With a background in travel and present-day focus on raising her two small children, Lori Jahner set out to find work she enjoyed that would give her the flexibility she needed.
The 33-year-old from Aurora, Colo. decided on Cruise Planners American Express Travel, a home-based travel agent network headquartered in Coral Springs.
They have so much training to offer, ongoing education, and the branded name alone is so reputable and distinctive, Jahner said. Out of all the ones that I kind of looked into, this is the one that was standing out. More or less, its just the perfect opportunity so that I can do what I love, which is raising my kids but also selling travel.
She has plenty of company. More than 850 franchise owners around the country are actively selling travel through Cruise Planners after paying startup costs that range from zero to $9,995. Those costs cover initial and continued training, marketing and advertising programs, a website, accounting and customer management software and support from the home office.
Fueled by everyone from stay-at-home moms to firefighters and retirees, the number of franchisees has grown by 14 percent annually for the last few years.
That has not gone unnoticed by cruise lines, who welcome more voices pitching their product.
I think they are very important, said Camille Olivere, Norwegian Cruise Lines senior vice president of sales in North America. Theyre big supporters of ours and theyre bringing new people into the industry and that is something that we desperately need.
Cruise Planners agents sold $156 million in travel and related services last year, a 16 percent increase over 2011 and 48 percent jump over 2009.
Confident in continued growth, top Cruise Planners executives bought the company late last year from Palm Beach Capital, the private equity firm that had been majority owner since 2007.
CEO Michelle Fee, who has always held a stake in the company and now owns 50 percent, said she and fellow owners chief financial officer Tom Kruszewski and chief operating officer Vicky Garcia did not want to risk Cruise Planners being taken over by another investment group that might try to make changes.
We wanted to make sure that whatever we keep doing is in the best interest of the company, said Kruszewski, 60.
Before, Fee said, agents often asked whether the investment company would try to sell or change Cruise Planners. She said the purchase sends a good message.
It shows them that were in this with you, said Fee, 50, who co-founded the company with two partners 19 years ago. Those partners retired in 2007.
The company has invested about $2 million in technology upgrades and equipment in the last few years, including a mobile reservations system for agents that was introduced about a year and a half ago, and a consumer mobile app for iPhones and Androids that should launch later this month.
We just have to be cutting edge, Fee said. Travel is technology; we have to be there with the big guys. Not only are we matching them, but we want to be better.
Janet Fernandez, who started her Crise Planners franchise, Cruise Impressions, last July after working in different parts of the cruise industry since 1998, said she is already taking advantage of the latest tech innovations.