Independent agents looking for a success story might find Ralph Iantosca, owner and founder of GoGirl.Travel, a source of inspiration. Iantosca is not only reporting a good year of solid growth for his six-year-old agency but expects even more growth in 2014.
Iantosca has not only navigated the tricky transition from independent agent to agency owner, but has done so in a coveted and the highly competitive luxury market.
The numbers tell part of his story. "I am seeking to grow the agency with new advisors - adding one or two per year who wish to focus on active and specialty travel with a luxury and adventure focus. I see about 15 percent growth in 2014 over 2013. We had a 36 percent increase in sales from 2012, " Iantosca told Travel Agent. "My personal sales four years ago were about $541,000, this year I will have $2.3 million in gross sales."
Iantosca's secret? "A unique business model. My model serves very affluent women - 'the decision maker' - and we offer 100 percent custom tailored 'fee' based service only in the leisure luxury market. We are a boutique style agency, focused on the relationship between the client and advisor."
What lessons can be learned from Iantosca’s experience? "First lesson, becoming consistent with our unique advisory process, including how to charge fees on a consistent basis. How to interview a client in-depth 'before' starting any work to be sure the client fully understands what we do, how we do it, what 'we' are looking for in a new customer and what 'we' expect from the customer, as well as what 'we' will deliver to them with our fee. Managing expectations is important."
"We must be happy with who we serve, and the customer needs to be happy with who they work with. We no longer have anyone coming to us 'shopping' for a trip, or price- instead, we have an engagement together with a full review with the client with clarity to avoid any disappointment."
"In addition, this allows us to tailor their experience with a much higher level of service, adding fabulous options to their trip they would never have considered, also adding revenue to the agency with these add-ons," he notes.
Iantosca’s background is diverse and a big part of his success. "I entered the industry in 1990 after completing travel school in Vancouver, Wa. I worked for a brief time at Horizon Air. In 1993, I started with AAA Travel, Great Falls, MT. In June 1994 I opened the AAA Travel office in Kalispell Montana. I learned the business hands-on selling mainstream travel."
"In 1997 I moved to Dallas with AAA Texas and worked until August 1998. In August 1998, I went to work for American Express and stepped up into a 'luxury specialist' role, selling high-end Regent Cruises, Abercrombie & Kent programs, and also started to travel overseas escorting my own groups."
"In 2001, right after 9/11, I became an independent agent with American Express travel, developing more group business and traveling all over Europe, Africa, and South America. Travel & Leisure awarded me 'A-list' status in 2003 & 2004."
"In 2005, I departed American Express and became an independent agency owner and developed GoGirl.Travel LLC. My goal when opening GoGirl.Travel was to focus on higher end travel for women," he notes.
Then came Virtuoso. "Virtuoso asked me to join in December 2009. What I loved was taking all of my clients on Mediterranean, Baltic, Greek Isle cruises and doing all of my private shore excursions with special wine tours and fabulous epicurean experiences, as well as archeology programs."
Another key reason for his success is his lasting love of travel. "I’ve managed to escort safaris year after year, was on the board and served as president for APTA (Association for the Promotion of Tourism to Africa) for the Dallas Chapter, and taught a program 'Africa 101.' I've taken a client 'around the world' on a private program and have traveled extensively averaging 2.5 months of travel per year."
"I decided to grow my business by moving from agent to 'advisor' in 2011 and learned a very unique process that has increased our bottom line and given us more time to invest in each customer, which now we are working on extensive planning with bucket list options."
Iantosca is a big booster of his Virtuoso affiliation and attributes much of his success to it. "I'm so proud to be affiliated with such an innovative group. I served on the innovation team in 2012 and 2013. I love the perks and amenities my clients receive, and the buying power of the network on the luxury level. Being a member has grown my sales from $541,000 in 2010, to $2.3 in 2013. The return on investment has been huge."
"What I love is the type of business I do today is nothing like it was when I joined. I love having a high end luxury clientele who only seek the best, the work is satisfying and interesting- a new day every day.” One result: Iantosca was named one of Travel Agent’s Top 25 Agents in 2010.