Brownell Travel had just recently moved in to its posh new headquarters in Birmingham, AL, when we caught up with them for their August 2011 cover story. The fancy new digs, with lovely earth tones, clean lines, high-tech touches and beautiful travel imagery, were designed “to collect the excitement and energy of Brownell,” said president, Troy Haas at the time. Built to be as inviting as possible to clients and new travel advisors, the new offices seem to be accomplishing that goal. Brownell is now garnering $120 million a year in annual revenue; that’s up from $75 million-plus in 2011.
Troy Haas, who still heads up the agency, says the increase also certainly comes from those consumers in search of a good travel advisor. “Travelers need help editing the information they find on the Internet and are turning towards travel advisors at a breakneck pace. Families and couples are searching for meaning and experiences, not things. Travel fits the bill perfectly,” says Haas.
A focus on client interaction and a good look at those customers who provide the best business is another ingredient to Brownell’s success.
“Revenues have continued to climb at a steady clip, and we remain focused on further developing and advancing our trademarked ‘Discover More’ process,” says Haisley Smith, vice president of marketing and development for the 128-year-old agency. Discover More is what Brownell calls “a collaborative experience for clients who understand travel is more than making a trip. Our role is to become your trusted advisor for your most treasured resource … your time away.”
Brownell recently did a significant database analysis to look at its most loyal, profitable clients, “the type of people who value, and will pay for, the expertise we offer,” says Smith. “Our focus for the past 18 months has been on growing referrals and recognizing our top clients. The results have been very gratifying, referrals are the lion’s share of our new business and the cost of acquisition is incredibly low.”
Haas notes that there are certain key characteristics to running a successful business. “Much has changed in the 128 years Brownell has been in business, but one thing has remained constant — a laser-like focus and practice of our core values. By basing our business on values instead of products, we have survived two world wars, 9/11, the ‘death of the travel agent,’ and continue to grow,” says Haas, whose most recent travels have taken him to Argentina for Brownell’s top producers awards trip, to South Africa for an exclusive educational trip for Brownell advisors and on a boat charter around the BVI with his family.
The uber-agency also continues its mentoring program, launched in 2006 to recruit new talent. The 12-month curriculum has reaped its rewards; in 2011, it had 12 graduates who were bringing in an average of $800,000 apiece in revenue, and that’s without prior experience in selling travel. “What I love about what we’re doing is that we’re investing in the longevity and future of this business,” says Brownell's executive vice president, Meg North.