Laurie Barkman speaks with Elizabeth Blount McCormick, 2nd generation CEO of UniGlobe Travel Designers. Elizabeth discussed the challenges of COVID-19 on her firm, and how focusing on client service, relationships, and fresh ideas are creating value in the new travel industry landscape.
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Laurie Barkman: Welcome to Succession Stories, insights for next generation entrepreneurs. I'm Laurie Barkman. I've spent my career bringing an entrepreneurial approach to mature companies struggling with change as an outside executive of a third generation, 120 year old company, I was part of a long-term succession plan. Now I work with entrepreneurs, privately held companies, and family businesses to develop innovations that create enterprise value and transition plans to achieve their long-term goals. On this podcast, listen in as I talk with entrepreneurs who are driving innovation and culture change. I speak with owners who successfully transitioned their company and others who experienced disappointment along the way. Guests also include experts in multi-generational businesses and entrepreneurship. If you are a next generation entrepreneur looking for inspiration to grow and thrive, or an owner who can't figure out the best way to transition their closely held company, this podcast is for you.
Laurie: I spoke with Elizabeth Blount McCormick, second generation CEO of UniGlobe Travel Designers. UniGlobe is an independent travel company serving corporate and leisure travelers in the US. At the time of this interview, the global travel industry faced $1.2 trillion dollars in losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic—an amount equal to the entire GDP of Mexico. Elizabeth discussed the impact on her company, and as you might expect, it’s been tough. She shares how focusing on client service, industry relationships, and fresh ideas are helping the team get to the other side of the rainbow, to use her phrase. Be sure to subscribe and leave a review if you enjoy the episode. Thanks for tuning in!
Laurie: Hi, Elizabeth. Thanks for being on the show today. It's great to have you here.
Elizabeth Blount McCormick: Thanks so much for the opportunity. I appreciate it.
Laurie: It's been a tough year for you and for your firm, and we'll talk about that. We'll talk about UniGlobe Travel Designers. I want to start with you though, because I think you have an interesting story with you and your mom, that you're second generation. I know there's other family members that have been in the company too, and I thought you could start by giving a brief history of the company. Tell us about your mom, Elsie, and how and why she started the firm.
Elizabeth: Okay. So, we actually used this business for our spring and summer travel. The original owner approached my mom and said, why don't you become my partner? And she did. And at the time she had like one and a half people – and realized that the original owner, her partner, wasn't a great business person.
Elizabeth: So she bought him out. And so she took a hobby. We fortunately have been able to travel and travel has been something that my parents instilled in us from being really young. So it was just a natural fit because we love to travel and to that'd be a good way for us to continue to see the world. She didn't have any goal to make a lot of money because she didn't need to do that. So it was really just growing a business. She grew from one and a half people to a staff of fourteen when I joined her. She really grew organically. So a lot of the accounts that she landed were just because of her reputation here in Columbus, Ohio. She'd been on a number of boards, she won a number of awards, and she'd helped my father grow his medical practice.
Elizabeth: He's an ophthalmologist. So it was really word of mouth and reputation. And the first large account she landed was here in Columbus, The Ohio State University. And, with that, it just led to other businesses and Columbus city schools and other private companies that looked at our business and wanted to work with her. So our business at the time, and actually when I joined her, it was in 2006. And at the time we had done like $13, well actually I think it was like $9 million, right. And I joined her and I thought, wow, this is great, but what else can we do? And, and me personally, I had a background in retail. I went to Spelman College in Atlanta, and then moved to San Francisco, worked for The Gap Company. So The Gap Corporation, their headquarters is there.
Elizabeth: And then there's one in New York. And then after I completed the training program, moved to Miami, Florida, I was there for three years. And then my last stint in retail was working for Bono. So the head singer for U2 has a clothing line called Eden. It's sold in Bergdorf's, and Barney's, Neiman Marcus. And I was traveling all over the world. I was production manager of that line and kind of getting a little burned out. My mom, sister, and I had this conversation and she said, look, I think I'm gonna sell the business. And Jacqueline and I said, well, we're going to move home. We want to try our hands at entrepreneurship. Because we watched my father's practice with my mom with this business. And so I joined her in 2006 and the time we had 14 people, we did like $9 or $10 million a year in sales.
Elizabeth: When Jacqueline and I joined, we were trying to figure out like what do we need to do, right. And how, and the things that we looked at that we had to do was obviously investing in marketing. We had to develop a website. We had to hire a company to do that for us to track SEO. So just things like that. We had to participate in networking events and panels and talk to marketing firms just to get our name out there because it's really important, your presence on social media, these to be consistent with your brand promise throughout every channel. And so it was those kinds of things that we had to do just to kind of become more relevant. Does it make sense to take us to the next level?
Laurie: Yeah. So you shared a lot there, so your mom started it. You were in retail, you moved around a lot. Travel was part of your family hobby, as you said, you enjoyed family trips and then it became a business and you yourself traveled a lot with your job. And so you probably saw and knew the logistics of going into travel. Did you think about as a customer, wow, how could I make this easier for people?
Elizabeth: Absolutely. I did. And, really the recommendations of where people stay and setting up car services. Like I went to New Delhi a few times and they always had a car service waiting for me. It's just not a place that you want to fly to and not have transportation arranged, right. So things like that, I would always think about what would I want to happen? What would make this better as I was traveling. And so that's been helpful with our corporate clients as well, because I was a road warrior, and if the pandemic wasn't happening, I would be on the road now. We spend a lot of time just on-boarding clients, on-boarding corporate clients and spend, you know, a couple of weeks at a time, different places across the United States. So I just understood and understand their frustration and how you need to have somebody that you can talk to. That's an expert that will advocate for you, should something come up because something always comes up when you're traveling.
Laurie: So you said it wasn't necessarily in your plans to join the family business, but you and your sister talked about it. What was that conversation like?
Elizabeth: Yeah. We just said why don't we give it a shot? She was at the DOJ in Washington, DC. She thought about being an attorney and then that really wasn't what she wanted to do. And so we thought, well, let's move back to Columbus. And we did. And, you know, we just, we were trying to learn the business and understand because travel is a little complex. I mean, there's so many parts to it. The airlines have different rules, hotels, car rentals, when you're dealing with corporations and discounts we can establish. So we really had to just really submerge ourselves in the business to understand how it works and then what we needed to do, right. And we started connecting with technology throughout the world, honestly, to see what was out there as far as reporting is concerned. Really focus on our relationships with the different hotel, airline and car rental reps, because you just, relationships are key really for people that will to be successful, you've got to have trust and you've got to have those relationships that are reciprocal.
Elizabeth: And so we spent a lot of time focusing on those things because we knew like were essentially the middle man at times, right. So if, if a flight is canceled, our customers are angry at us. So we have to do everything that we can and try to alleviate that stress. But it's understanding like who do we need to talk to? Who are the players in a certain situation? We spend a lot of time with that really just becoming well known in the industry and focusing on those relationships. And it's been very helpful in our growth.
Laurie: Landing Ohio State University as one of your first clients was no small feat. That's a pretty big institution with a lot of travel – professors, and academics, and athletic teams. And so of course I'm a huge U2 fan and Bono. And what was it like? Just give us a 30 seconds on working with Bono.
Elizabeth: Okay. It was with his wife. At the time, he was on the North American tour. So she would fly in from Ireland just to see what was happening with the line and if we were meeting kind of the direction that she wanted along with where the designer was executing her vision of the brand. So it was her in a way to get into the retail business. She's a nice woman. We had a good relationship. It was great working with her. I spent a lot of time. It was interesting with a smaller brand. So I spent a lot of time in Soho. I sourced different items. It wasn't like working for, you know, like Gap, which we would make hundreds of thousands of units. We were making like a hundred, right. So it was very special and the specialty items and special pieces that were sold across all across the US.
Laurie: So you had this great retail experience, you traveled the world and you said, okay, it's time to come back to Columbus. What was that transition like working alongside your mother and your sister?
Elizabeth: Well, I mean, the thing is that the thing I was coming from this smaller boutique brand, which was like a small business. So it was an easy transition to kind of apply what I was doing at Eden and then also what I did at Gap, right? So we took a lot of just the best practices and we had a handbook, but we needed to perfect that. So it was really a lot of what are the skills that we can take and the learnings that we can take from our past work experiences to apply to the business to make it better. And I mean, at the time, I mean, my mom, just, again, she was just, she was a great business woman, very smart and savvy, but there were just things she really didn't have time to do. That it was like now let's get some structure in place. We don't want to get away from the fact that we are a family owned business because there's something special about that.
Elizabeth: I mean, the people that work for us, they are our family. But we also had to get some like procedures and policies in place. We had to implement reviews and talk to people quarterly. And just that, you know, feedback, having clients participate in surveys, like that's how we could get really, we could really perfect our service, right. You have to inspect what you expect. So for my mom, she was like, why do we do all this stuff? I mean, she was just like, let's just grow the business. But to grow it properly, you have to put those processes and best practices in place. So we are all very close, my mom, sister and I. My sister does not work in the business. She works in Diversity and Inclusion as a head D&I lead for the third largest grocer in the country.
Elizabeth: However, we still like, we are, I consult with him. My mom still works with me in the business. But my mom was able to see the importance of putting those processes in place. Because if we have, it's so much easier now. And that's what I wanted. I didn't want it to get to the point when you're looking at opportunities that it was always like a panic and hectic. It's just like, okay, we, we know what we have to do. If we speak to a prospect, that's the information we have to send over. And we have it. It's like a well oiled machine now. And that's what I was trying to get to. And it takes a while you walk into a family business and my mother had grown it, and I was just trying to learn the ropes from her.
Elizabeth: I took over a lot of the relationships that she managed for many years but I learned the art of it. And it really is just being authentic and genuine. And when you are that way, and you're true to who you are people can see that, you know, you really care. And the thing about our clients is it doesn't matter the size of the corporate client, or even the leisure client, they're going to receive that same service. And that's what my mom just instilled in me. We have a saying, “The customer is always right, even when they're wrong” and we believe that. So it's like, you know, lose the battle, win the war, right. Like there are things that come up, people are frustrated, things happen in travel, like, okay, the customer is right. Let's make it right. And then, and because of that, you've had lot of growth. And there are times that maybe the customer isn't 100% right, but who cares. Like just take care of the issue. And people appreciate that because customer service is key, you know that in your business, right. I mean, it's just, it's there when you see it. You're like, oh my gosh, they really do care. And they're always there and they're always around like good customer service is hard to find. And I think people miss that.
Laurie: Yeah. Well, especially when you're traveling, you know, it can be tense if things are running late and you're missing a connection, or someone's not showing up or, you know, and then things can escalate very quickly. So if you're there for them providing that service, that's great. I also love the example you shared for creating structure in the organization. Because I talk to a lot of people in different generations and second generation kind of has the reputation of, well, they just sort of do what the first gen did. They don't want to mess anything up. I love how you came into the business with your sister and said, okay, well, what can we do differently? And you focused on putting processes in place so that you can scale it. You mentioned when you joined, you were fourteen employees and the company was around $9 million. I think I read some articles about your revenues, if you can share just high level, how much growth did you see over a 15 year period or so?
Elizabeth: Last year in 2019, we did $37.5 million. It was our biggest year. If COVID would not have happened, this would have been our biggest year yet. So it was a little bit of a bummer. But we've grown and doubled the revenue, and then obviously tripled it from that time when I joined her in 2006. Again, it's having the processes in place. And also I think that my mom thinks I just, I'm just not scared to try things. And I mean, I always say the worst I can hear is no. It could be not now, maybe the time wasn't right. And I had so many examples of that, where it was just something I was being redirected to something better. But I always say to people like just try it. And even during this time, and I know we’re going to get to that a little bit later, but this is not the time to be scared.
Elizabeth: It's a time to go out there and try something. You never know how what can happen. Right. And what other way you can be successful or what other opportunity is out there.
Laurie: So you focused on HR and the structure internally. Also, it sounds like technology, you invested in technology. Were there any innovations that you would say that you brought into the business, whether it was how you worked or how the company went to market?
Elizabeth: I mean, the thing is that we we've responded to so many RFPs-- requests for proposals, right. And we wouldn't have a relationship and we would spend all this time responding. We wouldn't win the business. We would be so bummed out. So we just decided to going forward, and this was maybe after not winning a few, right. We just said we're not going to do this unless we have a strong, solid relationship there, unless we know that they have a strong commitment to make a change, because otherwise it's just a waste of time.
Elizabeth: So that was a best practice we put in place instead of just bidding on anything, right. And even to this day, there's some things that we just won't even respond to because it's not a good use of our time. And oftentimes, unfortunately, hopefully this will change, but oftentimes, you know, because I'm a black and woman owned business and nationally certified in both of those levels, they want to have that type of supplier in the mix, but there really is no chance for me to win the business. Does that make sense? So we just learned that quickly. And then with our team, I mean, we just looked at the people that were bringing in and looked at people that were stepping up and we're really serious about our culture. Right. We want people to be friends with each other. A team that gets along that are friends with each other are more successful than a team that doesn't so spent a lot of time focusing on our culture.
Elizabeth: And that was a change because it's just like, and it's funny, I had this conversation with someone that said, everyone who works for you, you should want to have sit down and have a meal with that person, whoever they are on your team. And I thought that's a really good way to figure out if I really cause you really want to like the people and me as the leader of the business, I want to feel comfortable in any situation. Right. And so I started looking around and it was interesting that people that I wouldn't feel comfortable having a meal with, like somehow things happen. They either left or we parted ways or whatever. But I do like everyone who works for me and that's an important thing, right. Just to be able to do that and to get to that point.
Elizabeth: So we focus a lot on the culture and making sure people are the right fits. Now we work with a firm that's based out of Los Angeles. They recruit travel consultants from all over. They staff the Netflix travel department. So they have high quality talent, and you have to have that relationship because as we continue to grow, I want to be able to just have that talent at my fingertips. So things like that, instead of just putting, like, it's not about putting an ad on Indeed, it's about having a direct relationship. So it was just that, those kind of best practices, like, okay, if we want the best talent, then we need to work with a firm who does that. And yeah we'll have to pay something for that talent, but it's worth it because we'll have an A player, an A+ employee. So those are the kind of things we do.
Laurie: You've defined your fit. You've defined what's the type of person, characteristics that would be successful. And then when you're recruiting and retaining you're using that as your lens, which is really smart. So let's switch gears a little bit and talk about the pandemic. Again I know this has been really tricky and you and I had rescheduled this a couple of times, because, and rightly so. I think it was important for you to be ready to have a conversation about it. It's so raw because it's happening right now. And this is a show that maybe a year from now, somebody will listen to it. So it's not just about today. I think it's about resilience, and how do you get through this? And so many companies are experiencing dramatic shifts in the market that were unexpected and that's hard. And the last time we encountered this at a macro scale was around 2009. So I know you experienced perhaps some disruption in your business around then, right after you joined, about three years after you joined the company. Now granted it's very different, but maybe there are some things there that are similar that you drew from. I'm curious to hear about your experience.
Laurie: Let's start with the company values because that's the pillar and how have your company values helped drive your business decisions during the pandemic?
Elizabeth: Well, I mean, people. People are critical obviously, our team. There's so many things I read about like, your team has to be happy and feel purposeful in order to really produce and demonstrate the service level that we promise and our brand promise to our clients. So the thing that has been difficult though, during the pandemic is that we kept a lot of people on because just with unemployment and the fiasco with that, right, people to receive their checks. And I mean, there were times that you weren't really doing a lot, but I just didn't want to put people, to put my family, in that position. That was really hard. Now that before you and I, I think the last time we were going to speak, I had to furlough people.
Elizabeth: And we're hoping things will turn around in November. We gave it a three month furlough and they're all able to collect unemployment. But that was difficult, but it's what we had to do. I mean, there's so many travel businesses that are going out of business because maybe they were siloed or they were in a niche that's just not doing anything. And I've seen that happen with some of our clients and prospects where people just close their doors down because it was just too difficult to maintain just to kind of survive. So say I'm treading water right now. But that was really, it was hard for me to do that. But it's just what I had to do. And people, and what I like is most of my employees said, I understand it, and I want to have a place to come back to.
Elizabeth: So I get what you have to do, which is good. I mean, there's how many millions of people are employed right now. But no one wants to do that as an owner of a business, as a leader. You don't want to let people down, but I want to be here right. And that's why, I am just like, I just have to keep pushing and plugging right along to be here to get to the other side of the rainbow, that's what I always say.
Laurie: Get to the other side of the rainbow. Yeah, so what has been the impact? Again rough numbers, if you're able to share. Has it been half, is it down by half? Is it down by more than that?
Elizabeth: Yes. I mean, we used to run like 300 tickets a day, so significantly down from that. But I will tell you the thing is interesting back in March when everything kind of erupted, one of our clients said hey we have a travel ban in place until September 1st. And then, I thought, oh my god, it's going to take forever. And then September 1st was last week, right. And a week before that, the client reached out and said, hey, the travel ban is lifted. We're business as usual. So that was encouraging to me because I'm starting to see more of that. The thing though that's interesting is that despite the fact that this is happening, we applied and responded to RFPs and we won business, brought new clients on. It's all about this implementation, on-boarding time. We're doing virtual training. We have some clients that their kickoff date is October 1st, which is a couple of weeks from now.
Elizabeth: So we haven't slowed down. Right. We're still like, we had our pipeline that we're still working, because what we found is that if corporations didn't have a travel partner or had one, and the relationship wasn't strong, like if they were, if they're still waiting for refunds from airlines or we've run some hotels, is realize they wanted a strong relationship and a partner that really cared. And because of that, we were able to demonstrate that. So we've been able to win business just from other people that maybe weren't providing the service level. So it hasn't been terrible. And people think it's crazy that in COVID, but we've brought on twelve new accounts all across US. I just have to get to the point where they're all booking. We just want them to book. Right.
Laurie: That's right. But you've won the business. You have the sales process, as you said earlier, it's a well-oiled machine. I did get a question from someone in my audience that wanted to know about process changes around selling at this time. And because you brought it up, I'll ask you, have you changed the sales process at all?
Elizabeth: No, we're still kind of, we're doing what we've done in the past. Right. And it's like, it's interesting. You just, we have our prospect list, we have our pipeline, but still just following the process, connecting, Hey, is there anything that you need, how are things going? How was COVID handled? I mean, we actually had a number of conversations for our corporate clients and then general public about what the new travel experience will look like. And that's been very helpful because if you know what to expect when you're traveling you feel more comfortable. So a lot of those conversations, again, that we've had, and we've invited prospects to it, they're like, Oh, wow. Like, okay, so this is somebody that we can go to someone we can trust because people want to have a trusted advisor, right? Like one of our clients is The University of Missouri.
Elizabeth: We have not done a full onboard that was supposed to happen first quarter of this year. And obviously all of our plans have been changed, but there was someone there at the university who, I guess, wasn't that excited about this, but after they were trying to fight with the airlines and hotels, are like when are we bringing them on? Because we did that for a number of clients. I mean, we were working around the clock in March, because we were trying to obviously rescue people, get people back to the US all that kind of stuff. So we were working 24x7, and then obviously we continue to advocate for our clients. We were able to get refunds from hotels. And it was just a lot of that nudging and pushing, but it's nice to have somebody doing that for you who can leverage relationships on your behalf, instead of someone just calling 1-800 Delta and trying it yourself.
Elizabeth: We have so many stories and examples, because that's been a lot of the questions that we received. What have you been doing in COVID? How would you have handled the situation? We have a duty of care software. We can locate any travelers anywhere in the world. So that's helpful. So it's just things like that. And again, it's not being salesy, but it's being genuine. And I, and I know that I'm not for everyone and that's okay. And so if I talk to someone and it just doesn't seem like it's the right fit, then I'm fine with that because there are other opportunities out there. You can't get hung up on that one, that one opportunity that you don't win. Cause there's so many others. And I think that, you know, people know like they can reach out to me.
Elizabeth: I think that means different is that we've grown a lot, but I'm still like, even though I'm the President and still around, I'll still respond to emails. People are super surprised by that, but I will, because I want people to know, I know what's happening. I know what's going on. It's my job to do that again, regardless of the size of the client, if people are like, I'm responding to the client and they're like, you're the president. I don't think this is for you. I said, no it is. And I'll get this taken care of. It's just that kind of stuff. It's just never let your ego get so big that you forget like your customers are critical to your success. And just say, it takes one second to respond to an email and people really appreciate that. That you do care and you're not too big for your britches. Right?
Laurie: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's interesting too, that when you think about service and obviously service has been big part of your corporate DNA, and I'm sure a big part of what you talk about in RFPs and talking to prospective clients. But this client advocate role, maybe it was there, maybe it wasn't as high on the list as it is now. This could be millions of dollars back to companies that you've helped get, you know, secure back for them and, and sort of in the pitch. And as you said, it's not a salesy thing. It's just, hey, this is the value we provide. Maybe in the past, it was a footnote. Whereas now you're really going to stand behind that and you have a lot of examples to share. So it's part of the service mix. It's got a bigger part of that talk track.
Elizabeth: Agreed. And one thing that we did though. And this is something that other entrepreneurs and business leaders that are listening is that after we had some success, we asked for recommendations in video testimonials, and that was amazing, you know, on the corporate and on the leisure side. And just people were willing to say, thank god you were so helpful, right? I mean, and that's something that I would just remind people, like, I'm sure people have done amazing things for their clients. And like, there's nothing wrong with asking someone to give you a recommendation. And in this environment even more so now people want to be kind and they want to do something nice. So it's just like, again, take the time, ask the question and people will do it. So we had a number of video testimonials, and again, those are great examples of clients from all across the US that we were able to use to demonstrate this really being that client advocate and taking it seriously and going to bat for our clients.
Laurie: That's fantastic. So you shared some advice for small business leaders and kind of getting through this. What do you see as you head into 2021? What would you say are some of the top things for small business owners and CEOs to think about as they're looking ahead and maybe around reinventing their business?
Elizabeth: Yeah. I mean, I think everyone is using I think the buzz word is pivot, right? And I think that one thing that we did that was interesting, is that we reached out to a number of our suppliers that we book vacations with. And we started happy hours and we would do lunch and learns and invite people to attend these Zoom calls. We played some games, gave some things away. But we wanted people to continue to dream about travel. With the dreaming about travel we want them to, obviously we want to come to, we want to be the top of their mind as travel designers. Right. And that was just something that I think my team thought it was a little crazy, but then as we started doing it, they're like, this makes a lot of sense. Like, this is great. It's a great platform.
Elizabeth: It's a good way for us to talk about the places all over the world. And then recently we focused on domestic locations because as you know, we're unfortunately US passport holders are banned from traveling to a number of places that will change. But for the moment though, there's so many wonderful places here in the US. We started, we talked about RV trips where we're planning luxury RV trips and train trips for people. So, yeah. So my point is, is that there just have to think about what's out there. There's an opportunity there. And so I'd say to business owners and leaders right now start thinking about that. And really, I love saying to my team, like, what do you think? Do you have an idea? It's just like collaborating and everyone coming together is really helpful, but you've gotta be able to kind of adjust and ebb and flow and be creative.
Elizabeth: I mean, I posted something on Facebook about RV trips. I had like 200 shares and I forget how many comments, it was insane. Right. And my team was like blown away. And it's just things like that because people want to continue to dream. People want to travel, but they want to do it safely. And they want to be, they want to make sure they’re social distancing and that the social distancing practices are in place. But it really is like, think about it. Is there something that you could, that you're not doing right now that could really appeal to your clients? And even though we posted about RV trips thing that was interesting is that other trips came from that. So maybe like after digging deeper and learning more about RV trips, maybe it's just like, well, I want to do something else. Maybe the RV trip isn't for me, but it was just that sparked something else to get them to book multiple trips with us.
Elizabeth: It's just that kind of stuff. And again, there you are like not hard selling, but just saying, hey, this is something to think about. You're encouraging people to dream. And I think in business in general, that's what we need to do as business owners, what can I offer my clients, maybe they're not getting. I just think it's something that has been really helpful for us. The other thing too that we started doing a couple years ago, and I've said this to other travel company owners is that we charge service fees for leisure because people would call us and they'd want us to do all this research. They take all the research and book it themselves. Well, all of the people that work for me, they still have to be paid, right. So I said, wait a minute, you're coming to us, we are the expert.
Elizabeth: It's a consultation fee. However, we answer your call if you're traveling, we're available 24x7, we deal with every aspect of it. I mean some things are so detailed when people want us to plan meals or excursions, and that's fine. It depends on the client, could be a step by step itinerary, no problem. But again, you’re paying for our expertise and our knowledge and our relationships and people see the value in that. So I would say to business owners, is there another way you can generate revenue? Is there a local partner that maybe you could partner with? Like, I'm talking to some local businesses here in Columbus about possibly partnering together on some travel items. Just something like that, again, to continue to reinforce your brand. There's just so many possibilities out there. And I think that some people are really overwhelmed and they're kind of digging themselves into a hole. And you just want to just get to pull yourself out of that and see other people that I can partner with locally. We could do something different to promote my brand and their company. So I rambled, but…
Laurie: Yeah, no, no. And thinking differently. And, maybe there is a pivot in there and it starts with that strategy of what can we do, and getting your team together and collaborating. So those are all, those are all great ideas. And you mentioned road trips. So I did a little research because I was curious of what the most popular road trip destinations in the United States have been recently. So I don't know if this is consistent with what you've seen. Number one state being Wyoming.
Elizabeth: Oh yes. Absolutely. Yep. It is.
Laurie: Followed by Montana and South Dakota.
Elizabeth: Yep absolutely. Just as far west as people can go to. It's true. There are a lot of outdoor activities.
Laurie: Beautiful destinations maybe they wouldn't have normally gone to. I love the idea. A friend of mine owns an RV manufacturing, a niche manufacturing company. I think they've been enjoying some of the bounce back to RVing, so that's good for them. So how do you think about legacy? Are you starting to bring in some other family members? Are you starting, I mean, you're still very much in the business. You're not looking to retire anytime soon, but you’re second generation, do you have any thoughts about one day this being a third generation company?
Elizabeth: Know what, I'm not sure. It's interesting you brought that up because I started thinking about that recently. I mean, I don't know. I mean, right now my husband and I, we have a little dog, and my sister has her dog, so we don't have anyone that we would pass it off to. But I do have a niece and nephew, they might be interested, but I need to start thinking about it. I think I've just been like, just on the grind, you know what I mean so much that I haven’t.
Elizabeth: It is a good question, I need to give it some thought for sure.
Laurie: Certainly not for tomorrow, but people do say it takes a while. So I understand that it can. Yeah, for sure. So some quick questions for you. One of them is if there were no travel restrictions, where would you be right now?
Elizabeth: Okay, I was supposed to be cruising the Greek Islands right now. I had a cruise that was booked. Every year I put together a President's cruise. We were starting in Athens and ending in Venice and I'm so sad. We canceled it in March. So that's where I would be. I'd probably be in Mykonos or Santorini right now, just cruising, you know, in the Mediterranean and living my best life. That's where I would be.
Laurie: Beautiful. Once you said you can dream it, you can see it at a time. If you were going to write a book about your life, what would the title of it be?
Elizabeth: Failure is not an option.
Laurie: That's a good title. What do you think is the most difficult part about being a leader?
Elizabeth: Being strong all the time. And you know, during COVID people are looking to me to be the strength and the leader. And I was able to do that, but there are moments when you're just like, can I do this anymore? And you can, and you will. And you figure it out. But as a leader, people can't see you, you can't break down. You've always have to, you know, have that, that strong position. You have to always have to have your head on straight and know where you're going, because people are looking to you to drive to drive the ship or drive the boat. And because of that, that was really hard, but I've gotten through it and I'm better. And no one ever saw me break down because you can't do that.
Elizabeth: But that's really hard though. It's hard to lead a company. And then as you know, sometimes it can be lonely, right. And it's nice to be able to talk to other business owners to get their perspective. And that's, what's been nice too, during this time I've had so many people I could just reach out to, we just have a transparent conversation. How are you doing? How are things going? And what do you need? And sometimes it's just having a listening ear. Right. And there were so many things like things happened where at unfortunately I've had to fire, a couple of people quit. And with that, it was a weird time to do it during the pandemic, but it was the right time. Right. Because it gave me time to really reevaluate, figure out there were some things that weren't going well, that should have been taken care of for my clients.
Elizabeth: So now during this kind of this lull, this kind of quiet time, we're able to get things together. Right. And where everything that we promised, we were delivering that, and that it was a hard thing. But I mean, I think that my team looked me and they're like, wow, she knows a lot about this business. She knows everything about it. And this person or these people that are leaving, they are no big deal. And I think that people see that and they feel comfortable and confident and they're like, wow, okay, I'm fine. Where I am. Because people, I mean, think about that when you're, you're responsible for people's livelihood for their vacations, they can go on for the things they want to buy for their kids sports. They want their kids to participate in for their mortgages, all that kind of stuff.
Elizabeth: And it's a big feat, but it's one that I know that I welcome. It's one thing that drives me every day is the fact that I'm providing a place for people to work, to grow, to be respected, and to see the opportunity, but also to have a good life. And I think that so many people looked at that and realized like I really do care. And that's what I want people to understand that work here. I do care about you. I'm gonna do everything I can. And this business will still be here. But there's also like that other side that people won't talk about where it's like, this is really hard, but you get, it's really hard, but you get through it.
Laurie: You get through it and it can be lonely at the top. Do you have a favorite saying about entrepreneurship?
Elizabeth: I do.
“A no leads to a better yes.”
Elizabeth: So many times I was told no. And then something was so much better. And it's my favorite saying, I always tell people that is, I know is just, it's a redirection to something that you never even expected. If my mind is always been blown. I'll tell you when I first started working in the business and respond to RFPs and I would just get depressed if we didn't win it. And then I realized, like there were reasons for that. I had a bigger opportunities and better opportunities because of those no’s.
Laurie: I love that, I love that. If someone wants to learn more, Elizabeth, about you, or UniGlobe Travel Designers, how do they find you?
Elizabeth: Okay. So I'm on Instagram, it's @UniglobeTD, and then it's UniGlobeTravelDesigners.com. I'm on Facebook and we have a LinkedIn page as well. But that's a good way to reach out to us if there are any questions about travel. There are a lot of restrictions out there. There's still some states that require quarantine. So I'm saying to people, if you're interested in going somewhere consult a travel expert, just so that you don't fly someplace in your quarantine for two weeks and you don't even get to see your family, or you're not able to attend your meeting. So just make sure just to enlist an expert. If we use experts for so many different things, use one. Now it's just nice to have that relationship and that advocate, it's nice to have you on their side.
Laurie: Elizabeth, thank you so much for being with me today. It was great to talk to you and I really learned a lot. Thank you.
Elizabeth: Thank you so much, Laurie. I appreciate it.
Innovation. Transition. Growth. Easy to say but hard to do. If you’re an entrepreneur facing these challenges, I get it. I work with businesses - from small to big - for strategic planning with your team to achieve your vision. Visit smalldotbig.com to schedule a call with me. I’d love to connect with you.
Be sure to catch the next Succession Stories episode with more insights for next generation entrepreneurs. Thanks for listening!
Laurie Barkman is a Business Growth Advisor | Entrepreneurship Instructor | Host of Succession Stories Podcast| CEO of SmallDotBig working with owners to accelerate business value and achieve their goals.