Over the next few years, I continued to work part-time in the office and became more involved. The distinction between work and school became blurred. I recall dropping coins into campus payphones to call the cruise lines, as well as writing an essay on an airplane on my way to the inaugural voyage of the Royal Viking Queen in Miami, Florida.
A few months before I graduated from Concordia in 1992, the opportunity arose for me to take on a new role as sales manager for the office. Since I had already spent a fair bit of time there, it was an easy transition to make.
In addition to managing the office, I took over most of the marketing tasks as well, executing our print campaigns in the newspapers and our direct mail program.
Exploring new opportunities
There had been some changes at the franchisor level of CruiseShipCenters shortly after my dad bought his franchise. For the first six years, we ran our operations independently, building the brand in Montreal.
In early 1995, we rejoined the network and took on the additional task of selling franchises in Quebec. That was more of a challenge than we had anticipated, in large part due to the provincial regulations that existed at that time, restricting people from outside the industry from opening a travel agency. CruiseShipCenters derives a lot of its growth by creating business opportunities for those who are new to the industry, so these regulations hindered us.
During that time, my sister Kelly had graduated from McGill University in industrial relations and been working at Kodak, selling industrial copiers. Her secondary job was acting as a chauffeur for my parents and me, dropping us off at the airport. One afternoon over lunch, she told my dad she wanted to own a CruiseShipCenters franchise. So, in 1996, she opened the Beaconsfield location.
By 2004, we realized our main strength was working as a retailer and building a team of cruise consultants, not selling franchises. We released our rights as master franchisee and developed a plan to merge our two centres into one single operation. My father was still involved at that time, but gradually handed over the reins to Kelly and me as we prepared to open our third location in Dollard-des-Ormeaux.
The CruiseShipCenters chain was also growing as an important player in the travel industry and that attracted the attention of our future partners, Aeroplan and Expedia. In 2008, we became Expedia CruiseShipCenters. At the time, Expedia was looking to grow its cruise business in Canada and recognized its clients would be better served if, in addition to researching online, they could also call on the expertise of a local agent. Today, Expedia CruiseShipCenters has more than 185 franchise locations, including 10 in Quebec.
The path to success
Back in 2004, when we were charting our future path, we looked at what kind of business we wanted to run and set some goals. We managed to achieve one of our goals in 2010 when we were named the system’s number one franchise partner in Canada, thanks to a lot of hard work and the dedication of our team of cruise consultants. Since that time, our sales have continued to grow and we see a lot of potential for future expansion, which is why we are opening a fourth location in 2014, also on the West Island.
Our success derives from the balanced partnership Kelly and I have developed over the years. We are fortunate our strengths and interests complement each other. I am primarily involved in marketing and supplier relations, whereas her strengths lie in human resources (HR) and finances. We stick to our personal strengths and that works out well, so we are not stepping on each other’s toes or second-guessing each other.
Our next challenge in growing our business involves hiring cruise sales managers for each location. Currently, we have a sales team of close to 50 cruise consultants working across the three stores. Although Kelly and I both have experience selling cruise vacations, we have not been involved in that part of the business for many years. Our focus now is in supporting and growing our sales team and this is an exciting new chapter for us.