This week's MAC Chat features our interview with MailPound''s May MVP, Craig Stevens Corey of Craig Corey Vacations..
In 1995 you won "Best Office Design in the Nation" from Travel Weekly Magazine's annual Travel Agency Achievement Awards. What attracted you to the renovated loft space off the beaten track?
When I worked for another agency, one of my customer's, James Dodd Brown, a brilliant architect, took me to lunch. He had just purchased this old warehouse building and was in the process of converting it to a loft space. He invited me to launch my own agency and be a tenant there. I resisted. Jim had been terminally ill, and a year later he died. I then heard that the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitor's Bureau was going to move their offices into the building. I was getting antsy to move on at my existing job, so I contacted Jim's business partner and she met me at the building. It was so hip and beautiful! I rented the last space right-then-and-there, and gave her $100 as a deposit. I knew I needed to make the office really different from other travel agencies, so I flew to New York and went on a shopping spree at Conran's which at that time was in the Citcorp building (today it's The Conran Shop at ABC Warehouse), buying furniture and objets and had the stuff shipped to Lansing. It turned out to be really worth it.
Why did you decide to become involved in the travel industry and were you in a different industry prior?
I was an "office boy" at a well-known travel agency during my senior year in high school. I ended up being accepted at Michigan State University in my hometown, Lansing/East Lansing. So, my boss encouraged me to become a travel agent, and go to school at the same time. So I juggled work and school and supported myself until I graduated from college. It took a lot longer because I was also doing an amazing amount of foreign travel at the same time. The agency I worked for was "leisure oriented" and believed the agents should be well-traveled and knowledgeable because it would ultimately translate to "sales". So, I was in a lucky space. When I finally graduated from MSU, I really wanted to leave Lansing, but realized that over the years I had developed a healthy, loyal clientele. At about that time, the company I worked for was sold to a corporate agency from Ann Arbor who had a different philosphy about travel. They were 100% corporate. It wasn't my cup of tea, so I knew I had to skidaddle! And that's when I decided to venture out on my own. When I opened my doors on November 1st, 1991, I could not believe the flood of calls, and the customers that had intentionally waited for me to open (I had sent announcements, but as per "non-compete clause" protocol I was unable to "invite" them to my agency) so they could book their trips! It was so exciting. And of course that will never happen again!
What is the best marketing technique that you use to reach your clients and how do you get them to become repeat clients?
You have to give "uber, lengendary, outstanding, amazing, remarkable, impressive" customer service! This is what brings them back most of the time. And right now customers are so mind-boggled with all the garbage on the internet that it's not that hard to hook them. I also send out weekly e-mail blasts that advertise the gamut of travel from bargains in Cancun to trips to Outer Space. The outer space trip cost $1.2 million dollars and I sent it out last year when the market was so pitiful. I anticipated that I'd receive some angry protest, but instead I received feedback from customers suggesting that at best they were "vicarious" travelers and loved the info, or enjoyed discussing it at cocktail parties! The point is, it creates imagery that brings people to you, that makes them remember. Half the time when I advertise, I receive responses from people asking about entirely different trips, but because that ad appeared in their e-mail box at the right time, it reminded them to contact me!
What do you enjoy the most about this industry and what is your best advice for travel agents just beginning their career?
Even after all these years (34 of them!) I find that I am still drawn to the mystique of travel. And I still think about places I'd like to go. When I'm selling a destination confidently, it's second-nature to become enthused, and help the customer become enthused. And when they return more-than-satisfied, it's a reminder that I still play a very legitimate role in the process. My advice to new agents is to try to travel as much as they possibly can. Nothing makes an agent more valuable than the first-hand knowlege gained from a real (not virtual) experience. People are still human, and travel still conjures up "fear of the inknown". They'll always respond to a "knowlegeable" agent.
Thank you Craig for that great interview!