By Sean Flynn
In 1988, my father opened the first CruiseShipCenters franchise in Quebec. At 18 years old, I was helping him out while learning about the business. I took over and became a franchisee myself in 2004. Now, we are celebrating 25 years in business, with three retail centres and one more planned for this year.
My father, Tom, worked with Texaco Canada for 25 years. He started working in Montreal, then lived in Belleville from 1969 until 1973, having moved there with the company.
I was born in Belleville, Ont., in 1970. I have two older sisters, Maureen and Nathalie, and one younger sister, Kelly. In 1973, we moved back to Montreal for my father’s work, and I grew up on the West Island in Quebec.
My father took an early retirement in 1985 and spent time trying to decide what he was going to do next. He could not envision himself spending the next 30 years of his life on a golf course, so he began looking at various franchise opportunities. He was attracted to Vancouver-based CruiseShipCenters as a franchise network of cruise-only travel agencies. Travel was not an industry he was familiar with, but he could see the potential for future growth. The cruise industry was starting to develop, with the first of the mega-ships launching at that time. He decided to take the plunge in 1988.
My mother, Christiane, worked as a secretary in the pharmaceutical industry. She was always supportive of my father, although when he told us he was considering going into the cruise business, she was quite skeptical. For one thing, my father is quite susceptible to motion sickness and my mother was terrified of water. However, time has shown that in spite of these concerns, this was the right decision. My mother never worked directly in the business, although she did act as a host with my father on numerous accompanied departures to just about everywhere in the world. Over time, many of our clients became their close friends, whom they never would have met without CruiseShipCenters.
Diving into the business
I attended primary school at École St.-Rémi in Beaconsfield, Que., from kindergarten until Grade 6 and then spent Grades 7 and 8 at St. George’s School of Montreal. I attended a semi-private high school, Collège Beaubois, for Grades 9, 10 and 11. Throughout those years, I had always felt a need to express myself creatively by writing short fiction and screenplays and producing short movies with my cousins and friends. It was this creative drive that led me to pursue a degree in communication studies at Concordia University in Montreal.
Before university, however, I attended John Abbott College. I was enrolled in the commerce program, though I had no interest in business school. At the time, I did it only to access the commerce math classes, which I felt would be more practical than the social sciences math classes being offered. That was one of my favourite times in school, because there were no prerequisites to get into communication, so I was free to take classes in sociology, philosophy and whatever else I was interested in. It was during this time my father became a franchisee for CruiseShipCenters.
My involvement with the company started almost from day one. I remember sitting with my father in the living room in the months leading up to the opening, working on marketing plans and drafting advertising templates. He even brought me along to his first supplier meeting with Norwegian Cruise Line to learn more about the industry. Some of my earliest tasks were much more basic, such as stamping brochures and leaving them out to dry.
I would go into the office with my father on Saturdays and often it was just the two of us working together. In 1990, I was unable to find a summer job. I was hoping to work in the jazz department at Sam the Record Man, but that did not work out. Business in the company had picked up, so I started putting in more time there. I remember making my first sale that summer, which was a seven-night cruise to the Western Caribbean on board the Song of America.