Cruise Planners franchisee Valerie Dorsey shares her insights on what it’s like to be a Cruise Planners franchise owner.
Name: Valerie Dorsey
Location: Royal Palm Beach, FL
Franchise owners since 2011
Before opening your franchise, did you have prior experience in the travel sector?
I have worked in so many facets of sales, but my franchise is my first experience in the travel sector. I started as an RN in the ICU, joined the Air Force Reserve as a Flight Nurse, and achieved the rank of Captain before leaving due to a conflict with the sales position that I held at the time. I finally found my perfect marriage of nursing and sales in pharmaceutical sales. I worked in many facets of the pharmaceutical company during my 24 years there including managing a team of hospital and retail pharmaceutical reps.
What made you decide to transition into franchising with Cruise Planners?
When I decided to take a package offered by my employer at the time, I went through the process of outplacement services. After discovering how the world has changed since I was last in the job market 24 years prior, I learned I could turn my passion for travel into a viable business! After doing extensive research, I found I liked what Cruise Planners had to offer and I was told by many people how much respect they had for the company.
When you were conducting your research, what were your top criteria when considering various franchises?
I was fortunate that someone at Right Management, an outplacement agency, connected me with someone in the travel industry. He was a high-level executive at a well-known tour company and he gave me insight into the many types of businesses I could affiliate with. He gave Cruise Planners an enthusiastic endorsement but told me of others and I did my due diligence.
- I started reading about the mission and affiliation of travel companies.
- Internet searching about how many people are affiliated with the company, who runs it and for how long, and the cost of doing business with them.
- The American Express affiliation at the time also made Cruise Planners stand out. Now we are joining Signature Travel Network and I think that will be incredible for the company moving forward.
- I talked to other franchisees and learned from their experience which was very helpful.
Did you view the FBR Franchisee Satisfaction Survey results and Top Franchise awards? Did they have an impact on your decision?
Unfortunately, they were not available back when I was making my decision! But if I were looking now, it would be an excellent benchmark to compare franchises.
What convinced you that Cruise Planners was the right brand for you?
I feel I am a good judge of when I feel at home in a “job” and meeting all of the wonderful salespeople like Dan Hicks and his team, made me very comfortable. They gave me all the information I wanted and connected me with other owners who I could talk with. Plus, the culture was the right fit, and the technology and marketing were attractive reasons as well.
What was your experience like when you first began speaking with the Cruise Planners corporate team?
I felt welcomed and like they were being very open and honest about the company. There was no pressure or “sales” pitch, just an informational session.
Did you speak with or meet with other Cruise Planners franchisees?
I was given the names of other owners and I had great conversations with them. I came prepared with questions and they were open and honest with me. As an owner myself, I try to do the same for other potential franchisees who reach out to me.
How does Cruise Planners support you and your success?
I have met so many other travel agents that don’t have a third of what we have! Cruise Planners has the best training, marketing, and support. Our technology is amazing and it allows me to work from anywhere. We have coaches and the entire company is there to support us and provide everything we need to run our businesses. I have not regretted my decision to join Cruise Planners in the 11 years I have been with the brand.
How many units do you own? Do you have plans to expand someday?
I own one unit and am satisfied with that. I will not expand by buying additional units.
How many employees do you currently have?
No employees but I have three associates working with me.
Is Cruise Planners a full-time or part-time business for you? Do you have an office or storefront or do you work from home?
I work my business full-time from my home.
Do you travel often? What’s your favorite destination?
I travel frequently. Hong Kong and San Francisco have been my favorite destinations for many years. But I can’t get enough of all of Europe, especially Italy!
Do you currently participate in the Franchisee Satisfaction Surveys? Do you feel your feedback is heard?
Yes! I do participate. It is hard to discern what impact they have but I do see continuous improvement in the company, which means a lot.
Thinking back to the first year or two in business, what were your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges I faced were; what to do with all the information I was studying and how to build my client base. With the mentoring and coaching that Cruise Planners offered, it helped to direct my attention to the right avenues to grow my business. The marketing and technology were also instrumental in organizing and targeting clients in a smart and efficient way as well. It is continuously improving at Cruise Planners, which is why I love the company so much.
How does your business engage with the local community?
I joined the Chamber of Commerce very quickly. Then a group called Business Alliance with Compass, a local LGBTQ+ organization that I learned of during my time at the Chamber. I also participate in private networking groups, on Facebook and, I’ve tried different marketing ideas all within the first two years of starting my business. I still belong to a few since Covid shut us down for a while and attend many community functions to continuously meet people. I engage with many travel agent organizations in order to meet and learn from colleagues from many avenues of business and entrepreneurship.
What advice would you give to potential Cruise Planners franchisees?
I would tell them to be patient, both with the understanding of what to do with what they learn and the road to building your database full of clients. You may start with serving clients in a variety of ways, but each trip you plan builds on the knowledge that you have to share. Have the same work ethic that you would if employed by someone else. Don’t skimp on working hours. Constantly learn and test because this business changes rapidly. Really understand what you are selling and know it well. Don’t be afraid to step out of the box with new ideas, and never be afraid of trying!
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