While Sears Canada's bankruptcy may have also shuttered the numerous Sears Travel locations across the country, the closure of the retail giant’s Canadian stores has only sparked a new beginning for Daphne Sword and her team, as the host agency rebranded itself as The Travel Experts.
PAX sat down with The Travel Experts following a recent meeting in Toronto, which brought together members from across southern Ontario and as far away as Sudbury and Quebec.
Sword told PAX that prior to Sears’ bankruptcy announcement, a contingency plan was developed and following discussions with Sears Travel’s parent company TravelBrands, the agency chain began an ambitious three-month transformation process which ultimately proved successful, largely due to the loyalty of both Sears Travel’s management team, the agents and their clients.
“It’s definitely been challenging but it’s been good,” said Sword. “We’re a small but mighty team and we had most of our consultants stay on and transition over to The Travel Experts. I’m very fortunate that my area sales managers decided to come over as well. They’ve made the transition that much smoother – they’ve been my sounding board as well as those in the field.”
Sword said that with the existing Sears Travel management team bringing a collective 250 years of experience to The Travel Experts, many of the skills required to re-launch the business were already in place, making the process even easier.
“When Joe DeMarinis and I sat down and talked about the possibility of doing this, he said ‘you’ll need someone with marketing experience,’” Sword recalled. “I said ‘my area sales manager has marketing, and so does this one,’ and so on. We were able to promote within so we’re very fortunate that way.”
“We work so well together and we pull from each other’s strengths,” said Travel Experts BDM Pina Sisto. “It’s worked so well with our team because we all knew which way the business was going.”
With the closure of Sears’ retail locations, The Travel Experts has now set its sights on the home-based agent market; according to Eva Charles, business development manager, this includes a handful of agents who also work out of storefront businesses, such as hair salons.
“We’ve hit a couple of bumps and bruises,” Sword said, “but we had to completely change our whole business model in such a short time and close off the Sears side of things and to become a new business in three months. I’m extremely proud of everyone here.”
According to the team, communication with clients was key throughout the transition, adding that when Sears Canada’s bankruptcy was announced, many customers immediately got in touch, many of them through the still-functioning Sears Travel phone lines and email addresses which had been redirected to agents’ Travel Experts account.
“We had a lot of positive feedback from our clients,” said agent Tammy Burger, adding that she and many agents also travel to reach out to clients directly. “I’ve had a lot of my customers reaching out and making sure that I’m still in the industry. Just recently, I had a client reach me from Mexico, where he relocated to. There’s no concerns whatsoever.”
Tammy Burger of The Travel Experts poses with her wrapped car.
With the new business model now in place, Sword told PAX that 2018 is all about growth for The Travel Experts. Currently, The Travel Experts consists of 72 agents across Canada, mainly in Ontario with Quebec as the chain’s second largest territory (although The Travel Experts is represented in every province across Canada). As of this week, the company has nine more agents signing on and is looking to welcome more team members as the business continues to expand.
“We’re leaning toward quality agents, especially those who have stuck with us,” Sword said, adding that the company offers unlimited earning potential with a number of exclusive benefits for agents. “Another goal is to provide training and support to our agents; we want to make sure they have all the tools they need ready for them to grow their business.”
And with travellers who opted for OTAs in recent years now coming back to traditional agents, Charles said the time is right for The Travel Experts.
“The online bookers have all come back – time is money and they don’t want to spend all that time online,” she said, adding that some Sears Travel agents who didn’t immediately join The Travel Experts have also returned. “Based on the business we have now, we’re confident we can double our numbers by the end of 2018. We’re definitely positioning ourselves as trend-setters and we’re the ones to watch. TravelBrands has been a huge supporter – they love agents and that’s what we’re promoting too.”
“We have many years’ experience and a passion for this business,” Sword said. “It’s like the old saying - if you love what you do, it won’t feel like work.”
Agents interested in joining The Travel Experts can contact email@example.com.