An Interview with Whitney Shindelar
By Connie Miller
A lot of my time is spent discussing marketing with ICs. It comes easily to some, is a bit more daunting to others and everyone can learn.
When I heard about a marketing event created by one of our newer IC’s, Whitney Shindelar, I knew I needed to share her story because it embodies all of the tenants of marketing.
First, a bit about Whitney. Whitney came to us last year from the “other side of the fence” – the hospitality industry, where she worked for Starwood at Le Royal Meridian Shanghai as their Director of Operational Excellence. She was moving to California from Shanghai when we first met. Whitney knew she wanted to focus on experience-based, unique trips to an upscale market, but she didn’t have a ready network in California; her friends were scattered throughout the United States and her family lives in Iowa. Interestingly enough Iowa is where the story begins.
Lesson Number One: Share your Story and your Passion! Shortly after joining us, Whitney went shopping for a destination wedding dress (in Iowa) where she met a sales clerk. In the course of selecting the dress, the clerk asked Whitney what she did for a living. Whitney explained that she had just started her own travel business and she shared some of her goals (and definitely her passion) for her business. As she left the store, the clerk asked if she needed a head shot for her business. She, too, was starting her own business – as a photographer — and gave Whitney her card. A few weeks later, Whitney ordered a head shot and as things often do, the two hit it off and they remained in touch.
Lesson Number Two: Plan, Promote Yourself, Look for Coop and Start where you have a foothold! Connecting personally with potential buyers was important to Whitney. She wanted to create an event that would allow for personal interaction, showcase her skills and present the type of suppliers she wanted to sell. She felt that the typical supplier showcase would never work for her business model and she contacted Cate Almgren, Your Travel Center’s Director of Leisure Sales to brainstorm about potential suppliers and event ideas. Cate reminded her that there was an opportunity for coop dollars. What exactly did that mean? It meant that suppliers would help underwrite her event. Together Whitney and Cate worked out a plan. With Cate’s help and Whitney’s own personal connections she reached out to the key suppliers she wanted for the Iowa event. Yes, the event was held in Des Moines, Iowa, because Des Moines is where the majority of her connections still lived. (Start where you have a foothold.)
Lesson Number Three: The Approach. So, how did Whitney select her suppliers? She reached to suppliers that she may not have booked, but with whom she had a direct connection. Her approach worked well because this wasn’t her first contact with the supplier. Whitney’s request focused on what the supplier would receive by cooping her event. She advised them that their logo would be included on the high end invitation she sent to prospective guests, that they would be highlighted multiple times on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, she would link to the supplier’s websites and provide them a ROI evaluation at the end of the event. Most importantly, Whitney asked the suppliers what they wanted said at the event. (NOTE: Because the event was in Iowa and because she requested the coop and attendance only 6-8 weeks out, most of the suppliers could not make the event. But because they knew her and had a complete outline of what to expect, they agreed to coop the event.)
Lesson Four – The Event! Let’s talk about the event. Whitney knew that she didn’t want to rent a room at a hotel or restaurant. First it was too expensive and secondly it would not reflect her unique style. A non-traditional setting felt right.
Remember the connection Whitney made earlier in the year with the photographer/sales person? In scouting for a location, Whitney stopped by her new friend’s business and surprisingly, it was the perfect venue for her, well-located, and very unique. Her photographer gave her the opportunity rent the space for a nominal fee. On top of that, she shared her mailing list with Whitney to expand Whitney’s reach in the community. By sharing her passion, enthusiasm and story with a then stranger, Whitney ended up finding the unique venue she wanted and an expanded list of qualified buyers.
The event was held February 16th. About 40 individuals attended (her target size). Whitney visited with each guest in depth. She showcased her four suppliers AND herself and her services. She did not go into lengthy presentations but provided an overview of the product, shared why she felt they were the best at what they do and who was good for the product. Her suppliers included: Rocky Mountaineer, AMA Waterways, Pelican Hill and Big Five Tours and Expeditions. Consistent with her philosophy of personal attention, she wrote detailed and specific emails to each of the individuals attending and offered her assistance based on their conversations. Continuing her marketing efforts, everyone who attended the event will receive the Virtuoso Traveler publication and once they become a client, Virtuoso Life.
Lesson Five – The Results – In the short three weeks following event, she has booked and/or is working on the following:
- AMA Waterways – Blocked a group for Fall 2018 – 2 staterooms sold and 3 pending
- Rocky Mountaineer – Booked two couples for 2017 travel
- Pelican Hill – Booked One Honeymoon – with an additional Honeymoon and a Birthday in progress
- Big Five Tours & Expeditions – Working on a 2018 tour
- 1 FIT Italy
- 2 FIT Croatia
- 1 FIT Mexico
Was there a bit of luck in all of this? Perhaps, but as my mother always said, sometimes you make your own luck in life. This is what Whitney did by doing the right things not only well, but consistently. So, talk about your business with enthusiasm and excitement, make meaningful connections (with both suppliers and the public), and be genuine. By positioning you in the best possible light to succeed, you will.
- Always be open to sharing what you do others – Whitney recommends three versions for answering the question, “what do you do?” A short answer (think of it as an engaging elevator speech that invites them to ask more). Then if they ask more, tell them what you do for your clients in such a manner it makes them ask more questions and if they are still interested, you can pull out your big guns.
- Start with your organic market. Although Whitney hasn’t lived in Iowa for a long time, she has an extensive group of family and friends that already knew and trusted her. She started where she was known.
- Work with Cate Almgren for ideas and suggestions.
- Choose your date with care – In the Midwest (and perhaps elsewhere) she was able to capitalize on both 2017 and 2018 bookings by staging a spring show.
- Know your suppliers personally before you ask them for coop. Whitney got buy-in because she knew them and she gave them everything they needed to say yes.
- Invite family and friends to your event – By having Whitney’s friends and family in the audience, they got to see her as a professional.
- Be personal in your approach ALWAYS.
- Whatever you do (simple or elaborate) do it well and with design. The devil is in the details.
- Toot your own horn; this is an opportunity to showcase you – give yourself as much or more spotlight as your suppliers.
- Where you can, partner with others who are looking to expand their business. For those of you who attended the Learning Café, Margot Kong referenced working with an entrepreneurial women’s group as a springboard to additional business. Working with the photographer provided Whitney the opportunity to expand her range providing a win/win situation for both. The photographer could showcase her work to Whitney’s group and could refer her clients to a top-shelf travel advisor.