail flyers that feature enticing travel photography and special money-saving offers. We provide tools to help target the best households that fall within the cruiser demographic and all mass-mailers can be personalized with the Franchise Partner’s name, Center information and map. When the time is ready to book, your clients will have no question on who they should contact!
With a strong social media presence, customers can also access Expedia CruiseShipCenters through Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter channels. In addition, we offer a variety of attraction-focused promotions and contests throughout the year to allow our Franchise Partners to continuously grow their database of potential customers.
2. Permission Marketing
While the main goal for attraction marketing is to grow your 7SEAS Club database, it is also important to maintain existing subscribers and provide them with updates that are relevant to their personal interests and keep your services top of mind. This is where our permission marketing strategy takes over. All 7SEAS Club members can choose to opt-in for email newsletters that interest them. Subscribers can choose from a wide range of options including CruiseShipWeekly (destination focused in Caribbean, Europe or Alaska), CruiseShipNews for industry updates, or CruiseShipFlash and Deal of the Week for hot deals and last minute offers.
By allowing members to have complete control of their personal preferences and select the topics that align with their interests, our Consultants build trust, credibility and rapport with their customers over time. Each franchise location and individual Vacation Consultant will also have their own website featuring customizable banners, dedicated promotion pages, 10,000+ detailed cruise itineraries with pricing, information on ports of call and cruise lines, and over 25,000 customer reviews. All links within each newsletter lead the customer back to the Consultant’s website which can be personalized with contact information, Center address and photo. Clients can browse at their own leisure and call, click or book online when they’re ready.
3. Professional Sales
Once you have built up your 7SEAS database and have clients ready to take the next step, we want to make sure the booking process is seamless. Our all-in-one Customer Relationship Management system, CruiseDesk®, will provide your team with everything they need to provide exceptional customer service from anywhere in the world. Consultants can research up-to-date pricing and availability on thousands of cruise itineraries and book directly within the system. Since there can be many months between a customer sale and the actual travel date, CruiseDesk will also help you manage the details from the day they book until the day they return from vacation. That includes invoicing, booking add-ons like air, car or hotel, and follow up reminders such as a final payment message.
While we know that providing the right marketing tools is essential in the sales process, we also emphasize the importance of in-depth sales training that will provide you with the skills to deliver an outstanding customer experience. Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ exclusive sales training program, The Navigators Approach, will allow you to polish your sales and service skills and gain a better understanding of where your clients are in the buying process so that you and your team can be there to plan when the timing is right for them.
4. Retention Marketing
Like anyone that loves to travel, you may be familiar with the gloominess of coming back home after an amazing holiday. Our Retention Marketing strategy is designed to battle the post-vacation blues and get customers thinking about their next great adventure. It also allows our Consultants to continue building relationships with clients and develop customer loyalty even after their travel is complete. With the click of a button, you can arrange for a welcome home email to be sent with a link to a satisfaction survey to gain insight on how your customer enjoyed their trip, and where they want to go next! Maintaining a good relationship will also lead your clients to refer you to their friends and family, giving you the potential to grow your database even more.
In addition to personal follow-up messages, our Dream Voyages magazine, a 64 page full color publication, is sure to reignite the travel spark in any world explorer. Sent bi-annually to past customers and valued prospects, Dream Voyages features editorials on the hottest destinations, up-to-the-minute cruise trends and travel tips with sheets of stunning travel photography. Like all of our marketing pieces, each magazine is customized with the contact of each franchise location and a personal letter from the Franchise Partner.
As part of Our Promise to provide the best choice and prices, we also offer 5 major promotions throughout the year that will create interest and drive traffic to your Center. Many Franchise Partners also use promotions as an opportunity to host a cruise night or special event in their retail Center.
Expedia CruiseShipCenters invests heavily in training, technology and marketing to support the success of our Franchise Partners and Vacation Consultants. The tools and education we provide will allow you provide outstanding service before, during and after your customer’s trip and help you to obtain Customers for Life. 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.
Starting a family business can be tricky, but at Expedia CruiseShipCenters, we like to think that families who travel together can run a business together! There’s nothing like experiencing the rewarding highs and exhilarating unpredictability of travel together to prepare you for the adventure that is owning your own business.
Expedia Franchise Partners from Las Vegas, NV, Dan and Brenna Maurer, are the perfect example of how to start a family franchise. With five children and the drive to build a profitable business that serves their community, they have big dreams for their business. With two Expedia franchises already open and managed by their two talented sons, Morgan and Jaxson, they are well on their way to making that dream a reality. Watch the video below to hear what Dan and Brenna had to say about why they chose Expedia CruiseShipCenters to achieve their family business vision.
Q: What were you doing before you joined Expedia CruiseShipCenters?
Dan: Brenna and I started out as industrial contractors before moving into the hotel business as a more streamlined, more relaxed opportunity which we’ve enjoyed. We currently own two hotels in West Yellowstone, Montana near Yellowstone National Park which we’ll continue to keep operational. We felt we’d reached a pinnacle with our hotel properties and were looking for something else to get involved in when we found Expedia CruiseShipCenters.
Q: Why was Expedia CruiseShipCenters the right franchise for your family?
Dan: We looked at many different franchises – food franchises, service franchises – and we saw Expedia CruiseShipCenters. Travel is a passion of ours. We love to travel! Our whole family including all of our kids, Brenna and myself. So we thought why not? We thought it would be an awesome thing to go in every day and share people’s passion and guide them into great cruise vacations. It ranked highly in franchise success so after going through Expedia CruiseShipCenters’ franchise discovery process, we went with it!
Brenna: It really did have a shiny light for us because we love travel. I knew travel agents, but I’d never thought of being one, owning an agency, or wanting one. But the more we discovered, the more we said, that is us! We are travelers. We are passionate about it. We love telling other people and listening to stories about travel. It felt like a natural fit and we feel that when something isn’t forced it works well. This opportunity has flowed for us and not been a forced decision or process in any way.
Q: What’s the best thing about working with your family?
Brenna: There is no better partnership than with my husband of 35 years and our brilliant children. We all generally have the same end goal and same work ethic. There is trust and respect for each other. Our customers also appreciate working with a family business and we have had several positive comments that they enjoy the relationship with a family-run business.
It is also extremely rewarding to watch our sons Morgan and Jaxson manage every aspect of our franchises. They manage with care, intelligence, bravery, and are leaders at a young age. As they learn from the corporate training, both are able to bring the training to the Vacation Consultants in our two Centers with enthusiasm and professionalism. I am amazed and so proud of both of them and can imagine their ability to grow tremendously as business owners and examples to other young professionals.
Q: What are the advantages of buying a franchise vs. an independent business?
Brenna: We’ve been independent business owners for 20 years and I’ve worked together every day with my husband. We understand what it takes to build a business from the bottom up. Sometimes we rush into things which is why the franchise model has been good for us. It’s kept us on track and given us guidelines and a plan. As an independent business, you see the end goal, but you may waiver a bit because you’re trying too hard to do everything yourself. The support to help you get through it all as a franchisee makes it much easier to focus.
Dan: The success rate of franchise operators is very high, and the failure rate very low, of course. The franchisee support is awesome. It’s over the top! We don’t have to figure things out for ourselves. We’re going to achieve success more quickly than if we’d started some other type of business on our own.
Q: What do you love about being your own boss?
Dan: I love that you can set your goals and you can achieve them. And I think that’s especially true for Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchisees. Whatever you put into it, you’re going to get back a hundredfold when you follow the program. We’ve talked to many of the other Franchise Partners that have achieved success along the same lines of some of our goals so we know it’s possible. I think that’s the excitement of being a franchisee working for yourself as opposed to day-to-day in a capped salary – the sky’s the limit.
Q: What are the marketing tools like for your franchise?
Dan: With our hotels, we remodeled them, hung our open sign, and nobody came. We learned a hard lesson that you have to be on the Internet, you have to advertise! It’s a lot of work and it’s very expensive. At Expedia CruiseShipCenters, you get a ready-made kit for success.
Brenna: Knowing nothing about marketing when we first started our hotels, we were trying to figure out Google advertising, the Internet, a website. Everything was new to us and it was a struggle because it was so unfamiliar. Now it’s all here for us. It’s ready to go, it’s professionally done. Our website is beautiful. We’re so excited about it that it makes us want to go buy a cruise just looking at it!
Q: What is your family franchise vision?
Brenna: We have big dreams! We have optioned for two additional Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise locations in the Las Vegas area and do plan to grow beyond that. We know the assistance from our family will help us achieve our goals. Once we’ve achieved the revenue and gross sales benchmarks for our first location, we feel we’ll be ready to move on to our second Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise. If we follow the plan and the plan is successful – as we know it will be – we’re confident that we can carry on with our second and third locations.
Q: What are you most excited about for the future of your family business?
Brenna: I’m mostly looking forward to watching our children succeed so that Dan and I can cruise! As entrepreneurs, of course we want the monetary value – money is a motivator for us – but also the freedom to cruise and travel and experience the product. We want to come back and share our experience with our customers and be able to say we’ve been there, we’ve stayed at this hotel, we’ve done that shore excursion. We’re so excited to share our experiences and motivate other travelers with our passion for the product.
Dan: We don’t see a retirement for ourselves really, we would just like some extended time to do more traveling. We have a great family, our kids and a very talented support team that are anxious to come aboard and partake in this business as well. This business is a fun business! People are excited and they’re wanting what you have. It’s a joy to see people smiling and satisfied.
At Expedia CruiseShipCentes, many of our Franchise Partners are couples, siblings, or parents and their children who started a family-run franchise together. It’s an amazing way to leverage the individual strengths of each family member to earn income in the short-term and build wealth for their future.
Whether you’re wanting to start a franchise with your family or looking for a solo opportunity, Expedia CruiseShipCenters has opportunities available across North America. 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.