Written By: Jennifer Dugan, Chief Family Officer – Dugan’s Travels
22 years ago, I was a brand-new mom. I had been a travel agent for 3 years. I worked at a few different agencies and figured I would go back to work after my son was born. I tried to do so, and it broke my heart to leave him. At that time, the term “working from home” wasn’t as common as it is now. I found a book about being a work-at-home mom and found a travel agency that had agents working from their homes. I remember making the phone call to speak to the owner. I remember being nervous and feeling like I was not living up to her expectations as she asked me questions. Truth be known, I had little business experience and I was only 22 years old myself. I remember her saying to me, “I am afraid it sounds like you are not cut out to be a work at home travel agent.”
That rejection might have been just what I needed. I often wish I could remember who it was that I spoke with so that I could thank her for that push I needed to find my way. The local agency I had been working for did have a few agents that worked from home, so I asked if I could do so too. The owner agreed, but said that commission would be 40% and I would have to pay monthly to have my computer system at home. That was the beginning of my career as a home-based travel agent.
Once I had started building up my own customers, I realized I was not making enough commission. I started reaching out to other agencies and before long I was at 50% commission. I tried a few more different hosts including my last, where I began taking on my own agents under me. I found other moms who were interested in travel. Since I knew how I was treated with experience, I doubted anyone else would want to take someone on without experience. I was willing to train those who were interested in being agents but lacked experience, and Dugan’s Travels was really born in that moment. I created a 25 page handbook that helped with the basics. I had to mail it out because there was no way of sending such a big file over the internet at the time. I was on dial up!
Before I knew it, I had 160 agents under me. It was getting harder and harder to manage the fact that I was only making 75% with the host agency and then giving my agents their cut. I also often didn’t get paid and it made me look bad. Finally, I decided it was time to go completely on my own. I needed to be in control of my own destiny. The host agency I was working with was not too happy with my leaving and told me they hoped I would go down in flames.
I took all that experience with other agencies to build on my agency. I didn’t want anyone to feel like they were owned by me. I didn’t want anyone to feel like I told them what to do. I really wanted to make it the best environment I could. Somewhere people would feel connected and want to stay, and I believe I accomplished it since so many of those early agents are still with me today. Many of them have become a part of a support team for all of the other agents.
This is not to say I didn’t make mistakes along the way. I got too big for my britches at one point with over 1,000 agents! It wasn’t working and my team urged me to make changes. Changes meant being more selective on who we took on as an agent. It was very hard for me at first because my desire was for anyone to be able to join the agency. However, this isn’t a business that just anyone can do. It does take someone who is going to put in the effort to learn travel and the patience to see it through.
We are now celebrating 20 years of hosting agents! To think someone once told me I did not have what it took to be an agent from home makes me realize how important it is to recognize our struggles and adversities as blessings and necessary steps along our path, because that rejection ultimately led me to the spark of an idea that built my entire home-based career and served so many others as well. We are blocked from doing certain things for a reason, because those detours will lead us to where we are really meant to be and help us to find even better paths to take. What I have learned from this journey I’ve been on is to keep working for the things that matter to you, and most importantly even if you face challenges along the way, do not give up.