Monday, 2 December 2013

Tenn. agent proves timing isn’t everything

Tenn. agent proves timing isn’t everything

By Laura Del Rosso
InsightMuffett Grubb is one travel agent who made lemonade from a load of lemons, as the saying goes, when the economy plummeted along with the stock market five years ago. It was 2008 when Grubb decided to follow her dream and open a Cruise Holidays franchise agency from her home in Knoxville, Tenn. The following months were a test of her commitment to the business.

“I bought my franchise two weeks before the market crashed and I looked it at this way: There was nowhere for things to go but up at that point,” she said. “I took the attitude that the slow time was a good time to get my feet wet and gradually learn the business.”
LauraDelRossoSince then, business has been all up for Grubb, who previously worked in purchasing and marketing for a national retail chain. She recently received Cruise Holiday's “Best Customer Service Award” based on an incident that took place in Alaska last summer when a cruise ship was idled by propulsion problems. Unable to leave port for four days, Grubb’s 20 clients were left with nothing to do, along with 2,000 other passengers who scrambled to book excursions.

Using industry connections and Cruise Holidays programs, Grubb booked her clients on shore excursions to make the most of their four days in Alaska. She also rebooked their future cruise, which was fully paid for by the cruise line as part of a compensation package.

It's part of the services that Grubb says she provides that she hopes set her apart from direct, online bookings. “I often have to explain to people how a travel agent works, that it doesn't cost them more money to use a travel agent. This is the value I provide. These are the things I do for my clients. Once I have a client they generally are my client forever.”

Grubb credits her success with networking. Shortly after opening the franchise, she joined a local business group in Knoxville and spread the word among a wide circle of family and friends that she was open for business. Many people already knew she loved to plan travel, long before she opened the agency.

“I used to plan trips for friends or friends of friends just because I had a passion for it. A few times I planned cruises and just put the word out and got as many as 16 people signed up for a cruise. That's when I started thinking of making it a second career.”

Grubb looked at different types of business models for her travel agency and settled on Cruise Holidays because it matched her cruise expertise. Also, she said, the franchise system offers the technology and back-office systems that enable her to concentrate on sales and not administration. Now her business has grown to the point that she is considering expanding and hiring staff. And office space may also be in the picture at some point.

“The beauty of starting a home-based agency is that there was a low initial outlay because I'm not paying rent. It afforded me time to build my business. Now I'm at the point that I realize I can't do it all myself.”

In the last couple of years, Grubb has evolved her social media marketing and has gained new customers, mostly on Facebook. However, she doesn't promote herself with a “hard sell,” she says.

“I do a lot on Facebook, but it's mainly posting about my trips and sharing what my clients have done on their trips. It's not an aggressive marketing technique but a casual way of saying ‘here's where I've gone’ to generate a conversation. Then people will call and tell me they saw I went somewhere that interests them, and I've got a sale.”