October 22, 2014

Surviving and Thriving During Hard Times

Diane Sears | 3/2/2009

Catering to the Customer


[Photo: Daniel Portnoy]
Olga Ramudo
President and CEO
Company: Express Travel
Location: Miami
Founded: 1989
Employees: 32
Revenue: $23 million in 2007

Description: Travel management services, specializing in corporate, meetings and incentives, vacation, cruises and study abroad. Clients pay the company to make their travel arrangements, and the company can get them better rates or a higher level of product because it receives discounts, upgrades or both for buying “in bulk.”

Biggest economic challenge: Remaining competitive while maintaining growth and profit margins. Yesterday’s travel agencies have reinvented themselves in the past decade in an atmosphere where many people now make their own travel arrangements on the Internet. “When airlines discontinued commissions, the whole industry changed to services,” Ramudo says. “There are people who always pay to get things done. I can do my laundry or take it to a dry cleaner. I can cook or go out to eat. I can clean or pay someone to do it. That time element, now more than ever, is valuable. We sell time and we sell expertise. A friend told me, ‘You know why I use you and not the Internet? With the Internet, I’m never sure I’m getting the best.’”

Survival secrets: The company attracts new and repeat business by staying involved in the community, where Ramudo serves on six local boards, and educating people about what it does. Also, the company constantly keeps in touch with preferred clients and vendors, putting an emphasis on customer service. Express Travel has had the same staff since it was founded, and some accounts have been with the business for as long as 15 years.

Results: The company was on track for a $3 million increase in revenue in 2008, even in a down economy. Ramudo says vendors such as cruise lines were asking her, “What in the world are you people doing? Nobody is up.”

Challenges for 2009: Even though the business hasn’t felt the impact of the economic downturn, Ramudo is concerned about 2009 because of the forecasts. Her plan: “Continuing to motivate and reward our staff in order to give the great service that has earned our reputation and, in turn, continue to receive referral business.”

Advice for other business owners: “Continue to work hard, don’t be afraid of the long hours, believe in what you are doing and what you can provide your customers, and — last but not least — hang in there. This, too, shall pass.”

Tags: Florida Small Business, Entrepreneur

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