One of summer’s biggest headlines came courtesy of The Travel Agent Next Door, which launched a brand new division that caters specifically to smaller travel agencies. Called The Agency Solution, it’s designed to support smaller storefront agencies in the $1 million to $3 million range by helping to offload much of the daily costs involved in running a small business. Louise Gardiner, who was recently appointed Vice President of the division, plans to hit the ground running in her new role, eager to get the word out and work side-by-side with agencies. In this week’s edition of Take Five, we sit down with Gardiner to discuss how specifically The Agency Solution will benefit small business owners, and what she personally brings to the table as a travel industry veteran.
1. Where did the idea for The Agency Solution come from?
The Travel Agent Next Door has been supporting a home-based program for over 5 years and our founder Flemming Friisdahl has had conversations with smaller agencies and they are looking for a similar solution. It’s the perfect time to take a tried and true program to owners across Canada and provide a solution that allows them to grow their revenues and cut costs while remaining true to their own brand.
2. Do you personally have any experience working in a small agency?
I started in a small travel agency as a back-office bookkeeper over 40 years ago. I’ve been fortunate that our agency partnered with many different consortia over the years: American Express, Giants (Now Ensemble), RiderNet and finally Carlson Wagonlit Travel. These allowed us to grow and eventually sell to Tripcentral.ca where I became their VP. I joined CWT Canadian Leisure Division in 2004 and oversaw their Associate Agency Program for 15 years until I retired this past January. I have worked with many agencies over the years and have found that the smaller agencies can’t always afford the fees of the larger programs and are often left behind. I am so excited about this new division of The Travel Agent Next Door as it is exactly what’s needed – a program that covers the cost of fees with increased revenues and operational reductions and supports agencies with $1-$3 million in sales.
3. Besides covering the cost of fees, how else will the division help agencies? What specifically will The Agency Solution provide that these agencies can’t get elsewhere or do on their own?
It’s all about the marketing! Can you image being a small business agency owner who is selling by day and doing all the marketing after hours? It’s a full-time plus hour situation and they need some work/life balance. By joining The Agency Solution they hand over the worry of marketing and promoting their agency. We do it for them and we use their brand. We create thousands of online page content that they can easily copy and paste into their social media pages all while providing a fully functional and bookable website. We do the emails, we send the brochures, we do the heavy lifting and that allows the owner to do what they do best, look after their staff and their clients.
4. You assure agencies that they’ll be able to maintain their own identity. Why do you think this is important for smaller agencies to do?
Small business storefront owners are proud of what they have accomplished. They have been promoting their brands locally for years. Their neighborhoods and communities know them personally. Just like Cheers, “where everybody knows your name,” they leverage their own brand to differentiate themselves from the larger players and that is the beauty of our solution – we support them in doing just that!
5. Besides joining The Agency Solution, what other advice would you give small-scale agencies on how to thrive and remain competitive?
Having worked with so many great owners over the years, I know that those that are successful stay true to their business model. It’s difficult to be all things to all people these days and finding a niche that works for you and leveraging the tools that are out there to grow that niche is key. My last advice is stay passionate and love what you do. This is an amazing industry with amazing people – get out there and network with them, you won’t be disappointed!