Learn How This Member Figured Out How to Travel the World “on business”.

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Virginia DeDAD,

Owner, Royal Service Travel

Virginia DeDad_220Describe your business in 3 sentences. What is it?
Full Service travel agency, American Express Affiliate Agency offering cruises, all inclusives, Europe, family vacations, honeymoons, destination weddings, multi-gen travel, with the most comprehensive customer service available!

What inspired you to start your business?

My passion for travel, having visited over 84 countries and sailed on 90 cruises and my ability to handle all phases of clients requests.

How do you stand out from the crowd? What distinguishes your business from the competition?

Totally my customer service and knowledge. I hand hold my customers from inception of their travel ideas to welcoming them home and keeping them abreast of travel opportunities in which they may be interested.

What does it mean to you to be “the entrepreneur of your life”? How do you integrate your life and your business, your personal brand and your business brand?

To me, they are all one. If you have integrity, caring and organization in your personal life that automatically carries over to your business. I handle each client with the same enthusiasm and care as if they were my family. It doesn’t matter if their travel is short or extensive, everyone deserves the same amount of attention.

What did it cost to start your business? How did you find the funds? Is your business profitable?

The cost to start my business was 10,000 for the franchise and an additional 12,000 for the office equipment and start up.

How long did it take to get started and what business tools have helped you the most?

The first two years were spent familiarizing myself with the back office and networking to get my name out locally. As I had previous experience in the travel world, the accounting and internal office procedures were new to me.

What is the single biggest thing you would say an entrepreneur has to be armed with in order to succeed?

Faith, a tough skin and good work ethic.

What advice would you give someone just starting out?

Be prepared for the road of hard work, long hours and the ability to overcome downfalls.

Are there any words of advice, books, role models, or mentors that really inspired and changed you?

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is a book I return to all the time. The wisdom and insight if provides is timeless. Also, Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling has several tips and principles for great sales.

What is your ultimate future dream for yourself and / or your business?

My ultimate dream is to have several agents working for me that carry the same enthusiasm for my clients and to continue to grow my reputation as THE agency to go to.

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Lee and Lauren Gonzalez

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Co-founders and co-owners
of Somnio Hostels

As Featured Lady Lee Gonzalez can attest, sometimes it takes trying to inspire the ideal business. In 2004, she landed a position at a bank on Wall Street in New York City and quickly realized that it was not the line of work for her. Lee and her then roommate soothed their career frustrations by dreaming up possible businesses. When the roommate suggested they try entering some of the many venture capital contests, the partners got a welcome boost of confidence. Their plan for a high class, low cost chain of international hostels was chosen as the winner of the Ladies Who Launch Business Idea Contest.

Victory was sweet, but both roommates soon decided banking wasn’t so bad and put their business plan aside. Their idea may have been on hold, but the dream was still very much alive for Gonzalez. In 2006, she decided it was time to take action and enlisted her sister Lauren Gonzalez as her new launch partner. After much debate, the two travel fanatics settled on Barcelona as the perfect location for their first hostel, as they spoke the language, the dollar was strong, and the city had a booming tourist economy. The two set of for Spain that fall. The first-time entrepreneurs found it particularly challenging to launch a business in a new country. But they persevered, learned to laugh at delays, and opened Somnio Hostels in March 2008. They’ve since welcomed legions of weary travelers, including one loyal devotee who has stayed with them three times. They next plan to open locations across Europe.

What we learned from Lee: “First of all, you have to have a solid plan. And there has to be something you think you’re bringing to the market that no one else is, and obviously, that’s the part of the plan [to which] you need to hold tight. But in terms of [the best way to] adapt your plan; I think that sometimes you don’t realize things aren’t working until you actually start. On paper, in written form, in the idea form, everything works. But, I think, until you actually do things, a lot of times there are things you don’t realize don’t function until you actually try it out.”

We Can Talk It Out

Loren: “Lee and I actually just gave a talk last week to other budding entrepreneurs, and one of the big things that we always tell people is just to get out there and talk about your plan with everyone. I think that, speaking about your plan with other entrepreneurs, you get a lot of feedback from people. People either want to help you pick your plan apart, or people react to it so positively that you think, ‘Oh, man, maybe this is a really great idea.’ For us, it was a pretty long process of thinking about it, talking about it, telling everyone we’d ever met about it. It’s been five or six years we’ve been working on this plan.”

It’s All in the Details

Loren: “And then, you just have to start doing more of the technical research to figure out whether it’s going to be viable, what your competition is like, what your projected income is. For us, I think we had the confidence from talking with everyone about it. And then, we started to study it more and more critically, to see if it could be something viable before we took the leap to launch.”

Communication is Key

Loren: “We’re in a unique situation, being sisters, that I think the communication is a lot more open with us. We’re not afraid to say exactly what we think to each other. I really think just making sure everyone is on the same page [is important]. We’ll sit down for coffee every so often and just officially ask, ‘Okay, are we on the same page with everything here? Is everything going how you think it should be going? Are you happy, still?’ So I really think it’s just a lot of communication.

Are You Happy?

Lee: We do have that conversation every few months: “Are you happy?” That’s really the biggest question. And it’s something that you maybe wouldn’t think to ask of a normal business partner, because it doesn’t seem like a professional thing to do. When I was working at Goldman Sachs before, I don’t think I would have ever turned to my associates and said, ‘Are you happy today? Are you happy with how the business is going?’ But because, as an entrepreneur, your business is your life, I think that’s a really important question to ask, which I’m sure I wouldn’t necessarily think to ask, were I not working with my sister.”

These Are the People in Your Neighborhood

Loren: “Networking was just really the best way to form some roots here, by meeting people, and meeting people who had a similar frame of reference, who were also starting businesses.”

Patience Is a Virtue

Loren: “The second [most important piece of advice] would just be patience. Doing business in Spain, especially, you deal with a lot of bureaucracy. It took having almost a sense of humor about it. If things didn’t happen in a day, you could just take a step back, appreciate where you are and what you’re doing. I really think patience is a big thing, because things aren’t going to go like you thought they would go, or like they would go in the United States necessarily.”

Expect It to Be Hard and You Won’t Be Disappointed

Lee: “I think it was key for us to set appropriate expectations. Everyone knows that starting a business is difficult. Layered upon that is the fact that you’re starting a business in different language, a different culture, a different country. Obviously, it’s going to be more difficult. When we came in here, I expected it to be hard. I expected it to be very hard. People kept asking us if we were surprised, if it took longer than we expected….To be honest, it didn’t take longer than I expected because I expected it to be very, very difficult. And it was.”

Have Humor, Will Travel

Loren: “[When you’re travelling], you really can’t take anything too seriously. It’s kind of the same with opening a business. Anything you’ve planned will ultimately go wrong. You’ll miss flights. You’ll wind up staying somewhere that looked a lot better on the Internet than it does in real life. And you just have to laugh. If you’re travelling by yourself, you have to be able to laugh at yourself and the mistakes that you’re making, or you have to be travelling with people you can just look at and say, “Okay, this didn’t go well, but we’re still together, and we’re having fun.’”

On Traveling and Launching

Lee: “My advice for people travelling would be the same as for people opening a business. You have to have a ton of patience. Your expectations have to be set so you’re not disappointed by any mishaps or problems along the way. And then, you just have to communicate well with the people you’re travelling with, and make sure you’ve found a good partner.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Sarah Tomlinson, a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

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Gigi Stetler

fl_-_gigi_stetler230x2301.jpg

Owner, RV Sales of Broward
www.rvsalesofbroward.com

Gigi Stetler’s story reads like a best-seller, replete with plot twists, shady characters, and a heroine with many layers. A father-figure mentor who gave Gigi her first opportunity but later stabbed her in the back. An attacker who literally stabbed her 21 times and left her for dead. A good ol’ boys network in an industry that conspired to keep her out. Every time Gigi got knocked down, she kept getting back up, and her RV Sales of Broward in Florida did $18.2 million in sales last year as a result. But there are many sides to this tough-as-nails businesswoman: She is also a single mom, an equestrian, and a woman of such immeasurable grace that she visited every day at the deathbed of the mentor who had tried to destroy her.

What we learned from Gigi: That you just can’t give up. Not on yourself, no matter how many setbacks you have to fight your way through. And not on others, no matter how badly you’ve been burned. As Gigi likes to say: Trust everyone … but verify as much as you can.

To RV or Not to RV

“I came into this career completely by accident. My mentor, Jerry, was a man who had been involved with my mother and was a father figure to me for many years. He had purchased an investment property and it came with an inventory of mobile homes. I was just 23 years old, but I could see that the man running the lot was lying to customers and not delivering what he promised. I told Jerry about it and the lot just became my problem to deal with after he kicked the guy out.”

On-the-Job Training

“In the beginning, I didn’t even know that ‘RV’ stood for ‘Recreational Vehicle.’ The business I had just inherited had been run into the ground; we were $400,000 in debt and we had a lot of unhappy customers. I just started doing what I could do on my own, making repairs for existing customers. Once I had gotten to know several of them, I threw a party and offered each of them a $500 referral bonus for any new business they sent me, and from there things just boomed. It turned into a real business.”

Boys’ Club

“It is never easy to be the only woman in a male-dominated industry, and I was not taken seriously as a cute and bubbly girl among the cigar-smoking fat cats of the RV industry. At the first dealer meeting, they said, ‘You need to go home and bake cookies, little girl.’ The next month, they held their meeting an hour before the official time so that I would be excluded. They tricked me three months in a row.”

She’s Small but She’s Scrappy

“I didn’t care that I wasn’t accepted, because I was there to make money. So I started getting more aggressive and undercutting everyone’s price. They had a complete monopoly—they were all carrying the same product at the same prices, so there was no negotiating. I cut prices in half and was giving customers better value and better service, and then they started paying attention to me.”

Work Ethic

“For the first 11 years in the business, I worked 14-hour days, seven days a week, every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. My philosophy when I was young was ‘Work to learn’ not ‘Work to earn.'”

Something Doesn’t Add Up

“We were doing a lot of business, but I was never paid more than $500 a week plus a small commission on sales. I never even earned a Christmas bonus. When Jerry started complaining that there was no money in the bank, I didn’t understand it. Our overhead wasn’t very high and we owned the property, so I didn’t know where the money was going. I didn’t know that the entire time, he had been drawing a $5,000 a week salary for himself.”

A Painful Betrayal

“I had worked for so little, always believing that Jerry and I were partners and that I was working hard for a business that would be mine in the end. The story of his betrayal is long and involved, but the bottom line is that he decided to sell the property and cut me out, despite a long-standing verbal agreement that if and when he was ready to get out he would sell to me. He had drained the business of assets and it was encumbered by debt. A supplier was owed $350,000 and Jerry threatened that if I did not pay it myself, he would tell the supplier that I had stolen the money so that my reputation would be ruined and I would not be able to start over.”

Take Two

“The goodwill I had built in the community saved me. I went right across the street and made a deal for a new lot. The employees came with me and the vendors kept supplying me. I covered payroll using my credit cards. I paid off every single one of Jerry’s creditors even though I had no legal obligation to do so. So there I was working for free again for those first few years, but we made it and I have since bought out two other dealerships.”

Branching Out

“I just purchased a former hockey/skating sports facility in Deerfield Beach, Florida, that I plan to develop into ‘RV World’, an RV destination with recreation for adults and children, food/beverage and retail outlets, and other amenities. I am also developing a specialty line of kitchen, bed, and bath products for use in RVs.”

Motivation

“I have been obsessed with horses since I was 2, and this is what gave me the desire to make something out of myself. I wanted to ride horses so badly and the only way I was going to have the money to do so was if I made it myself. It’s good for kids to really want something and to have to figure out how to earn it. Now I compete on the equestrian circuit and it’s something that brings a lot of balance to my life.”

Nine Lives

“I’m writing a book about my life story, about all of these different things that have happened to me and how I always ended up landing on my feet. Prior to getting into the RV business I was working in hotel and property management and was renovating a run-down apartment building. I made a deal with a guy who was living in the boiler room to let him live in an apartment in exchange for painting. One day he went a little crazy and started throwing beer bottles from the roof. I called 911, but he burst in and stabbed me 21 times and tried to strangle me with an air conditioner cord while I was on the line with the police. I fought back and finally played dead, doing whatever I had to do to stay alive until the police got there. The moral to the story—to all of my stories—is that you just can’t give up.”

Parting Thoughts …

-“Success to me means … waking up in the morning.”
-“I will always think of myself as … a winner.”
-“I care least about … the small stuff.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Noelle Pechar Hale, a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.

Wendy Holloway

 

Founder, Flavor of Italy
www.flavorofitaly.com

Buon giorno! Meet Wendy Holloway, founder of Flavor of Italy and your new best friend, if you’re tempted to take a vacation where you cook and taste your way through Italy.

For close to a decade, Holloway, an American who lives near Rome, has been leading vacations “showcasing Italy’s finest culinary traditions in the most charming spots.” In 13 locations, she orchestrates cooking classes, scopes out food-and-wine-focused tours and finds distinctive accommodations (think: 13th-century four-star hotel, olive-oil-producing estate or charming country house).

Living La Dolce Vita

“All of (my tours) are a little bit different, but each has five mornings of cooking classes. You learn to make the specialties of the regions, you stay in accommodations that are characteristic of the region, and taste local wines and food products that you have an opportunity to purchase. For a person who adores food and wine, this is a vacation come true.”

Before Europe: Pittsburgh

“It all stems from an absolute passion for food, which I have had pretty much since I was born. I was born in Pittsburgh and grew up until middle-school age in the U.S., and then we moved to England and I spent the rest of my childhood years in Europe. My mother passed away when I was 11, and I think maybe that led me to do more cooking than I might have. We moved to England because my father was working for Gulf Oil at the time and was transferred. I became very attached to Europe.

“I briefly came back to the U.S. to get my undergraduate and then master’s degree (in finance and marketing from the University of Pittsburgh) and then became a vice-president for PNC Financial. I met my husband during a business trip to Italy and opened an office in Italy for PNC in Italy immediately after we were married.”

First Business: Bringing U.S. Baby Products to Italy

“My baby products business came about when I had a baby. My daughter is almost 18 now, but at the time, many of the modern conveniences that I was used to seeing in the U.S. didn’t exist in Italy – even simple things like plastic baby bottles, bath sponges to support babies when you give them a bath, disposable baby bottle sacks, all kinds of little conveniences like that. I thought, ‘Gosh, what a wonderful business to get into and have things that I need for my daughter.'”

Cash Flow Trouble

“I imported a number of things from the U.S., and patented two products. One was a bath sponge and I had my own baby bottle designs, which I had produced in Thailand. I sold to retailers in the Rome area. That was a very complicated business to manage financially in that payment from retailers is always about three months, whereas payment (to manufacturers) for products was about 30 days. So in a sense, you ended up being kind of a bank. It was a fairly hard business to manage in that regard.”

Biggest Mistake

“When I went to market with my baby products company… you know those baby bottles where you put the plastic bags in? To me, that was just an amazing idea. The baby doesn’t get air in her stomach and you can just throw the bag away. But culturally, that just isn’t the thing here.

“With anything new that seems wonderful to you, you’ve got to do a lot of research to understand why it would or would not go. If you haven’t done market research, you may end up investing in something people don’t want.”

Savoring Family Time

“As my daughter grew, I made the choice to be a stay-at-home mom, so I let that business go. I decided, ‘Hey, I’ve started a business. That’s something I can do at anytime in my life, but I won’t be able to repeat this moment with my daughter. That’s one of the most important decisions I have ever made.”

New Journey Begins

“Nearly a decade ago, I started visiting olive oil production facilities and mozzarella di bufala production facilities. I wanted to share this experience with other people, so I started taking groups to these kinds of things. The idea was to have culinary vacations throughout the country. I went around to various regions of Italy and designed courses.”

Cooking School and B&B

“We also have a culinary school in Riano, where we’re located. We’re adding a B&B onto it. We’re out in the country, but you can easily get into Rome to do tourist activities. I work with the University of California, and next week I have 100 of their overseas students, about 25 a day, coming to learn to make wonderful menus and cuisines in Italy.”

Do-It-Yourself Culinary Education

“I buy every culinary magazine that is out there in English and Italian to see exactly what’s going on in the food world, to constantly learn, on my own, new techniques. That’s the way it has to be with any business. You always have to be upgrading your qualifications. On my way back from the U.S. recently, I went to New York for three days with the purpose of going to as many restaurants as I could to see what Americans are doing with food. I constantly take little classes to upgrade my skills.”

Secret To Success: A Morale-Building Marriage

“My husband, I think, is one of the most exceptional men on Earth. He gets so much pleasure out of seeing me happy and going after whatever dream I have. He’s supportive from A to Z. He goes around to different places to help me design courses… it’s not exactly hardship duty to eat good food and drink good wine. But when I had my baby products company and needed to move inventory from one warehouse to another, my husband, who’s an aerospace engineer. rented a truck and drove it from one place to the other. He’s totally supportive in every sense of the word.”

Greatest Success: Loving Working

“Making my food and wine culinary interests into a formal company. Making this passion into a business that’s giving back to me.”

Greatest Challenge: Search Engine Marketing

“I don’t think my Web site (www.flavorofitaly.com) is getting me as much business as I would like. I have been so busy with actual activities that I haven’t dedicated myself to doing those things that you need to do to have your Web site show up on the first page of search engines. Otherwise I see my business as having no obstacles. I know that what I offer is absolutely the best of wha”s on the market.”

Words of Advice: Negativism? Get Over It.

“If you have something you want to do, believe in yourself and go for it. As women, we’re sometimes educated to think that we can’t. There’s a deep-rooted negativism within some women that’s false and detrimental. Take an idea, if it’s something you believe in, and go for it.”

Phyllis Stoller

 

Founder, Women’s Travel Club
www.womenstravelclub.com

Phyllis Stoller wanted to see the world, but didn’t want to do it alone, so she started The Women’s Travel Club by planning a trip for a few ladies to London. That was in 1992.

Since then, Stoller estimates she has visited more than 75 destinations with the club, which now counts about 950 women as members and leads 25-30 trips each year to places like Provence, Tuscany, Ireland and Mexico.

Stoller is often quoted by journalists as an expert on women’s travel – her club has appeared in more than 100 magazines and newspapers like The Miami Herald, The New York Times, Travel and Leisure and USA Today. Below she shares her picks for the “Top Four Trips to Take In Your Lifetime.”

Going to Exotic Places In My Mind

“My father started life as a traveling salesman in the 1930’s and he therefore hated to travel, except to play golf. My mother was afraid of flying until later in life. Travel was definitely not a family thing. But I always loved travel. When I was a kid, I used to sit in the public library and read books by Rudyard Kipling and other books about exotic places. There’s something in your blood that wants you to see something new.”

Many Travel Opportunities…

“When I was 14, I asked my parents if I could go abroad – some other girls were going, so I went to school in Switzerland. (Later) I lived in London for 10 years. In 1980, (my husband and I) moved to Miami, where I went to work as a banker and became a vice-president. A VP has five weeks vacation, but my husband would never take more than two weeks off. He was a stockbroker and it was hard for him to get away for extended periods.”

… But Few Constant Companions

“In the meantime, I had full-time help for my children because I traveled extensively with the bank. (My husband) would say, ‘I know you miss Europe. I know you miss your friends. Why don’t you go?’ But I don’t like traveling alone. Over the years, I would meet women and invite them on trips. They would always say, ‘I don’t have the money,’ or ‘I don’t have the time,’ or, ‘How can you go without your husband?'”

Market Opportunity Knocks

“I thought to myself that I could not be the only woman on the face of the earth who had the income, had the time and wanted to travel. I started seriously investigating what it would take to start a travel company – insurance, incorporation, that kind of thing. Because I was a corporate banker, I had access to people who were able to put me in touch with high-producing travel agents. I interviewed as many of them as I could.”

“I asked them, ‘What do you do with women like me?’ They said, ‘We go to a spa.’ I like spas, but want to also do other things. I realized there was a niche that no one else was covering.”

Start-Up Costs

“I made up a brochure for a trip to London and sent it to 400 or so women – everyone from the school to the neighborhood crime watch, anyone I could think of. My initial costs for funding the business… incorporation, insurance and the brochure, were probably less than $10,000, plus I had to post a bond with the state of Florida, which at the time was $25,000.”

Making the Right Connections

“Then came a quick breakthrough for me. Someone who was the head of the South Florida American Society of Travel Agents called me up and said, ‘You’re on to something. We want to help you.’ He was the head of marketing for a large travel agency in South Florida. He helped me with the second trip and helped me get into the newspaper.”

Getting the Word Out

“In 1992, I came up with idea of writing a newsletter. I sent it to my list of 400 people and wrote little articles about travel. People started subscribing to the newsletter and it broke even in its first year of business.”

“Most travel agents were not interested in selling my trips because they didn’t know who I was, so I had to go directly to the end-user, either women travelers or travel writers. Most travel writers are women. They have to travel alone a lot and completely understood what I was saying.”

“Anytime (a journalist) writes about women and travel, we send them a package about The Women’s Travel Club. For about six months (in 1998), myself and my assistant tried to find Web sites that were women-friendly, and we would ask them, ‘Would you link to us?’ I would guess we made over a 1000 phone calls. That got our name all over the Internet.”

Greatest Success

“I think we’re somewhat responsible for putting (women’s travel) on the map. This year it’s hot. The travel expos all have segments on women’s travel. The New York Times just did an article. USA Today just did an article. It’s reaching recognition by the travel industry.”

Greatest Challenge

“Understanding that if you’re going to start something, you have to be flexible. If Concept A needs to be diverted to Concept A/B, then do it. Don’t sit on it and insist that what you’re doing is right. I was going to do trips to London only, but people said they wanted something else. That was hard for me. I was a banker with a rigid background and thought, ‘This is how you do things.’ But there are lots of ways of doing things. You just have to open your mind a bit.”

Words of Advice

“A couple things my husband said to me, first of all, he said, ‘If you have a good product, then (your business) is a numbers game and the more you reach out, the better chance you have of success.’ The second thing… sometimes when someone would be not so nice on the phone, I would get upset. He said, ‘Business is not a popularity contest; it’s about reaching goals. Women want everyone to like them. Don’t be unlikable, but focus on the goal.'”

Top Four Trips to Take In Your Lifetime

“India. Because you step back in time 2000 years on every sensual level.”

“Egypt. Because it’s the birthplace of Western civilization and you feel it when you’re there.”

“A safari. It’s like a reverse zoo. You’re the minority as a human being, with thousands of animals around you. It’s a provocative feeling.”

“China. Because I think that all Americans should be aware of the vastness and potential power of China, and most Americans are not.”

Hannah Sullivan

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CEO, Tahoe Trips & Trails
www.tahoetrips.com

 

Who Is She?

Hannah Sullivan, 40, is the owner of Tahoe Trips & Trails, which offers active travel adventures for individuals and groups in scenic areas such as California’s Lake Tahoe, the Northern California Coast, the California Wine Country, Yosemite National Park, Southern Utah and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Some of the adventures include all hiking, while others are multi-sport agendas which include a combination of hiking, biking, whitewater rafting and kayaking tours guided by experts who love the outdoors. Travelers enjoy gourmet food and spend evenings in the comfort of inns chosen for their luxury and character.

Sullivan bought Tahoe Trips & Trails in 2003, after a successful career in the investment world. Most recently she was a general partner at San Francisco-based Fremont Ventures, a part of the Fremont Group, a private investment company that manages more than $10 billion in assets. Previously she worked as a global investment analyst and portfolio manager at Robertson Stephens Investment Management and as a global credit analyst at Chase Manhattan Bank. She received a BA in Spanish Literature from Cornell University in 1986 and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley in 1992.

Background in the Great Outdoors

“For 23 years, I have led outdoor excursions in the Western U.S. and Canada for friends and other groups. During many summers, I led six-week, 1000-mile whitewater canoe trips in Northern Ontario and eight-week multi-sport courses in Jackson Hole and the Pacific Northwest. For the last 12 years, I have volunteered for Inner City Outings, taking ‘at-risk’ inner city youth on backpacking trips throughout California. Today I lead three to four trips a year for Tahoe Trips & Trails and also teach skiing to disabled skiers at Alpine Meadows.”

Leaving the Corporate World

 “In 2001, I was burned out from the high stress investment business and the market was entering into a downturn, so it seemed like a good time to take a break. I have had a second home in Lake Tahoe since 1996, so I started spending more time there where I was closer to the outdoor activities I love. Last winter I did a fair amount of backcountry skiing with a group of local women through which I met Katie Rice, the original founder of Tahoe Trips & Trails.”

Buying Into Adventure

“I had been looking into the possibility of either buying or starting an adventure travel company for the previous 10 years. I had looked at several different options that were not based in California. Then I met Katie, who had started Tahoe Trips & Trails in 1993, was burned out and ready to sell the company. Given the local nature of the opportunity and the timing, it just seemed like it was meant to be. Within one month, I gave her a letter of intent and within two months I owned the company. I self-financed the purchase from my earnings in the investment business.”

Happy Trips and Trails

 “People want active vacations, but most people aren’t campers – they want a shower at night, a comfortable bed and good food. On all of the trips we offer for individuals, we stay at luxurious inns that are hand-selected and feature wonderful meals. Lodging and food (as well as virtually everything else) are included in the cost of the trip. We save people the trouble of planning activities and provide a great overview of the areas we travel in – from history and geology, to flora and fauna. Our guests appreciate the social aspect of the trips as well. A typical group generally includes a mix of couples, singles, friends and families. We get a lot of people who have made friends through previous trips and return with them.”

Taking on Individual Travelers and Groups

“The company consists of three lines of business. The first (and the one we have just discussed) is the direct marketing catalog business where we offer pre-planned multi-day hiking and multi-sport trips as described on our website. These trips are geared toward the individual traveler, small groups and families, and generally include 12-18 people. Approximately 65 percent of our guests are women and 45 percent men. Families with children over 10 years of age are usually drawn to our multi-sport trips where we offer exposure to a different sport each day. We also customize departures and itineraries for private groups.”

Driving Corporate Getaways

“The second business line includes corporate or custom tours around the Lake Tahoe area. If a company or private group such as a family reunion or wedding party is coming to Lake Tahoe and they want to put fun outings on the agenda — for an afternoon or multiple days– we will plan hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, teambuilding, etc. activities for them. For example, we recently organized an afternoon of hiking, kayaking and horseback riding activities for 80 people from a major supermarket chain who were in town for meetings but wanted to take a little time out for fun and group bonding. Lake Tahoe is a world-class resort destination so we have the opportunity to work with many Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller organizations and private groups.”

Sub-Contracting for Adventure Travel Companies

“The third aspect of the business is sub-contracting. There are other adventure travel companies that market a tour in Tahoe or Southern Utah or Wine Country. They direct market the trip under their brand name and we execute it from A to Z. For example, if you sign up for a Lake Tahoe trip through New England Hiking Holidays, we manage your experience. These are wonderful long-term partnerships that allow us to leverage our coveted permits to operate commercially on certain public lands and allow other companies to expand their product lines to include areas that they would not otherwise be permitted to operate in.”

Future Goals

“I want to grow all three parts of the company, not just individual trips. There are very large convention and resort properties in Reno that frequently host corporate groups and are just beginning to get to know us. Our highest margins are on the corporate side. I’m also looking at a couple of different acquisitions to drive growth. We are in the process of doing the “buy versus build” analysis. Another way we are looking at expanding is through product line extensions –we recently added Yosemite as a destination and we’re looking at adding trips to Death Valley, the Pacific Northwest and Arizona for next year.”

Blurring the Line Between Work and Fun

“I feel lucky that I get to marry my passion with what I think is a solid business opportunity. During the past year as I have strived to get a handle on the business and the growth opportunities I have been working more or less seven days a week, and put in what sometimes feels like 24 hours a day. That being said, I do manage to make time for bike riding, skiing and generally spending time outdoors.”

Biggest Challenge

“Juggling the three different lines of the business. For each side of the business, there is a different target customer, requiring a different marketing strategy.”

Greatest Success

“Launching back into the side of the business geared toward individual and small group travel. Based on current sign-ups, I can already see a nice return on my investment.”

Words of Advice

“Don’t start a business unless you are passionate about it, because you can’t get away from the business when it’s your own. If something needs to be done, you generally have to do it yourself. So if you’re not into it, find something else to occupy your time.”

To learn more about Hannah Sullivan and Tahoe Trips & Trails, visit www.tahoetrips.com.

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