Teamwork, training and leading by example are key precepts of military service. For Matt Schumacher, they’re core components of a success strategy.
The Chicago native is a six-year Army veteran. Not-so-subtle military references abound in the host agency he launched last year.
Based in Waseca, MN, the company is called Travel Troops LLC. Schumacher serves as its “Commander in Chief.”
Schumacher’s Army experience shows through in more profound ways as well.
“The brotherhood you find in the military teaches you to always watch out for each other. That’s one of the principals I live by with Travel Troops,” he tells Travel Agent.
It’s a philosophy that’s helped fuel his rapid-fire success.
After completing his tour of duty at Ft. Benning, GA, Schumacher spent 12 years in the retail business. He worked for Best Buy, Walmart and the sales services company, Cydcor. It’s at Cydcor that he worked with Randy Alleyne, now president of Liberty Travel.
Schumacher eventually moved into travel himself by taking a BDM position with Sandals and Beaches.
“It was a natural progression for me. They were looking for people who weren’t used to working 8-5. It made a really good fit. My main job was to help educate agents in my area, which was Minnesota and the Dakotas. It was extremely valuable because I met a lot of agents,” said Schumacher.
In fact, one of his duties was to escort top performers to the resorts. He started building relationships that would soon come in handy.
After four years as a BDM, Schumacher moved on to a prominent host agency in Minneapolis.
“I was in business development, working with independent contractors and also vendors. It was the best training I ever had. It gave me tons of contacts within the industry, and enabled me to see all the different aspects of it,” said Schumacher.
One particular aspect of the business made Schumacher take notice.
“I had seen a recurring trend for a while. That is, suppliers would tell me that agents weren’t getting enough support, development and training from their hosts. Everyone was fending for themselves,” said Schumacher.
In June 2015, he decided to branch out on his own with a different kind of business model. He opened Travel Troops a short time later, quickly signing up ten agents.
“I explained the business model we were building. It grew pretty quickly from those original ten,” he said.
Eight months in, Travel Troops is host to more than 50 agents (none affiliated with his previous employer).
Agent experience levels range from newcomer to 24 years in the business. Most are home-based, with a few storefronts on the team as well. Agents pay a monthly fee, for which they receive access to VCRM, one-on-one mentoring plus commissions of 50 to 100 percent.
Schumacher’s prior work experience enabled him to hit the ground running with suppliers.
“From the outset, we were able to negotiate top-tier commission with five tour operators. That was with zero dollars on the books, simply based on the existing relationship,” said Schumacher.
The company also affiliated with Ensemble-member Consortia X.
“We will support Ensemble’s preferred suppliers, but we aren’t going to sell only them. It all depends on the best fit for client needs,” said Schumacher.
Three agents are Europe specialists.
“Europe has been a huge learning experience for me. But it’s also been very profitable. One of my agents is from Russia and has a pretty unique perspective,” he said.
The business is seeing an increase in destination weddings, honeymoons and adventure travel requests. The latter niche holds personal interest for Schumacher.
“Un-Cruise Adventures is a partner. I’m a big diver. The Sea of Cortez trips they do are amazing,” he said.
In fact, Travel Troops puts dive trips together for three different dive shops.
“We sell a lot of Fiji and Tahiti, which are on most divers’ bucket lists. I’m open to expanding anywhere, as long as we can get the right partners,” said Schumacher.
He’s also determined not to overwhelm his agents.
“We’re different in that if agents have questions, they don’t need to ask outside of the group. We have an internal web page that we monitor closely. We all help each other out. Our motto is ‘leave no agent behind.’ We truly believe that. I don’t want to see anybody struggling,” he added.
Personalized attention is a key to that goal.
Schumacher checks in with each agent weekly by phone. He strategizes with them on prospects and marketing plans. Once agents hit $200,000 in sales, they can access a marketing fund to help cover expenses.
At the moment, the Travel Troop staff consists of Schumacher plus one assistant. With agents spread out across the country, work hours are extensive.
“I have an office downstairs in my home. I’m usually at my desk by 6 or 6:30. I work all day. I’m also available in the evenings for phone calls, emails and texts. Sometimes if I’m at my daughter’s volleyball game, I need to get back to people. I’ve not quite figured out the right balance,” said Schumacher.
He and his wife (who works outside the home) have two “very active” teens, aged 13 and 15.
Schumacher plans to take a road trip in the second quarter of 2016 to meet his agents in person. And, he wants to bring the entire “troop” to Mexico soon for a three-day seminar.
In the meantime, training, support and mentoring remain top goals.
In addition to supplier webinars, agent training includes webinars featuring non-industry professionals. One recent session featured an advertising and marketing expert.
“We also did a training with another agency that’s incredibly successful. We asked them to share their sales strategy,” said Schumacher.
The Travel Troops strategy includes a healthy expansion of supplier and vendor relationships. But when it comes to adding agents, Schumacher is more cautious.
“I have no desire to be huge. I don’t want to be a card mill. I want to be known for quality over quantity. If we grow beyond 150 or 200, we will lose the personal touch,” he said.
Already, he’s turning away agents who aren’t a good fit.
“It doesn’t mater what your sales are. Are you serious about the business? That’s the key question. I don’t care if an agent is full or part time, as long as the right work ethic is there,” said Schumacher.
It’s a work ethic that his days at Ft. Benning helped instill in him.
“I am so thankful that I get to do something I love. I work with amazing agents. They give us their trust. I consider us really blessed in that way,” he said.