What were some advantages and disadvantages for you being the first franchisee?
The disadvantages were that you talk about long-term goals and where the company wants to be, and it's very easy to think that's going to happen quickly. Creating a brand, doing TV advertising, getting that critical mass, being able to negotiate supplier programs-having those advantages for your clients and for your bottom line can't happen soon enough when you're there at the beginning.
All the programs, systems and tools we have today-all that's been developed in the last 20 years-were all just coming in the beginning. Everything was new, and it could only happen so fast.
While at times I was frustrated it didn't happen overnight, I also looked at it from the standpoint that this is my first business venture, I want it to be successful, so I have a choice: I can sit around and complain and be part of the problem, or I can see how I can help address the situation, move it along and be part of the solution. While I was always very outspoken and always let my concerns be known, I tried to do it in a constructive way, to always find a way to make sure our goals were mutual and help us get there faster. Had I not been there at the beginning, I probably wouldn't have had that opportunity. I wouldn't have had access to the founder of the company, and I like to think I played a part in how the organization turned out. That gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I don't think you get that same opportunity when a company has several hundred offices.
What was your relationship with the franchisor like in the beginning?
My relationship with the franchisor was always quite good. I was very competitive and aggressive in the marketplace. I was pretty clear on what the role of the franchisor was: to give me guidance and provide me with programs and systems. It was up to me to adapt [the systems] to my marketplace and do something with them.
What I got back from the franchisor was a gauge as to how I was doing. And that was invaluable, because you're working very hard and you have to know your energies are going in the right direction. Sometimes they weren't, and the franchisor would be candid with me, telling me I should be working on the business, not in it. It was very easy for me to fall back into the mode of booking travel, and [the franchisor] was very clear that my role was developing it, and, if I limited myself to the day-to-day booking, I would limit the growth and development of my business.
It was always an open relationship. I'm sure there were times [the franchisor] didn't like what I had to say and vice versa, but we always came at it from sort of a mutually positive perspective.
How did things change as more franchisees came into the system? Was your access to the franchisor limited?
No, it never really was, maybe because I had been there at the beginning, I could always pick up the phone and call anyone and get a response. I never felt it became more restricted. When they asked me to move to Vancouver and become regional president, that was sort of recognition [for me]. Because of the constant communication over the five years, we had a pretty solid understanding of each other's value systems and goals, objectives and ways we approach the business.
Because you were the first franchisee, did you feel you had any extra kind of power in dealing with the franchisor?
I don't know if I would call it "power," and I never really thought of it as being the first. I believe being there at the beginning and having that opportunity to be a part of creating something that turned out to be phenomenal is like going through any big event. I hate to liken it to a natural disaster, but you hear of strangers who are in an earthquake together who are afterward forever connected. It's almost been that kind of an experience.