Russ Russell’s Franchising Career Sets Sail With Cruise Planners

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Charles “Russ” Russell
Cruise Planners
New Braunfels, TX
Franchisee since 2013

What led you to franchising?

As I prepared to transition from military life, I attended a mandatory departure workshop for active military service. One of the topics addressed in the transition program was about veterans becoming business owners and our speaker emphasized a few key points that made me quickly understand that a franchise business was a wise investment on my part. Military members facing life in the civilian world bring a great understanding of discipline, structure and compliance with them, all of which are already built in to most franchise instruments.

Why did you select the franchise you did?

After I retired from the United States Air Force I spent a year researching franchise business opportunities, and Cruise Planners just kept popping up on my radar. For years, I had planned adventures for friends, family, and myself, attending to every detail from hotels, trains, flights, tours, and even a city-by-city, six-country tour. And then a light bulb went off as I thought, “I can do this for a career,” and I haven’t looked back.

What have you found particularly beneficial about being a franchisee vs. starting a business from scratch?

Brand recognition has to be my #1 answer. Cruise Planners carries a great deal of industry, supplier and tour operator recognitions. Even when we as individual franchisees must educate our clientele about what we can really do for them as Cruise Planners agents, a simple Google search will reveal the power the of the brand. As an individual “start up” it would take me decades and I still would never achieve the same levels of recognition. Simply stated, Cruise Planners makes me look better to the average consumer.

What advice would you share with people considering purchasing a franchise before they sign on the dotted line?

Always consult with a trusted business attorney and accountant before entering into ANY business agreements. I did this and it was money very well invested. Also, take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Ask if you can indeed be your own boss and still enjoy your work. It’s not something that everyone is cut out for. Can YOU as an individual create your weekly “routine” and adhere to it? I have plenty of days when I would love to sleep in and relax for half a day in my pajamas while drinking coffee on my back porch. It wouldn’t take too many days of that type of activity before the pantries were empty and the mortgage wasn’t getting paid.

What advice would you share with a franchisee in his or her first year of business?

There’s much more to building a successful business than “if you build it they will come.” Building your business with good decisions, great support and expert tools, all of which are provided by Cruise Planners, is a definite way to set yourself up for success.

What is your work/life balance today? What was it like when you first opened your franchise?

Vacations are pretty much non-existent anymore. I don’t say that to be discouraging to anyone, but my “eye” has changed over time since opening my franchise and I’m nearly always looking at things critically any time I travel. Looking back, the first year after I opened was the toughest. I was still working full-time Monday-Friday at an office job and running/building my business on evenings and weekends. At the beginning of my second year I negotiated a part-time work from home agreement with my office job and transitioned fully into working my job and business from home. The next year I tightened my belt a little, quit the part-time work from home position, and devoted myself to my franchise full time. Over the course of three years, I went from all work and no play (or very little play), to full-time from home business owner.  

Over the past year, I have started incorporating a trip at least once a month – sometimes only a few days, other times for a whole week or more at a time. Some of these trips could be classified as vacations, some are familiarization opportunities, others may be professional development offerings. I try to see and go to at least 3-5 places each year that I have never visited before. I must have an awesome work/life balance because everyone who knows me keeps telling me they wish they were me!

What do you like best about owning your franchise from a business perspective and a personal perspective?

Personally, I love the freedom. I set my own hours and standards.  If I want to try something new, I don’t have to ask permission or get clearance to do a test run. From a business and professional standpoint, I love that I can choose what business I want to do and with whom I would like to work. It took a while to get there but I don’t just take every job that “walks” through the door anymore. I don’t simply sell travel as much as I curate experiences for my clients. A website can “sell travel”, but I would say no website can curate a travel experience down to the finest detail.

What is the most challenging about being a franchisee?

The usual bookkeeping “chores” and tending to details of profit & loss statements. I finally found a contact with a local business college and have now brought on an unpaid intern to set up software that will streamline my processes and give me more time to do what I love: curate experiences for clients. Next semester I’m “hiring” a business marketing major to come in, learn my business, and help me get better at managing my marketing programs and annual budget.

What kind of support do you most appreciate from your franchisor?

I attribute much of my growth to the tools and education provided by the Cruise Planners home office. From initial franchisee training, to marketing programs, continuing education, familiarization trip opportunities, and industry-recognized, cutting-edge technology and support, Cruise Planners has always been at my side with the tools I need to succeed.

What kind of support do you get from fellow franchisees?

Starting out I only knew the folks from my training class. There were a couple of experienced franchisees in that class and they offered to help as needed and were quite responsive. I formed several close friendships with fellow franchisee classmates and we all helped one another problem solve problems and learned new things together.

As my business grew I made friends with several more franchisees and have a select three or four I would now refer to as mentors. I get great support from this network, and give back as best I can. Paying things forward and back has been a HUGE part of the successful business growth I continue to see year over year.

Would you share your 2016 and projected 2017 gross revenue?

Last year’s gross revenue was $620,010.91, this year I anticipate gross revenue near if not slightly over $1,000,000 if sales continue to trend as they have for the first two months of 2017 (100% over 2016).

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Michael Kupfer

Michael is the Online Marketing Manager at FBR, specializing in search and email marketing, while also helping to create much of FBR's webinar programs and content. When not at the office, Michael spends his time running, hiking the White Mountains with his wife, watching baseball, and serving as a volunteer tutor at the Dover Adult Learning Center.

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