“This job takes time to develop, but one day you’ll find yourself so busy you won’t know how you got there,” Laura Epstein of SmartFlyer says. “When this time comes, don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to say no, and don’t be afraid to charge a fee.”
It’s a formula that has brought Epstein’s business, with its niche in luxury and family travel, about $3 million worth of sales this year.
Over the years her original base of honeymooners has come back for babymoons, and then for trips with their own babies, and then toddlers and teens. But arguably the biggest step she took was in 2015, when she initiated a planning fee.
“Charging a fee made me feel more loyal to those clients who understand how critical the fees were to their having a fantastic experience, as we were equally committed to working with one another,” she says. While she at first was concerned the fee would cost her business, a number of new clients have said they chose her precisely because the fee made her process seem more professional.
“I love being part of a child’s first travel experience and making sure everything goes off without a hitch,” she says. “It isn’t by chance that my team and I have titled ourselves ‘Memory Makers’ on our business cards.”
Epstein caught the travel bug in college, when she spent four months sailing to 10 countries through the Semester at Sea program. For her master’s degree in International Studies she wrote her thesis on the positive effects of tourism on the economic status of impoverished communities around the world. Her first job was at an international non-profit organization focused on promoting U.N. programs — but soon she was off on “a little sabbatical,” traveling through Fiji, Australia, Senegal and Southern Africa.
Then 10 years ago, she came upon Virtuoso and got a job at a small agency in Florida. But in 2016, when her sales were booming and she was eight months pregnant, she and her husband moved to Atlanta — and she found SmartFlyer.
“SmartFlyer really worked with me to come up with a great solution to my maternity leave,” she says. “They ensured their house team would support my travel coordinator, Angie, in my absence, and ultimately support my growing team.”
She credits SmartFlyer’s strong air team with helping her in an area where she “wanted to be more proactive and comfortable and needed a human element,” she says.
The formula for success, she says, comes down to two simple steps: simply being nice to customers and to suppliers, and prompt in responding to client requests — even if it’s just to say their message has been received. “It’s doing the simple things over and over again that make the biggest difference,” she notes.
She also credits her own staff, Angie Smith and Alison White (among them, they have six children under the age of 12).
Moving into 2020, “It’s super important for me to continue to travel, to stay relevant and keep up with my travel education,” she says.
She attended DUCO in Florence and took her family to Blackberry Mountain and to Grand Velas and Rosewood in Riviera Maya in 2019; coming up are trips to London, Harbour Island in the Bahamas, and Kenya.