Here’s How One Business Quadrupled Its Sales in a Flat Market

For many leaders of smaller businesses, sustainable growth can be difficult to conjure up.  If that sounds like you, I’d like to introduce you to a company that should give you hope.

Consider these results:

  • This company has averaged 19% compounded annual growth over the last 8 years, with annual growth never less than 6% during this period.
  • This company doubled sales in one five-year period, and nearly quadrupled sales in eight years.
  • Notably, this growth was earned in a mature market that can be challenging to sell to.

And they did it without relying on any “secrets,” gimmicks or silver bullets.

Intrigued?  Let’s get to know them a little better.

Meet Bob Rogers Travel

Let’s suppose that, next spring, your daughter will be joining her high school band on its biannual trip to the Walt Disney World Resort.  This is meant to look pretty seamless to you, the parent.  You may be asked to cut a check, or to assist in the fundraising.

But it’s a major undertaking for your daughter’s band director.  And much needs to happen behind the scenes to enable a successful trip.

Itineraries need to be created, down to the minute.  Air and coach travel, performance venues, clinics, sight-seeing and meals need to be arranged.  Let’s not forget all those instruments that have to be transported.  And, most importantly, the safety and security of the travelers must be ensured.

In the industry, this is called “student performance travel.”  It includes bands, choirs, orchestras and dance teams.  And it’s what Bob Rogers Travel specializes in.

Bob Rogers Travel was founded in 1981 by (drum roll) Bob Rogers.  A former high school band director, Bob founded the company because he had struggled to find a reliable travel partner, and he figured other educators had the same problem.  That’s one way to get a business off the ground – solve a difficult problem for someone.

Matthew Fenton Chicago Brand Strategy
Today, Tami and Todd Rogers run Bob Rogers Travel, the company their father founded in 1981.

Today, BRT is run by Bob’s children, Todd and Tami Rogers.  With home offices in Naperville, IL, the team is now three dozen employees strong in seven states.  To date, Bob Rogers Travel has served over 450,000 travelers on more than 5,500 trips.  They’ve won many awards along the way, including the prestigious Partners Award from the Walt Disney World Resort.

I’ve been consulting with Bob Rogers Travel on their brand and business strategy since 2011, and I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality of their people and the clarity of their purpose.  But how exactly do you quadruple your business in a flat market?  Here’s what’s worked for BRT:

Sharp Focus

The two most important questions in strategy are “Where will we play?” and “How will we win?”  Bob Rogers Travel has made clear choices for both.

Matthew Fenton Chicago Brand StrategyImportantly, they’ve chosen to be specialists.  They’ve decided to do fewer things, better.  That’s the right choice for challenger brands in almost every instance.

“We’ve had opportunities to grow this business in different directions, and those opportunities exist today,” says Todd Rogers, Vice President of Sales.  “But we’ve elected to stay focused on what we do best.  We grow by going deeper and getting better, not by going wider and losing focus.”

Knowing what they do – and don’t do – is key at BRT.  Is your team crystal-clear on where to play and how to win?

Service

Every brand is a service brand.  Even if you sell products, you’re ultimately serving the needs of people.

Matthew Fenton Chicago Brand StrategyRecall that Bob Rogers Travel was founded by a band director who wanted to help other directors.  To this day, BRT employs over a dozen former directors and educators.  It’s easier to serve someone when you’ve walked a few miles in their shoes.

BRT’s travel consultants are encouraged to ask a lot of questions at the start of the planning process – and to build each trip accordingly.  “The biggest thing is getting to know your client and their goals,” says Lisa Kennedy, Sales Coordinator.  “Every trip is different, because the goals are different.”

Throughout the planning process, the service mentality prevails.   Team members are expected to be in front of – and all over – every detail.  “We serve our clients by taking a huge amount of stress away, so they can focus on the music and being with their students,” says Jenn Shiplet, Senior Travel Coordinator.  “Their plates are already stacked high as directors – if you can take one worry or concern off their plate, it’s huge.”

Is your team truly committed to serving – to making the world a better place for a certain group of humans?

Focus on the Fundamentals

When you look closely at Zappos, they’re not winning based on any breakthrough idea.  It’s a combination of several basic things done extremely well.  At Bob Rogers Travel, the “wow factor” is also in getting the basics very, very right.

BRT team members are expected to exhibit (and are measured on) behaviors like:

  • Timely communication and rapid response times
  • Thorough, accurate work
  • Anticipating needs, not reacting to them
  • A personal touch

“Trip numbers aren’t the sign of success,” says Kim Mikitka, Travel Coordinator.  “It’s loyalty.  And that’s a result of effort, attention, energy, hard work, dedication, focus.”

Forget gimmicks.  Is your team getting the fundamentals right?  How do you know?

Culture & Values

“We hire people who care about people.  You don’t need a master’s degree for that,” says Tami Rogers, Vice President of Business Management.  “We want genuine, real people here.”

That matters because every employee at Bob Rogers Travel has frequent contact with customers.  In other words, the employees are the brand.

Not everyone can cut it at BRT.  Success requires a combination of skills that can be hard to come by, but interpersonal skills are top of the list.  You could be crushing your to-do list, but that won’t get you far if you don’t play well with others.  (I’ve been a consultant for 20 years, and BRT’s offices are perhaps the friendliest I’ve ever been in.)

“I’ve been here for 10 years, and that was the first thing that was discussed when we started to work at BRT – you’re here to build relationships,” says Candace Brown, Travel Consultant.  “As soon as you take that for granted, things go badly.  We’ve grown this company because of this.”

Are you clear on what your culture is all about – on “what’s in” and “what’s out”?

Summing Up

I told you at the top that there was no “secret formula” at play, no magic pixie dust that you could sprinkle onto your own business.  And you don’t need those things.  Bob Rogers Travel has quadrupled sales without them.

Ultimately, it’s a simple recipe: Know who you are, who you serve and how you do that better than anyone else.  Then make that sing every day, in everything you do.  Do that consistently, improving as you go.  You’ll soon find yourself in a space that only you can claim.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands, including Wrigley, Valvoline and Fidelity Investments, to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2018 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.

A version of this article was originally published at BizJournals.com and appears here with permission.