Building a Family Legacy Through Travel
Betty and Bob bought their travel agency March 5, 1995 after learning about travel franchise opportunities at a franchise trade show. They were seeking a business they could build up as a retirement investment. They wanted something that could be theirs and they loved travel, especially cruising, so it seemed like the perfect fit. They intended to run the franchise part-time until they built it up enough for Betty to give up her day job as a traffic coordinator for a distribution center, but she gave her notice about a week after they started so she could focus on their investment full time. A Vietnam War Navy Veteran, Bob was a supervisor at Michelin Tire for more than 30 years and worked the travel agency as “second shift” until his retirement. Betty and Bob’s daughter-in-law April Jolly, a middle school English teacher, joined the family business in 2000 and became a co-owner when Bob passed away in 2018.
Learn how Betty and April are carrying on Bob’s legacy by continuing to own and operate their Dream Vacations franchise in this Q&A.
How have your skills carried over from your previous career?
Betty: I found that my focus on details and the skills learned working with people were vital. I also learned a lot about the sales pitch from salesmen that I dealt with.
April: I have often used active listening and research skills that are commonly used in teaching. I taught middle school and the teachers often said that you should never let them see you sweat, that’s pretty true in travel too, you want to be calm and steady even when you are handling issues for clients. Researching destinations and suppliers is really the area where I rely on things I learned for the classroom, sometimes it really is in the presentation of information.
What is one thing you wish somebody told you before you opened your travel agency?
Betty: I wish someone told me to be more patient and to get all the training I could.
April: I wish someone had prepared me for ‘the always at work’ side of this business. We run into people all the time who want to talk travel or ‘have been meaning to call.’ I have gotten trip information from people at my kids’ sporting events and concerts countless times. I would never think to text my hairdresser on a Sunday morning about a haircut, but I have people do it ALL the time. They will contact you at odd times when the travel bug bites.
How has your business grown over time?
We do a large number of groups and that have grown over the years: families, travel clubs, Shrine groups, weddings, continuing education and churches. We get a lot of repeat clients from these groups who come back and do solo vacations or spin off their own group. Betty and I both try to escort groups too, some people feel more connected to you when they travel with you because you become their friend, not just their travel agent. Escorting groups is just another way to connect with your customer base.
What advice do you have for a franchise owner who is looking to grow their business?
Treat people the way you want to be treated. At the end of the day it is a customer service-driven business, so people matter more than the commission. The commissions will come because people will test the waters with something small and will trust you with bigger and better things as time goes on. Don’t give up, growth is hard and slow, but it will come. Focus on building relationships.
What tool/resource/team at HQ has contributed most to your growth and why?
Sales Support Services and Marketing have been vital. We always get positive feedback from promotions that the home office funds (like onboard credit or cash back promos), as well as a high response rate from direct mail created by the headquarters team.
What advice do you have for somebody looking to own a travel franchise?
Don’t turn away a booking just because it’s small. Some of our best customers started small and now do multiple trips a year. Be sure you take time to travel, people want to know where you have been, and they want to plan travel with a traveler.
What is your Dream Vacation?
For Bob, it was always his dream to take Betty to Paris. He had been several times for work and it never worked out for him to take Betty with him. The last trip they took together was the Dream Vacations’ Circle of Excellence reward trip that combined a short river cruise and London, which was on Betty’s bucket list. Bob and Betty decided that they would be so close to France that they should add Paris to the itinerary. They LOVED London and were THRILLED with Paris. They had dinner in the Eiffel Tower, saw Moulin Rouge and took a guided tour of the Louvre.
Currently on Betty’s Bucket List is a Christmas Market River Cruise, which she is checking off in November, and the Greek Isles.
For me (April), Ireland is at the top of my list and taking my husband (Betty’s son) to the Maldives is next. The trouble with this job is that there is always somewhere else to go and it sounds amazing.
Come meet Betty and learn more about Dream Vacations at the Charleston Cruise & Travel Show on Saturday, March 7, 2020, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Charleston Marriott. For free tickets, use promo code EVENT when visiting www.CruiseAndTravelShow.com.